I have to break up The Beatles. I have to break up The Beatles today.
As soon as the floorboard squeaked from John’s room, I leapt from my bed and swung my door open, catching him as he was about to walk downstairs and slip out.
He jumped about a half a foot in the air and slipped down a couple of steps. He caught himself on the railing and I ran to him.
“Hey. What are you doing?” I asked calmly.
He clutched his chest. “Cripes, Em! The way you shouted my name. I thought someone was launching a grenade at me or something.”
“Oh. Sorry,” I said, my toes curling into my shoes. The same old socially inept Emmeline back at it again.
John smoothed back the sides of his hair. I felt that spark in my chest again and quickly looked away to get rid of it.
“I’m going to George’s,” he said. “Another group practice. The boys are back from holiday.”
Perfect. That was exactly the kind of thing that I needed to happen.
“Can I come?” I asked.
John’s mouth curled into a hesitant frown.
“I’ll behave this time. I promise,” I said, mentally crossing my fingers behind my back.
“Erm…” John rested against the wall of the stairwell and rubbed his neck. “You really like the record we made?” he finally asked.
I didn’t know what I was expecting him to say, but it wasn’t that.
“Yes, I loved it,” I confirmed.
“Alright.” John shrugged. “You can come round. I’m sure the group wouldn’t mind hearing about you loving the record and all that.”
I tried not to do that thing that I do. That thing where I pump my fist into my chest and hiss, ‘Yes!’. I tried not to do the thing. But it was like an involuntary muscle memory or something, my elbow bent, and my fingers closed into a celebratory fist.
He laughed at me, but I think it eased some of the awkward tension between us. I swallowed more sparks.
John and I walked to George’s together. I had grown to enjoy walking. In 2109 we always had transports available no matter where you were going. Even if it were to recycle a candy wrapper or something. You could just be whooshed away to the nearest vacuum receptacle. But here in 1950s England, everything was a lot slower. People took their time to get places, look at their surroundings, think and talk with the person at your side.
And that was another thing. I had grown to enjoy talking to John. I felt like with him, anything goes. You could talk about magical realms, serious world issues, or even just plants. Really any subject you could think to throw at him, he would have some opinion one way or the other. As if he had already thought about climbing a chocolate mountain or waging a war on the surface of the moon. It was as if he had already thought about everything there were to think about.
We got to sweet George’s, where his father welcomed us in warmly. Of all the adults I had met in this corner of time, I liked Mr. Harrison the best. Such a personable and good-mannered guy, just like his son. We went into the living room where everything was set up for the boys, except for poor Colin Hanton who had even less room for his drum kit than at Julia’s. He sat awkwardly behind everyone else and tapped his drum sticks on his knee to the beat.
I, again, took a seat on the sofa and listened to them play. I loved listening to them. Even if I had to pretend they were no good. It reminded me of the kind of music my mom listened to growing up. This genre called “Rebel”. The world had spent several decades using computers to make everything sound perfect and a few bands decided that they would go back to using real instruments and focusing on being as imperfect as they wanted. Ah! I loved that kind of music! It was the kind of music that made me feel like I could really be a singer songwriter. And John’s singing was absolutely reminiscent of “Rebel Rock”.
When the boys had finished, they turned to me.
“Well?” John asked.
I couldn’t help but smirk. Boom! Ready. I had a real game plan this time. It took me all night to concoct it, but I had figured out exactly what I would say and what opinion I would have.
“John, you were absolutely perfect,” I said.
His smile was half relieved and half flattered.
“But everyone else,” I grimaced. “I have to admit. They weren’t as strong as you, John. I don’t think they have the same kind of musical flare.”
A chorus of disputation erupted.
“Now, hold on there!”
“That simply isn’t true!”
“I may not be Chuck Berry, but I do just fine on me own!”
“SHUDDUP!” John yelled over all of them. They immediately fell silent. “We asked Emmeline her piece and she said her opinion. We can’t ask for any more than that.”
I shrugged. “I think you’d do better on your own as a solo musician, John. I’m not sure if you really need a band.”
“That’s enough of that!” Colin Hanton stood from his drum kit and put his sticks into his bag.
“What do you think you’re doin’?” John asked.
“I’m out. I’ve had enough. First, it’s this rock n’ roll. All you want to play is rock n’ roll. No skiffle. No jazz. No nothin’. Two fellas promised to beat me with my own sticks if I kept playing rock n’ roll with you at the Cavern. And in front of all them jazz fans. They don’t want to hear it, John.”
“I don’t give a half a shit what anyone wants to hear,” John said. “I play what I want to play.”
