CHAPTER FIFTEEN

The rest of the week I recovered from my common cold. Friday morning, I made my breakfast and surmised how next to interact with John, when the time travel gods smiled upon me. Because finally there he was by himself. Out in the garden. Hunched over and painting a canvas laid out on the grass. I quickly set down my glass of thick milk and left to meet him.

“Hi!” I said cheerfully.

He kept furiously painting. One brush in hand, another in his mouth, and a smaller brush tucked between his ear and his thick-framed glasses. I awkwardly tucked my hands into each other and peered over his shoulder at the painting. I almost gasped. A gorgeous city street with tall looming buildings and a cobblestone road. I was in shock. I had never once seen this piece in any book or any John Lennon collection. And it was unlike any of his other work.  

Mimi must have seen him working as well, because in minutes she was flying out her back door.

“John! How extraordinary!” She squatted to get closer to his painting. “And in color. My! I’ve never seen you use a single splotch of color before.”

He ‘hmm’ed with his brush in his mouth as he signed his name at the bottom, then stood next to us to admire it. This was it! He was turning! He was giving up music for a painting career. My knees shook, I was so ecstatic.

“What do you think, Hollywood?” he asked, putting his hands on his hips. “Do you think that Barrell will have to admit that I can do the assignment? He can’t say that I couldn’t, right?”

I nodded vigorously. “Of course! This is incredible! You’re a natural! I knew you should become a professional painter.”

“Thanks,” he said with half a smirk. “So, you think this proves that I can do it?”

“Of course, you can do it, you senseless boy!” Mimi proudly chirped in. “Now see what a little effort in your studies can get you?”

John nodded and pouted his bottom lip. Suddenly, he kicked out his foot and scraped his shoe down the middle of the painting, leaving a dirty streak of smeared paint. Then he chunked his foot right through the middle of the canvas. I jumped back in shock. Mimi screeched.

“What did you do!?” she cried.

He picked up the sad demolished painting, tucked it under his arm and power-walked toward the drive. The tear where his foot had gone through fluttered sadly in the wind.

“No you don’t!” Mimi marched after him. “Don’t you dare hand that assignment in!”

She tried to wretch the ruined painting from his arm, but he tugged it back and kept storming off.

“You, you!” she stammered. “You’ll be thrown out of the college!”

“Fine!” John yelled back at her as he left.

I stood there helplessly in the garden. The birds sang unaware and cheerful. I took a deep breath and closed my eyes. Not holding out much hope for a long and successful painting career for Lennon. 

***

That evening, Aunt Mimi knocked heavily on my door. “I have dinner dear if you’re hungry.”

I tore off my covers and hopped out of bed. The rich smell of meat had been lingering in my room and I was craving it for hours.

I skipped eagerly down the wooden steps and into the dining room. Roast beef with cranberry sauce, potatoes and gravy all laid across a crisp tablecloth. I gladly took my seat at the end of the table. Mimi sat on the other side facing me but not making any eye contact. We sat in moderate, uncomfortable silence until the kitchen door squeaked open.

John entered the room and the already cold atmosphere worsened as Mimi eyed him down. He kept his gaze at the floor and calmly sat at the table.

“I suppose you think you’ve gotten away with the painting,” she said as he tucked his chair in.

“It doesn’t matter,” he said, spreading a napkin over his lap. “Barrell would have given me a zero no matter what I did with it. The man has it in for me, he told me himself.”

“And why on Earth would he be so against you?” she asked.

 “Because I seem to be in possession of something he thinks is his…” John made it a point to flash his eyes toward me. I froze. Horrified. What had I done?

“Don’t be senseless,” Mimi snapped. “If you get a zero it will be because you’re missing lectures and disrupting class. Just the same as the zeros you got in grammar school.”

He didn’t counterargue. He rested his cheek on his fist and bounced his heel wildly.

“You are a gifted boy, John. You’re one of the brightest students in your year. But if you keep getting into trouble, they can’t keep you on talent alone. Most of the teachers refuse to have you in their classes now. What are you going to do once every single one of them has had their fill of you?”

John gave a small shrug and a smirk that was more guilty than anything else. “Then I’ll have more time for my guitar. She’s been gettin’ a bit dusty lately. Lonely. Suspicious of all the paintbrushes. You know how jealous she can be.”

Mimi closed her eyes and gave him a long sigh through her nose, a disapproving one. “No more. No more messing about with that guitar when you could be spending valuable time with your University training.”

John seemed to curl into his seat as he stuck his fork into his roast beef. “I could be successful with it, you know,” he said quietly.

I ping-ponged back to Aunt Mimi who still looked as stern as ever. “Yes, you could be successful,” she all but admitted. “But honestly John, that doesn’t matter. Because the way things are with music… they don’t last. These things don’t last. You could be a great musician and just as well, it will come and go. People will be clamoring for you one week and then the next week you’ll disappear, and no one will have ever heard of you.”

