The next two weeks were some of the most miserable of my life. John never left his room. And I was so riddled by grief and guilt that I tried not to either. I just couldn’t bear it. I couldn’t bear seeing him all empty like that again. And the silence. The awful, awful silence that filled this stuffy house. I couldn’t take it.
Some nights I would cover the crack under my door and fall asleep to Que’s home videos. Risky. More than once Aunt Mimi woke me with the vacuum outside in the hall and I always worried that she would find some reason to burst in unannounced. But I couldn’t help myself. I didn’t want to be in the quiet anymore. Listening to John and Mimi’s non reactions and my own horrible dreadful thoughts.
Sometimes in those quiet moments, I would remember this goldfish that I used to have. I named him Wolfgang Amadeus. And man, I was proud of that name. In his tank I had put a little piano and everything and I thought that was so funny and clever. I left for a weeklong VR music camp and when I came back one of his fins had gotten injured somehow and he couldn’t balance himself to swim. He would lie on his side at the top of the tank, floating as if he were dead.
Every day I would check to see if he were dead and he wasn’t. For weeks it was like that. Just floating and staring at me with his wide-open eye. His mouth painfully opening and closing. I remember wondering if I should take him to a vet. Or flush him to put him out of his misery. But I didn’t do anything. I let him float and float and float. Until he finally died.
I don’t know why I thought of Wolfgang during those shut in days at Mendips. Some days I would laugh thinking of a stupid goldfish. And then the laughing would make me feel sick to my stomach. Why would I laugh? I must be a sociopath.
Notifications piled in from Thorne. I didn’t respond to a single one. I wanted to call him a murderer and a traitor. Use the footage of him pulling a gun on me to press charges. Although, I felt in my gut that the time travel council would never back me up on that one.
One day, I forced myself to eat breakfast. I sat in the living room with a plate of cheddar cheese and plain crackers on my lap. The only thing I could stomach at the time. I heard the distinctive squeak of John’s floorboards in his bedroom. My chest tightened. We hadn’t had much of a conversation since I bawled at his side the day of his mother’s funeral.
He appeared in the doorway with a small portable record player under his arm.
“Hello,” he said quietly.
“John!” I shouted as if he had been lost at sea for several years or something.
“Are you doing anything at the moment, Em?” he asked.
The ‘Em’ part caught me. It was the first time that he had used my actual name. Well, part of my name at least.
“No. Nothing.” I pushed my plate of cheese and crackers behind a potted house plant. On the sly. Well, as sly as I could. I think Mimi may have caught of glimpse of what I was doing.
“I was wondering if you would fancy giving this a listen with me,” he said, holding a black album in its parchment cover. “It’s The Quarrymen. I haven’t listened to it much, with everything…”
“I understand,” I said nodding, not wanting to say it out loud either. “I would love to listen to that with you, of course.”
“No, not in here you don’t,” Aunt Mimi burst in. “Take it to the porch.”
“Right. Sorry, Mimi,” John said, bundling the record under his arm.
Honestly, I could have exploded at that woman. I had put up with a lot of her attitude since moving here, but that one sent a flaming spark through me. And I clenched my fists to keep from giving her a piece of my mind.
Here was your own nephew, basically your son, completely traumatized and scarred and depressed. And all he wanted was to share his raw God-given talent with you, a talent that would be worth a billion dollars if it weren’t for me. And you had to go and turn him away like that. Shame on you and your nasty quiet museum of a house.
“Come along then,” John said, tilting his head toward the front door.
I hopped up, making sure to leave my dirty cheese and crackers plate behind the plant. I should have picked a stinkier, sharper cheese to plague her with. Oh, well.
I followed John to the front porch, a little boxed in room with beautiful tulips and roses in stained glass on each window. John sat on the black and white checkerboard floor and pulled the black vinyl from its sleeve.
“Paul’s coming for this, you see,” he explained. “Each of us are going to take a week with it. I had it first. Then Paul, then George, and so on and so forth, see? Seventeen six this cost us! Here, have a look.”
He tossed me the record. When I caught it, my heart constricted. Their very first recording. This was without a doubt the most expensive thing I had ever touched. (Second, I guess if you count the portal. And third, I guess if you count the time that John touched my hand.) Millions of dollars in my hands. All in perfect crisp, clean and new quality.
I suddenly understood why Thorne had made such a big deal of souvenirs vs. samples. This wouldn’t be too hard to smuggle. One trip to the dark market with this and I’d never have to work another day again. I could go back into music. I could do whatever the hell I wanted.
“Wow, it’s really nice,” I said gently handing the vinyl back to John.
“Now, how do you know it’s nice if you haven’t even heard it?” John asked, smirking. “I’ll put it on and then tell me what you think.”
John spun the record in between his two hands and that made my whole body clench. He placed it on the player and set the needle on it. In Spite of All the Danger rang into the foyer.
It was kind of weird pretending like I hadn’t heard that song a few dozen times. As we listened John watched me intently with this thumbnail in his mouth. Occasionally, he would break in with “I hadn’t gotten enough air on that bit.” Or “I would have changed this if they hadn’t given us only a quarter of an hour.”
