Thorne had had enough of my bumbling attempts with John. Back to his cave of a hotel room I went, so he could properly chastise me in person.
“What were you thinking jumping the gun like that?” he asked me, while I sat all puny in the greasy armchair.
I shrugged my shoulders by my ears. “It seemed like the next step to take, I guess.”
“In what world or timeline would that ever be the next step to take?” A big vein was throbbing in the middle of his forehead. “You can’t just rush into things.”
My entire face was on fire. Okay, yes, I suck at dating. I didn’t need anyone reminding me how awkward and socially reproachable I was. The rejection was punishment enough.
“Let’s hope you didn’t push him away for good,” Thorne said, with the kind of sigh that to me meant, ‘I hope you pushed him away for good this time’.
I curled my lips over my teeth. “Let me talk to him again,” I said. “I can do it better. Really! I’ve rehearsed it on the bus ride over here like thirty times. Listen… Hey, John, you handsome flouncing tiger, yesterday didn’t go so hot—”
“No!” Thorne rubbed at his temples. “You will not say that.”
I retreated further in between my shoulders. “Is the flouncing tiger part too much? Because I can take that out.”
“You won’t say it at all. Period. You won’t apologize. You won’t bring it up. You won’t profess your love. You won’t do anything for the next couple of weeks.”
I put my finger to my lips. “What if he brings it up? Should I pretend I can’t understand his accent or something?”
Thorne gave me that same tone of sigh and paced to the far corner of the hotel room. “I don’t have the time to teach this child what’s socially acceptable,” he grumbled to himself. “How did she ever get approved to go through with this mission?”
“Hey, rude!” I called from the chair. “It’s not my fault that my mission got compressed into three itty bitty months. ‘Rushing into things’ is literally the only way to make this work.”
Thorne doubled back and walked toward me. “Emmeline,” he said. “Did you or did you not outline in your proposal that the point of momentum was the death of John Lennon’s mother?”
I curled away from him. “Yes, I did.”
“Then I will not allow you to alter the original mission,” he said. “You must wait for the mother to die, before you try to move the romantic relationship forward.”
I shifted my eyes. The words, they sounded so foreign all the sudden. So horrible and manipulative. How could this plan to save his life be so horrifying? Using his own feelings against himself like that? But that would still be better than killing him. I mean, wouldn’t it?
“Isn’t that what you said in your proposal?” Thorne sneered. “That after the death of his mother, John would be in a vulnerable position perfect for introducing a romantic relationship?”
“That…” I swallowed and crossed my arms. “That incident is only two weeks away, anyway.”
“Did you propose that death to be the point of momentum or not?”
“Yes,” I said, my eyes burning unable to meet his. “I did.”
“Then wait for the mother to die,” he said.
His voice was cold and piercing, hanging in the thick tension of air. I stood to my feet and pushed through that tension to the exit. I knew he was right. That was the mission I had crafted and that scared me. Scared me right out the door.
“Her name is Julia,” I told him before stepping out into the hall.
I was so aggravated that I stormed out and ran right into a dark-haired guy in a black jumper. I hobbled backward and caught my footing. When I saw who I ran into my lungs pitched a pained gasp. It was the beautiful Stuart Sutcliff with a blank canvas under his arm.
Stu caught my eye, glancing between me and Dr. Thorne.
“Oh, hello,” I said my voice wavering. Thorne slammed the door on us. “… That was my… the guy I’m doing the internship for.”
“Right,” he said quietly.
My heart was pounding. Coming out of another man’s hotel room and running into John’s best friend. This looked bad. Especially for this era. Women slinking in and out of men’s hotel rooms. I knew this probably looked really bad.
“W-what are you doing here?” I asked, trying to keep it casual.
“A friend of mine has been staying here,” he said nodding a few doors down from Thorne. “She’s lending me some extra art supplies for the summer while she’s away on holiday.”
“Nice.” I shuffled my feet. “Well, see you around?”
I slipped past him; my face scrunched in dread. Hopefully, he forgot all about running into me and catching me with Thorne. One disaster at a time.
Julia’s chipper voice echoed from downstairs as she talked and gossiped with Aunt Mimi. At first, I felt heavy. Right at the top of my chest. Listening to her voice right after Thorne reminded me of our rotten plan to utilize her death. I pressed a pillow into either side of my head to block out her cheery singing. That’s when the heaviness melted into this flaming irritancy. Irritated at the situation I had thrown myself into. Irritated at Thorne for being so cold and uncaring. And just a little irritated at Julia for going and getting herself killed.
John came home and his voice easily penetrated the pillow.
To say that things between John and I had become awkward was an understatement. Awkward was an understatement. I don’t even know what kind of a relationship I now had with my future/past fiancé. All we had for each other was stiff small talk. Hi, how are you? Fine and you. Hmm. Hmm. Good and goodbye.