 I kept my eyes to my roast beef, thinking of how to interject my own feelings. What she was saying was true if it had been anyone other than John of course. He would never fade away. That even in the year 2109 historians like me knew of The Beatles lasting effect on music and humankind.

Mimi continued to scold from her side of the table. “You must focus on the training, because you need the security.”

“Security in money, sure,” he said spooning another mouthful in. “But no security in love or anythin’ else like that. Now what kind of a life is it if it’s just about the money, then? If I’m good at the guitar and I like it and I get on with it. Then what does it matter?”

“It matters a great deal,” Mimi said. “What am I to do John? If you pursue music and it ends when it does? And then I have a boy of twenty-one or twenty-two thrust on my hands who is qualified for nothing.”

The air was thick with disapproval and grief.

“I really think you can be a successful painter,” I said, working my way in. “You just have to push yourself a little harder and go to class.”

John gave me a pained smile. I knew what that meant. Helpless. And I knew that the Barrell part was in some ways my fault.

“Or you know, it doesn’t have to be painting,” I tried. “You’re very good at writing. Maybe you could work for a newspaper or something like that.”

“I don’t want to give my life away for some odd job,” he said pushing into his seat. “What’s wrong with doing the thing that makes me the happiest? Why do I have to sweep my passions under a rug for a check here and there?”

I couldn’t believe it. My jaw dropped. This conversation was all too familiar. Like a visit from the Ghost of Christmas Past forcing me to hear myself arguing with my mom over Plate Tec.

Mimi sat with her usual pinched expression. “Because a check here and there keeps you from starving in the streets. Now, eat your sprouts.” 

John kept his eyes on his potatoes, but I could see the muscle in his jaw clenched and his knuckles white on his fork.

“I’m going to have to have a real discussion with Julia about this,” Mimi said to herself as she plucked away at the food on her plate. “No doubt she’s the one whose been putting your head in the clouds.”

“Well at least someone’s lifting me up rather than knocking me down all the time!” John’s voice raised.

“Because she doesn’t know what’s best for you, I do!” Mimi shouted back. “You’re going to salvage your education. You’re going to finish your training. And you won’t entertain your mother’s wildly misplaced ambitions for you.”

“They’re not hers—”

“You won’t.”

John scooted his chair so roughly that the wood on the floor croaked. Then he stormed out of the room, his footsteps stomped down the hall and thumped up the stairs. The chandelier above us rattled. Whump! Whump! Whump! Whump! Creak! His floorboard screamed. Wham! Went the bedroom door.

Mimi braced both her wrists on the table and sighed deeply through her nose. “Emmeline. Take the dishes into the kitchen and wash up.”

“Wha— m-me?”

It was clear by her expression that she wasn’t kidding around.

I took the heavy plates to the miniature sink and threw them in. I had never once washed a dish in my entire life. The water from the tap tinkled into the sink. I held a dish under the flow and let it carry the gravy off into the drain. The gravy came off pretty quick and the plate looked the same before we ate on it, so I slid the wet thing into the cupboard.

Whew. I wiped my brow. This was hard.

As I continued to hold dishes under the water the panic started to set in. John was never going to give up his music. And I only had two months left. He said it, he said it to my face that he wasn’t going to give it up. So now what? Where do I go from here? How would I convince this stubborn, stubborn guy to abandon his lifelong dream, passion, and talent?

C’mon John, love me dammit. Your life depends on it.

Thorne was absolutely going to make me kill him. Because he wouldn’t give up the music and he wouldn’t propose to me. I could feel the anxiety beating down inside of myself. But I couldn’t be sure! Sometimes he seemed like he liked me. He did the twist and lean and took care of me when I was sick. I couldn’t deny what he said in private to Harrison and McCartney. He must like me! Well, no more chase, no more anticipation, Lennon. It was going to take me to move things along.

My insides were completely jittering. I had to push the relationship along for the sake of his life. Time to make a move, as they say. I was going to go right upstairs and kiss him dead on the mouth. That’s it. That’s what I was going to do.

I rushed up the stairs to John’s room and knocked on the door. He didn’t come to the door right away and I put my hand on my stomach. It had been so long since I had kissed anyone.

Traegar Baskins, that rat. He kissed me, the first night we ever met. I mean talk about brazen, but then I still kind of liked it to be honest. He was gorgeous. All the right mods in all the right places if you know what I mean. Everything was dreamy. That is until he broke up with me forever because I had written a stupid song about a pirate pig with no legs. He was the last one I kissed. And I honestly felt like it was going to be my last kiss forever and all eternity.