After that song had ended, he flipped the vinyl over and played the B side, That’ll Be the Day. Finally, when that song had ended, John held his breath. “Well, Em, what do you say?”
It was clear that he was nervous and anxious about what I thought. Imagine that. But here I was in a conundrum because before now I had always discouraged any little effort that John had put into his music. Like a cold and unforgiving Aunt Mimi. But this time I couldn’t do that. I didn’t want to do that. It had gotten me nowhere romantically and all it had done was push John away. I knew Thorne was watching and I knew he was actively disapproving of everything I was doing. But maybe I didn’t care. And I certainly didn’t want to follow Thorne to his capital T anymore.
“I loved it,” I said, being truthful with John for the first time since meeting him. “I loved it so much. I think your cover of Holly’s song is better than the original.”
“You’re having me on!”
“Really. And the chorus of In Spite of All the Danger is genius! Especially for someone of your age to write—”
“Well, Paul wrote that one,” John said sliding the vinyl into its cover. “And George came up with the guitar solo.”
“Oh, really? Well, still, your voice. I—”
John beamed at me, but I had to stop myself. I was giving him too much. Digging an open grave. If I kept going, I would never be able to convince him that he should give it up. Especially give it up for me. Why would he?
“But you know, you’re also a fantastic artist. I think that’s where your talent really lies,” I said, hating every inch of myself.
His smile dropped. “Yeah,” was all he said.
“Or your writing, I mean…” I choked on the lump in my throat. “There are so many other things you can do in this world than being the lead singer of The Beatles, John.”
“Of the what?”
I clamped my mouth shut. How could I have been so stupid? It was the most rookie mistake in all of time traveling. It wasn’t enough just to know history, but you had to actively know history and be consistent with your time period. This was a bad one. Thorne was going to lose his mind.
“Did you say, ‘beetles’?” he asked.
“No. I don’t know what I just said.” I was dying inside. Dying!
“How did you know I wanted to change the name of the band?”
“I didn’t.” No really, I didn’t. I didn’t think he was thinking of a name like that until his Hamburg years.
John kept pressing. “How did you know I wanted to use an insect name?”
“Sure, like Buddy Holly and The Crickets,” I said.
John’s jaw dropped. “Yes!”
“Yeah,” I shrugged.
“But how did you know?” he asked, his voice getting all high pitched.
I stood to my feet. Reaching for anything that I could use to get myself out of this hole. I finally settled for, “You must have told me about it.”
John shook his head. “I haven’t told anyone about that. I haven’t even told the lads about that.”
“Then how else would I know?” I asked. I could tell by John’s face that I was completely blowing his mind. So, I slipped in another little nugget for myself. “You must really care for me, to confide something like that with me.”
His heavy dark brows furrowed together as he studied the checkerboard floor. I could hear the gears in his head whirring. Finally, he shook it off.
“I’m going to step out for some air,” he said. “Do you want to go somewhere with me?”
“Yes!” I said. “I would like that very much.”
We left Mendips together and walked through the little alley way behind the house. John was talkative and it felt so good. So good to hear him talk. I had missed his voice. And I don’t mean singing, but just hearing him joking away. His voice had left a big gaping space inside of me when it had slipped away.
“Let me take you on a tour of ye ol’ Liddypool,” John said and gestured widely through the street. “Now, Em. This here is a normal everyday tree. I don’t know how familiar you are with trees in America. But here, Liverpool is full of them. All leafy and stick-like.”
I snorted and rolled my eyes.
“Ah, here is a place I used to come to as a wee little Jimmykin. Now, in those days, I wasn’t allowed to play here. And I had to hop the fence, you see? And now, in these days, I’m still not allowed to play here and I’m still going to have to hop the fence.”
My smile slowly melted into awe as we arrived at the big red iron gates of Strawberry Field.
“John,” I whispered.
“There’s nothing to be squeamish about, Em. This old gate doesn’t bite,” he said grabbing the railing and rattling the fence. “It’s a boy’s and girl’s home. Which suits us because I’m a boy and you’re a girl. So, make yourself at home.”
He lifted himself up on the elaborate swirls and ironwork of the famous gate and started to climb. Now you have to understand that for me, a musician, and a history buff, this was an incredible thing to happen. To sneak into Strawberry Field with John Lennon. The very field from his childhood that inspired him to write one of his best songs. Let’s just say, I was geeking the Galactica out.
I followed him without hesitation.
The cold metal gate was easy to climb despite the bright red slippery pattern. I had to maneuver carefully through the iron spires on the top. But hopping the fence was second nature to John who made it up and down like a monkey on a ladder.
The grounds were beautiful, and I had never seen such big full foliage. I know John was joking about the trees only being in Liverpool, but there really was something to say about how green the past was. I was forever in awe of it.
