There were so many options. I could aggravate them little by little each practice. I could continuously give them horrible music advice. Or I could lie low and wait until the first audition and then make sure it was a spectacular bomb.
In the middle of my heavy scheming that night, John met me in the living room of Mendips, his guitar strapped around his shoulder.
“Em, can I talk to ya?”
“Yeah, of course,” I said.
He tucked his thumb into his guitar strap. “Em, I was wonderin’, um… what do you think of that beetles name?”
My eyes bulged. “What?”
“For the band?” he asked. “’The Quarrymen’ doesn’t particularly fit us anymore since you’re a part of the group and all…”
“It’s not that great of a name,” I said with a nervous laugh. “I’m sure we can think of something better later.”
“Oh.” His face flushed. “Yeah, it’s a bit of a weird name, right?”
“So weird!” I said, my voice all high and tense. “It probably wouldn’t ever catch on.”
John inched a step closer to me and I felt like my knees were going to give out.
“I was also wondering, um…” He brought his hands in closer to his chest. “If you wouldn’t mind teachin’ me your song. Strawberry Field?”
Oh, crapola. Well, that’s about the last thing that I wanted to have happen. John learning one of his best songs before his career even takes off.
He misinterpreted my hesitation. “It’s just that I usually sing lead.”
“I don’t know if that’s a good idea,” I said, spewing my words. “It’s not a very good song. I wrote it in like a day and I don’t think anyone would like it. It’s pretty bad.”
“I don’t care if anyone else in the whole world likes it or not,” he said. “I loved it, Em. Please, I really loved your song. I want to learn it.”
I struggled for the right response. Something discouraging but also attractive. Nothing. There was nothing. Finally, I sighed and closed my eyes.
“John, I want to be honest with you,” I said. “I didn’t write that song. I just used it because I wanted to win the argument.”
He jerked his head back. “Who wrote it?”
“Um, just some genius I know,” I said.
His eyebrows squished together. “How could some genius you know have written a song about the secluded orphanage down the road from my house?”
“Well, I might have changed the words a little. I think the real words were something like, Cadbury Feels. You know, like, ‘Cadbury Feels Forever’,” I sang.
“Does your friend have any other songs or records?” he asked.
I tucked my hands behind my elbows. “Sadly, no. Uh, he actually gave up his music career to propose to a girl he really liked.”
“That was a mistake.”
“Not for her!”
Another step closer to me. “Tell your friend if he writes like that, he ought to be making records and songs.”
I cupped my hand over my cheek. He was so close to me I could smell the Brylcreem in his hair and the Woodbine cigarettes on his shirt. John relaxed his posture, tilting his head to look at me with those dozy eyes.
“Do you want to step out with me?” he asked, his voice low.
I bit my lip. “Sure.”
I followed him out into the garden, far away from the house, so John could play his guitar and not bother the sharp-eared Mimi. He sat crossed legged in the grass and played.
Little dots covered the dark sky from top to bottom. I loved the ’58 stars. I had already been here for a couple of months, but I still couldn’t get over how many stars you could see from Earth at this point in time. I half wished Lennon weren’t around, so I could take some personal pictures for myself on my IND. But the other half of me ardently disagreed. The music that he was playing fit so perfectly with the night sky and I couldn’t ask for a better soundtrack.
John noticed me staring at the sky and stopped playing. “What is it?”
“The stars… I’ve never seen—” I stopped myself. “I’m still not used to them. They’re beautiful.”
He snorted. “They don’t have stars in America?”
“Not like this.”
Suddenly, John began to play and sing Little Star by The Elegants. I recognized the doowop and joined in which made him smile as he continued through the song. I knelt in the grass, close to John, but making sure we did not touch knees this time. Then after he had struck the last chord, we laughed politely at each other.
“Alright. You play something then.” He handed me his guitar.