John opened the door. “Miss Hollywood. Fancy seeing you here. Were you in the neighborhood?”

I smiled and tucked my hair behind my ear, trying to conceal how horribly nervous I was. “May I talk to you for a minute, John?” I asked.

“Well, sure.” He flopped onto his bed with his book. “But if Aunt Mimi finds out you’ve been knocking on boy’s doors under her roof it’ll be the dickens to pay.”

“Gotchya, I won’t be long,” I said stepping right into his room. John raised his eyebrows at that.

Hmm. This wasn’t exactly how I had imagined. I was kind of hoping his lips would be a little more, well, accessible. But there he was laying on his stomach on the bed, blocking me with a novel. The orange cat stretching a step over the small of his back.

I tried to flip my hair all cool and confident. “Listen John, let me cut to the chase,” I said. “I like you.”

The way his eyes widened, I didn’t know if it was shocked or more confused.

Why are we wasting time with this? I know you feel the same way so we should just be together already.”

 “Erm…” Whatever shock or confusion his eyes drew up blinked away and he was back to his old cynical brow self.

Was I coming on a little too strong? Probably. Was I already in the middle of a train wreck with no way to stop it? Absolutely.

“That’s a bit big-headed of you,” he said.

Both my jaw and my heart fell into my shoes. Oh, wow. Oh, wow, oh, wow. I messed up. Royally. This was bad. Oh my Galactica, this was bad.

“Don’t you like me, though?” I asked feeling stupid as hell. “But I thought… I mean… Okay, but after what you said to your friends? What about that time you sneaked a peek on me in the tub?”

“I was picking up a mouth organ that slipped from me trousers,” he said.

“Yech!” I scrunched my face. “I don’t need to know about that.”

John pulled a harmonica out of his back pocket and tossed it on the edge of the bed in front of me.

“Oh. You call that a ‘mouth organ’. I see,” I said more to myself than to him.

John narrowed one eye at me. “Why do you like me?” he asked.

“What?”

“Why do you like me?” he repeated in the same cadence.

My mouth opened and my throat made this weird low gurgling as I tried to respond. Finally, when I couldn’t John responded for me. “Okay, because I’ve been trying to figure it out, you know. And I can’t at all. There’s no reason for you to be liking me like you do. I don’t have any money, or prospects, I mean you don’t even like the music that I play in me band so it can’t be that. I’m just a trouble makin’ Ted from all the wrong places, so what? What is it, then? There has to be some kind of a catch. And you’ll have to tell me because I can’t figure you out.”

“What makes you think there’s some underlying motive?” I asked with a nervous laugh.

“Because there is.”

I stared at him for a moment, then I crossed my arms. “Well, first off, you didn’t answer my question.”

“What question is that then,” John asked unamused.

“You didn’t say whether you liked me or not. You just skirted around the question, but you never gave me an answer.”

John’s book thudded on my bed he dropped his hand so fast. “You answer my question first. Why do you like me?”

“Nuh, uh, uh. I asked you first.”

John shook his head. “You didn’t ask me, you just decided that I fancied you and then sort of notified me about it just now.”

I kept my arms crossed and raised my brow. “Okay, well, do you?”

“No.”

I pursed my lips tight. The way he had knocked me over with his blunt answer. Galactica. Two out of three, Lennon?

“Well, why not?” I asked, still trying to keep my shattering confidence in the room. “Is it because you’re interested in Cynthia Powell?”

John let out a big snorting laugh. “What? Miss Prim from Hoylake?” he asked his voice raising pitch. “And what about Stu, then, huh? What about him?”

I could feel my face drop. “What about him?”

John waggled his eyebrows up and down.

“Oh, stop,” I said waving him away. “I’m not interested in Stuart Sutcliffe. He’s not my type. I mean, basically not. He’s always got that scarf and the glasses. Nerdy glasses. Definitely not interested. No, no, no. Not even at all attracted… not even at all.”

“Alright,” He said with this sweeping shrug of one shoulder. “I feel the exact same way about Cynthia Powell that you feel about Stu.”

I put my hands on my hips. “Alright.”

“Great.”

“So, that’s it, I guess.”

“Nice talking to ya,” John said and reopened the book in his hand. He reminded me so much of his AI that I almost considered ending the program out loud.

Instead, I awkwardly shut the door and stumbled into my room next door. Well, that was probably even worse than a thousand ex-boyfriends breaking up with me on Talent Search. Okay. Not to mention how Lennon rejecting me just got live-streamed to my least favorite person ever, who probably watched the whole thing with a big grin and a bowl of popcorn.

I crawled right into bed and pulled the covers over my head. I activated my IND and watched the video of Que and me at the lake. I didn’t even bother to cover the crack of the door in my bedroom to conceal escaping light.

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