“That’s the problem alright,” Colin said and gestured to me. “And now you want to crowd us out, just because some bird has you by the rocks.”
John grabbed him by his shirt and yanked him in so close their noses were touching. “You can either leave quietly or skidding out of here on your arse!”
“Let go! You’re a madman!” Colin tore from Lennon’s grip and stormed out of George’s house. The front door slammed so loud a coocoo clock sounded unintentionally from the wall.
John’s angry eyes flickered from the door to me. Both George and Paul also threw me a seething glare.
“Sorry,” I said through the awkward silence.
“Is that it for us, then?” George asked sadly. “Are we disbanded?”
John resituated his guitar strap. “Of course not. We’ll just have to get better altogether, won’t we? Practice twice as hard.”
I slumped into the couch and huffed. What a backfire.
“And how are we going to do that, John?” Paul asked. “Our piano player and drummer are gone.”
“Yeah, we can’t have a band with three guitarists and nothing else,” George said.
“Why not?” John asked. “It’s called rhythm guitar isn’t it? It can keep rhythm fine without drums.”
George and Paul exchanged uneasy glances.
“We don’t need Colin!” John said loudly. “Or any of the others.”
“How many is that to quit, then?” Paul asked George aside.
“I think Colin makes fifty-eight now,” George joked.
John scrunched his face. “Right. That’s fine! I don’t care about the quitters. We’re going to the topper most of the popper most and no one is going to stop us!”
I felt that one. Like a strong punch to the gut, wishing that I hadn’t picked the most stubborn man in history to try and change.
“Well we ain’t going to the topper most of much anything with three guitars and nothin’ else,” Paul said, taking the guitar of his shoulder and leaning it against the wall.
Then it dinged on me. A brilliant Plan B.
“If you need someone else to join the band, I’d be more than happy to help,” I said, straightening in my seat. “I can play almost everything. Even drums if you need.”
A wave of complete shock blew through the room, like I had suggested that a chorus of chimpanzees dance behind them during their shows.
You could always count on John for a quick and blunt answer.
My smile dropped. “What? Why not?”
“Because we get on just fine as it is.”
“Clearly.” I scoffed. “You need another musician and you have one sitting right in front of you. So, what’s the problem?”
Paul stumbled around, trying to think of the politest way to put it. “Well, yeah, I’m sure you’re very good, but it’s just that— and nothin’ against you, personally—”
“Girls don’t play rock n’ roll.” Again, John with the bluntness.
My mouth hardened. “Okay, seriously? How can you say that John? I know how much you love The Shirelles.”
The other boys giggled, which made John at least crack a smile and shrug. “Yeah. So? That’s a different kind of group, isn’t it? They have their own group. And we have our group. And there’s no reason for a girl to be in ours. That’s all.”
My eyes narrowed at him. His smug little chin in the air, squinting back at me from his bat blind heavy eyes. I crossed my arms tight. “You think you’re so great, just because you’re a man? That men are so much better than women at everything.”
“I didn’t say that men are better at women than everything,” he said returning the crossed arm stance. “I said they’re better at rock n’ roll.”
Ooh. The nerve. “Oh, excuse me, Mr. Better-Than-You Lennon. You think you’re so great? I could write any song better than any of you and it wouldn’t even take me half as long to think up.”
“Oh, could you?” Lennon asked with a cheeky amused grin.
“Give me that guitar,” I said holding out my hand. “Give it to me!”
Lennon’s grin only widened. Like a cat playing with its food before it devours it. Or more like a whiny child playing with its food, spitting it out and throwing it on the floor.
I took his guitar and slung it around my shoulder. The backside was still warm from resting against his torso. As soon as I put my fingers on the strings, I realized how much of an idiot, I truly was.
What had I just set out to prove? That I was a better songwriter than Lennon-McCartney? I wasn’t better than most children. It was a stupid moment, but I had dug too deep to climb, so I rolled with it.
“Fine, you’re never going hear this one anyway,” I grumbled under my breath.
I took the guitar and cleared my throat a few times. I hadn’t performed in quite some time, but the weeks of rehearsing this song after my body armor surgery were going to pay off.
“Won’t you take me down, ‘cause I’m going to,” I looked John in the eye. “Strawberry Fields.”
His face when he heard the reference to ‘Strawberry Field’, his brows almost shot off his hairline into space. I played the rest of the song as complete silence filled the living room. After I had hit the last “Strawberry Fields Forever”, the three stood staring at me not even gaping and gasping for words.
. I slowly slipped the guitar strap over my head. John came and took the instrument from me, his knees barely touching mine.
“So, am I in the band?” I asked. “What can I say, Em?” he asked, looking at Paul and George who nodded. “You’re in.”