There was such a weirdness in the air now. I wouldn’t say that it was animosity, but a definite weirdness. One night during dinner I caught John staring unabashedly at me. Twice. But after he made it pretty darn clear that he was not interested in me like that, I couldn’t stop freaking out over it. Why would he be staring at me? Was it the stupid way I was eating my soup? Were the blonde strands of installed hair suddenly detaching from their roots? What? What was it?
I got so stressed out that I got up and left halfway through my bowl of lobscouse stew. And then he didn’t say anything to me the rest of the night. Whatever. Which one is it, John? Are we staring at each other or ignoring each other?
The worst one ever, had happened just that morning, I was pouring a glass of thick, gross milk to go with breakfast and he came down to make his own bowl of cornflakes. We were elbow to elbow in this awkward tiny teeny kitchen and he asked for the milk. As I handed him the heavy pitcher of milk his index finger brushed on top of mine.
We both froze and looked at each other like holding our breath or something. And I got so horrified, because I wasn’t supposed to be doing anything romantic with him yet. So, I actually dropped the pitcher of milk. Dropped. Just retracted my hand as far away from him as I could. John barely caught the pitcher by the top, but it splashed a big puddle on the floor.
And then he made some joke about a milk…man? I did not get it at all so all I said was,
And John was like,
And then he just left. Walked right out the door, leaving the bowl of cornflakes, the puddle on the floor and the awkward blonde American withering of embarrassment.
I had no idea how to interpret his behavior, but he was being weird. And I was being weird. Every little particle of energy between us was just weird! And I didn’t know how to turn everything around and keep him from ending up in a coffin.
I trudged down the steps to meet everyone in the foyer. John, Julia, and Mimi stood chatting and getting in their last little words. Julia had her hat on and was ready to leave. When I emerged from the bottom of the stairs my eyes locked with John’s.
I didn’t know what to do with my hands, so I tucked them under my armpits. Then I realized that pushed my boobs up funny, so I stiffly dropped them by my skirt. John was watching me. This must have been one of those staring phases rather than an avoiding phase.
I tucked my hair behind my ear and joined the group of chatters.
“Emmeline!” Julia said happily with a giant smile. “So good to see you, dearie. Ah! Pity I’m just about to leave.”
“The real pity is that you’ll miss having dinner with us,” Mimi said.
“Oh no! Don’t tell me!” Julia cupped her painted fingers over her eyes. “Fine. Go on, then. Let me have it.”
“Ah, get that!” Julia rattled John by the forearm. “See? I bet you’re happy you live here instead of with me.”
I had to keep from doubling over. John gave her this polite breath of a laugh and then his eyes fell to the floor. There was a sharp shift in the energy of the room.
“Well, I best be off.” Julia said patting the pockets of her jacket and turning for the door.
Mimi sent her off with a goodbye nod, about as warm as she could stand probably. Then she gave John a little pat on the chest. “Time to wash up now.”
As John passed, he stopped in front of me. “Hollywood.”
“Hi,” I said, not even looking at him. Or maybe I was. I didn’t even know.
“Erm, planning on joining us?”
I settled for this awkward halted nod, which he imitated, maybe unintentionally. Then walked away rubbing behind his ear.
As soon as he was out of sight, I exhaled and bolted out of the front door.
“Julia!” I called to the petite figure walking down the sidewalk.
She turned so quick on her heel that her skirt danced around in a giant pretty circle. “Emmeline?”
She had stopped, but I ran to her. There was this compelling force that I had to run. Right at her. Her thin eyebrows drew together.
“What’s all this about?” she asked when I had caught up to her.
“If you get a chance in the next couple of days,” I said, catching my breath. “You should tell John that you love him. And tell him soon.”
Her eyebrows had now drawn so tightly together on her forehead that a few extra lines appeared. She stared at me, hard. Even harder than John. Her eyes dancing between mine. Is the intense staring thing genetic or something?
“He knows that I love him very much,” she softly said.
“Sure, but—” I could feel myself cringing at how deranged this sounded. But I couldn’t let it slip by. Not with the knowledge that I had. “You should still tell him you do. I think it would mean a lot to him to hear it.”
Julia placed her hand lightly on my shoulder. “I did what I did, because it was best for John,” she said. ““Love is funny. Sometimes doing the worst things are the best for that person. Even if they don’t know it.”
There was a certain grief in her eyes that I didn’t want to explore. It made me want to swaddle her like a little baby and comfort her to sleep.
“Well, listen, maybe you shouldn’t walk home from Mimi’s anymore!” I blurted out. “You never know. Something terrible might happen. I mean, walking home all alone at night.”
“Don’t worry about me, I can handle me self!” she said with a laugh, “And don’t worry about John. He’s a hard one to pin down, but you’ll do just fine.”
She gave me a strong wink and walked off to cross the street. The same street that would take her life.