I took it from him. What would I even play? If I picked another Beatle’s song, I might accidentally give him more great material. But I had one hundred- and fifty-years’ worth of songs to choose from and I couldn’t give him anything good.
I sighed to myself and sang for him the dumbest song that I knew how to play.
“There once was a piggy named Pete,
Who had no more use for his feet.
He said, ‘These slops ain’t for me! I long for the sea!’
And he sauntered downtown for a fleet.
He sold one of his legs to the butcher.
And one to the widow next door.
He traded the third for an old pirate ship
And the last one he gave to the poor.
OH! He had four pegs! Four pegs! Four pegs for legs!
He clomped around on the deck and he made such a mess,
For he was just a pig after all.”
John was grinning wildly from ear to ear. I stopped mid-strum. “You’re laughing at me.”
“Not at all,” he said. “I loved it!”
My expression soured. “Shut up! Don’t you ever get tired of being sarcastic all the time?”
“I’m completely serious,” he said, nudging me with his elbow. “I really loved it. I loved it even more than Strawberry Field.”
“No, you didn’t!” I said.
“No, I didn’t.” He laughed. “But it was still very good. I liked it. I really did.”
I rested my chin on the guitar and pouted. “Everyone I’ve ever played that song for has told me that it’s the stupidest song they’ve ever heard.”
“Did they now? Well, probably because everyone you’ve ever played it for has had no concept of wit or irony or anything like that. Pearls before legless swine, Em.” John pushed the tip of his nose up and oinked a couple of times.
I hugged his guitar close to my body. If there were one person on Earth to tell me they liked the song, and it turned out to be one of the best song writers in the entire world, I guess that was pretty good.
“I had a boyfriend at the time,” I said, no idea why I was saying it though. “He said it was the absolute worst thing he’s ever heard. That he couldn’t be with someone who would write a song like that.”
“Ah. Don’t be too hard on him, Em,” he said. “He can’t help being a big ugly scab who’s too thick to have a sense of humor.”
I laughed and slipped out from under the guitar. “He was too. Ugh! I was so embarrassed, I never played anything ever again!”
He shook his head and tsk tsk tsk’ed me. “You can’t please everyone. If you did, you’d end up in the middle with nobody liking you.”
I cocked my head. “Who said that?”
“John Lennon,” he said. “In the garden, just now. Didn’t ya hear me say it?”
I put my finger to my lip and furled my brow. “You’re right. I think you did say it,” I muttered under my breath.
“If you love something. Really love something. You don’t ever, ever let that thing go. Not for a single solitary soul in the world. Because when you love something. That’s it. That’s everything. It’s all you need.”
“Love is all you need, huh?” I smirked. “I’m pretty confident John Lennon said that one too.”
“Ah, did he?” He shrugged a shoulder. “Smart man. You should listen to him once and a while, you know.”
I smiled and handed him back his instrument. “Alright, your turn again.”
“Hmm, let’s see here,” he said. John pretended to blow on each of his fingers and wiggled them wildly in the air before placing them on the strings of the guitar. Then he hit the first three chords of Ain’t She Sweet.
My heart completely stopped beating and dropped into my shoes. This was the sign. The song I had read about. The song he played for his first wife. And he was playing it for me with no one else around. Looking directly at me, staring right into my soul. His voice was all raspy and strained and rock and roll.
He had fallen for me.
Everything in my chest felt warm. I expanded my breath, but it only made everything inside burn brighter than before. He had captivated me, overwhelmed me. I couldn’t take my eye off John.
He softly ended the song. I crawled through the grass toward him. I picked up the bottom of his guitar and slipped underneath. Squeezing myself in between him and the guitar as I sat in his lap.
He looked at my lips.
“It’s getting harder to pretend like I don’t like you,” he whispered.
He moved his hands from his instrument to either side of my waist and kissed me. The absolute best kiss I had ever had. John was right about Traegar, he was a hideous scab who was too thick to understand me or know how to kiss at all.