John shushed me as we moved through the thick woods and muddy paths that led through the property, I could see a mansion far off. Children’s faint laughter and shouting came from that way. We stayed on the outskirts, keeping sure that no one would know that we were there.
He led me to a garden, nestled behind a group of oak trees, isolated from the rest of the grounds. We sat together and talked, I could hear the rustle of the leaves as the warm breeze blew across my face and tickled my hair against my neck. It felt good to be out of the fish boiling house of Mendips and into the open. And it felt even better just to be with John.
After a while of non-stop chatter from the both of us, we laid next to each other in the tall grass and watched the big, fluffy clouds creep across the sky.
Soon John became quiet. I could see him falling back into himself like he had been for the past couple of weeks. I panicked. What could I say that would help him? What could I say that would bring him out of this?
He turned his head to me, his eyes squinting in the sun. There was nothing. I couldn’t think of anything at all to say.
His eyebrow raised, still squinty from the harsh summer light. I had this moment, this horrible realization of how awful I was with boys. How I never have successful conversations with boys. Boys never liked me. Boys never thought I was interesting or worth pursuing. I was disenchanting.
I sighed heavily and huffed onto the ground in defeat.
“Why was World War I so fast?” I asked.
John still looked at me with one eye closed. “Why? Because they were all Russian?”
I couldn’t hold back my gasp. Then in complete shock, a sharp laugh burst out of me.
“World War II was a lot slower then. They must have been Stalin,” he added.
This balloon of excitement burst inside of my chest. Sweet, sweet vindication. Stupid AI Lennon bot doesn’t know a darn thing about anything!
“Maybe that’s why the Dark Ages were so dark,” I said, rolling onto my stomach. “You know, all the knights.”
John gave me a silent laughing smile that scrunched up his nose.
I rested my chin on my arm. His thick eyelashes and light brown eyes caught the sun. And his thick coarse hair had bits of grass tangled inside. Things had gotten quiet again, but not in the same way. This time we were looking at each other. I could feel the fingertip of his pinky accidentally brushing against mine.
I knew this feeling. The little giddy pinpricks at the top of my chest and the unintentional smile. This wasn’t just a glimmer of attraction. This was the feeling you get when you think about someone a lot. The feeling when you start planning your outfits to that someone’s taste. When you start planning your life around that someone’s whereabouts.
I had caught myself right in the middle of that feeling and I threw a box of baking soda on that fire.
“Wall of glass,” I said aloud.
“What’s that?” John asked, leaning forward.
I jumped to my feet. “I… I have to go.”
John looked at me in total confusion. He probably thought a bee stung me I had hopped up so fast.
“Don’t go, we just got here.”
Again, the feeling. Again, the extinguisher. Go away. Go away. Stop! I internally screamed at my own heart.
“Sorry John. It’s just that I… I have to go. I forgot that I… that I have to go.”
John rolled to a sitting position. “Alright. Let me walk you back.”
“No, that’s okay! Um, that’s okay.” I quickly brushed the grass off my tweed skirt. “You stay here. You just got here. You should stay. Really. I’m fine.”
His eyes bounced around as if he were trying to put together the sudden and abrupt turn of events. “Was it something I said?”
“No, not at all. Um, kind of the opposite actually,” I said.
I grimaced. “Don’t worry about it. I’m fine. Everything’s fine. Everything’s… great. I’ll— I’ll talk to you again, later.”
I beat it out of there, half-running on the uneven mud trail between the giant oak trees. I could hear John call after me from the hidden garden. “Em, wait!”
I didn’t. I couldn’t. I was full on taking Dr. Greggs advice and I was getting myself the Galactica out of there. I huffed and puffed all the way through the back alley, into Aunt Mimi’s garden, through the little kitchen, around the corner and up the stairs. Not stopping or slowing at any point during the journey. I slammed my bedroom door shut and clawed at my face.
Alright, Emmeline. Take a deep breath and think things through. Be logical now.
I consciously slowed my breaths and sat on the bed. Alright. That had been a fluke. I was just excited because of all the historical meaning behind it. And not because of John himself or anything like that. Yeah. That’s right. It had all been a little fluke.
My reflection blushed in that full-length mirror. Dr. Thorne was watching me in all my awkward glory. And how would I even explain this erratic behavior? No matter what I told him, I would not tell him about the weird little fleeting feeling that I had. Anything that would suggest I was getting too close would be enough of an excuse for Thorne to consider the mission compromised and take over.
So, no. He would never find out. John’s life depended on it.
I couldn’t get personally involved like that. I mean I was there to get involved, but not involved involved. I had to be twice as careful now. I would focus on breaking up the band. No more miss nice girl. The band had to go. It had to.
I looked at my hands, still dirty from playing at Strawberry Field. The image of laughing and joking with John was tainted with the image of aiming my gun at his AI and pulling the trigger. Not to mention the image of Julia laughing and dancing with him by the piano. That memory was especially clear. I slipped my shoes off and crawled into bed all dusty from sitting outside. The house was shrieking quiet again and I hated it. I turned on the videos from Que and tried to remove myself from John.
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