There are three types of kisses. One that is too disinterested. A quick peck you would give your grandma or something you would do out of obligation like on a stage or under a mistletoe. One that is too interested. As in they are more interested on the action that’s to follow than they are on the kiss. (And by that definition therefore are also disinterested.) But my kiss with John was the third type. A Goldilocks kiss. A sincerely interested and invested kiss, with all the passion in the world behind it.
When we had finally parted, I giggled awkwardly. I don’t know, I couldn’t help it, the pheromones were choking me.
“I like you,” John said in his simple blunt way.
“I like you too,” I said still giggling.
“I want you,” he whispered.
“I want you too,” I whispered back.
We kissed again. And yeah, alright, so that second kiss might have been a little too interested. At least on my part. But John didn’t let it go on long.
“I’m scared,” he said, with kind of a laugh in his voice. “I’m dead scared that it might not work out. With you not being from here and all.”
Ice rushed through my veins. “What?”
“From Britain, I mean.”
“Oh. Right.” Duh.
My eyes widened. This was it. I had him. He was right there in the palm of my hand and I could shove him deep inside my pocket and zip him inside.
“I could stay if I had a good reason,” I said. “For example, if I met someone and… if I had a big commitment to that someone… like they asked me to stay forever…”
His fingers curled tighter around my waist. “Em. I—”
Just then, the garden filled with light as the kitchen door opened. “John! Where are you?”
Aunt Mimi’s voice startled us both to kingdom come. I tried to jump backwards out of John’s arms but forgot the guitar had secured me to him. He must have forgot too, because somehow in the whole mess, the neck of the guitar smacked me in the head with a resounding thonk.
“Oh, sorry!” He tried to take the guitar off his shoulder, but the little tuning doodads snagged the back of my hair.
“Ow, ow, ow, wait stop!” I tripped and fell onto my hands and knees. He threw his head back and laughed.
“John, what is going on?” Mimi stepped out, wrapping a bath robe around her nightie. Her hair limp and loose around her face.
She got close enough to see me, on my knees, my snaggled hair wrapped around John’s guitar as he held it over me.
“What is all this about?” she asked with a stern and biting tone.
“I don’t know.” John lifted the belly of his guitar to examine the mess. “I just found my guitar like this all tangled up in a girl.”
I squinted my eye at him, my lips pursed and pinched. He had the biggest and happiest grin on his face.
“Do you suppose that’s how Elvis gets all his girls?” he asked. “Reels him in with his guitar when they cross through his garden?”
“I don’t want you out here reeling in girls until God knows what hour,” she snapped. “Get inside at once. And don’t give me any wit. I’m in no mood.”
We sheepishly retreated into the house, past a growling Mimi, who stopped at the bottom of the stairs to watch us and make sure there wouldn’t be any funny business.
We got to each of our bedroom doors respectively, John turned to me with a small smirk that made me want to jump him all over again.
“What are you doing tomorrow?” he asked. My loopy grin matched his as he leaned against his door frame. “And the next day? And the day after that?”
“Whatever you’re doing.”
“Lights out,” Mimi warned from the bottom of the stairs, like scolding an un-trained puppy by rubbing its nose in its mess.
John and I exchanged grimaces before we shut the door on each other. I turned around to face the little old stuffy room and brought my hands to my face. What had just happened? Well, it had happened. I had him. And he had me to be honest.
I dropped to the floor and squealed as quietly as I could. This flood of energy had knocked me over and I didn’t know what to do with it. Every detail was burning in my mind. The grass of the garden on my ankles. The sparkling stars. And that voice! The music! I could still feel his arms around me and smell the cream in his hair. He was mine.
A peppy and rhythmic knock came from John’s side of the wall. I skipped over and imitated the same knock back, letting him know that I was still thinking of him. I wasn’t just thinking, I was drowning in thoughts of him. I knew it was late, but I felt as though I would never sleep again. I was John Lennon’s girl. Now if only he would give up his music.