I hardly slept at all, wallowing in misery the entire night. A ton of bricks had dumped on my shoulders. Dr. Thorne would murder one of them if I didn’t suck it up and stay here. But then, how would I keep him from killing them anyway? They were all so damn talented. And so damn ambitious. It was impossible to keep them away from music.
I felt empty and trapped. Like it would never happen, and that this timeline was meant for them to die. And if they were going to die, I would rather not be around to see it or hear about it. Julia was enough for me.
Everything was so dismal that I didn’t want to leave my bed. I didn’t want to talk to John. But I didn’t want to leave. And I didn’t want to create any other excuse for Thorne to load those bullets.
The window cast a soft early morning sun patch which crept along the floor until it was a blazing afternoon square on my wall. For hours everything had been eerily quiet. And then the front door wooshed open from below.
“Where have you been?” Mimi scolded loudly enough for me to hear.
“At Paul’s,” John said softly. I sank into my bed and pulled the covers to my mouth. Hearing his voice physically hurt. I missed his stupid voice.
“You should have telephoned,” she snapped.
There was a strained pause. My ears throbbed to hear his reply. He interrupted her frustrated sigh with a mumbled, “Sorry, Mimi”. Then footsteps drudged up the stairs.
I tensed in my bed, pressing my covers so hard against my mouth that my teeth cut into my bottom lip. I held my breath waiting for the familiar creak of his bedroom floor.
Instead, there was a knock at my door. A slow and penitent rhythm.
A shadowy silhouette of two shoes stood at the wide gap underneath the door. I flopped my head onto my pillow to stare at the ceiling. I didn’t want to see his face. It just made everything so much harder. My eyes were starting to water again. I sniffed it away.
There was another sniff from John. The silhouette underneath grew as he slid against the door and sat on the ground.
A folded piece of paper slid underneath the crack and knocked into the foot of my bed. Creased right down the middle. My name scribbled on the front in cursive. My full name. Emmeline.
The crisp letter sitting non assumedly on the floor. John’s backside still darkened the gap underneath the door. The curiosity got to me and I plucked the folded paper off the floor.
Inside was a doodle of a little man with big cartoonish tears dripping from his face and forming an ocean. The only words written were “I’m sorry. – John.”
I whimpered. My shoulders dropped. Why did he have to come around all sad? It didn’t make the decision any easier for me. I closed my eyes tight and took a breath. I left my bed and opened the door. John scurried to his feet to face me.
“Em,” he said, his voice reminded me so much of when I had brought him a dinner plate at Julia’s funeral.
“What do you want, John?” I asked.
He looked past me and directly at my luggage open at the foot of my bed. “Are you leaving?” he asked.
I shrugged. Not exactly out of coldness, but because I really didn’t know.
John’s eyes dropped to the ground. “I’ve been to Paul’s,” he said. “He explained to me that there’s nothing going on between you.”
“You should have trusted me. Not run away to check in with Paul when I could have told you what was happening,” I said. How could I do this? How could I get after him for not trusting me when all I ever did was lie to him? I held my poker face as guilt jabbed me in the stomach.
“No, you’re right. I know, you’re right. I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.” He shrank down as if he were shriveling inside of himself.
“And…” I swallowed. “That other guy is just my boss. It’s an internship through the College of Art. Not at it.”
“I’m sorry, I should have guessed,” he said.
More lying. More deceit. I felt sick. Every part of my soul ached to tell him the truth. How I was trying to save not only his life but the life of his best friend.
“I really love you… but I won’t be with anyone who treats me like that,” I said. And that was the truth.
He had those same teary eyes he wore at the pub. “I won’t, ever again, Em. I swear. I’ve never done anything like that before. I— I don’t know where my head’s at. I haven’t been right since my mum died.”
This grim feeling oozed into my mind. My fault. My fault for not saving his mom. My fault for drafting it into my proposal. My fault for actively trying to ruin his life since I came up with the idea.
“That’s not an excuse,” I said, adding to myself in my mind, “Glass wall, glass wall, glass wall.”
“I know. It’s not,” he said with a quiver in his voice. “But I can change. Whatever you want, I’ll do it. I will. Anything you want. You have me. I’ll be whatever you want me to be, Em. Because without you, I’m nothin’ besides.”
My heart pricked at that one. A big fat crush of a prick, that I couldn’t shake off. I stared at him hard with my hand on the door. His eyes weak, curled into himself as if I were about to bludgeon him to death with a frying pan or something. I hated seeing him like this. I hated myself, mostly.
“Please,” he whispered.
“I need someone stable,” I said.
“I’ll do anything,” he repeated.
Wait a minute. My posture straightened. What did he mean he’ll do anything? Was that anything anything? Because if he really meant that…
“I need a ring,” I said.
He rattled his head in surprise. “What?”
The idea unfurled right before me. The dawn after a moonless night. This wasn’t the end. I could salvage this mission.
“I can’t stay here in Liverpool unless I’m engaged… And I can’t be engaged to a starving musician who wouldn’t be able to provide for me. I need someone stable with a stable job.”
His eyes shifted as his mind whirred and struggled to compute the change of events. Good sign, he didn’t immediately start yelling at me. Bad sign, he didn’t immediately agree to it. Nothing but a shocked silence.
“So, if you really love me then… I’m sorry, John. It’s me or the band,” I said abruptly and then shut the door on him.
The silhouette of his feet remained under the crack of the door. I pressed my ear against the smooth wood. But there was nothing. Not a sound. No shift inside my rib cage. No split in the timeline.
The feet under the door stayed for a long time, shuffling, and acting unsure of what to do. Then finally after what felt like forever, the shadow left.
My ultimatum hung heavy in the air. The timeline hadn’t split, but what did that mean? Maybe he hadn’t made his choice yet. Or the timeline was still careening down the original path. But I couldn’t be sure where that path was going. He told me at the fair that he loved me. He seemed sincere. He seemed sincere when he came to the door.
My lungs were burning, and I finally exhaled. I wasn’t sure. I probably scared him off for good. But Thorne didn’t know that. And if nothing else, the ultimatum had bought me some time. I had a chance at a proposal now. A chance at taking John away from music and away from Paul. I could talk Thorne into setting the mission back on track. Keep everyone safe.
I waited for the sun to set before leaving for Thorne’s hotel. No way was I going to chance running into Stu again. As the last rays were settling behind the rooftops, I quietly slipped downstairs and out the kitchen door.
No sign of John.
I walked for a long time. In my stupid, stupid fifties heels. Why would they do this to women? Why did they hate women so much? Ugh. After a while, I took the heels off and walked on the sidewalk in my stockings. They got wet within the first two minutes and I stepped on at least five hundred icky cancer sticks.
I barged my way into Thorne’s room without knocking. I held my chin high, hoping to bluff the most confident of expressions.
“Things are underway,” I said shutting the door behind me. My hands trembled as they released the doorknob, and I hid them under crossed arms. “Soon we’ll have the marriage proposal and no more Beatles.”
He watched me with a dark and haunting look.
I sat on his bed with my arms crossed tight. “At this point, we just have to wait for him to make a move.”
“It’s over, Emmeline,” he said suddenly. “The mission is over.”
I tightened my lips against my teeth. “What do you mean?”
“He’s not giving up his friendship with McCartney,” Thorne said with a blank expression. “He’s not giving up music and he’s not proposing.”
“You don’t know that,” I said. “He hasn’t decided yet.”
Thorne took a paper off the table and tossed it furiously onto the bed covers.
“What’s this?” I asked without daring to uncross my arms.
“A request form to audition for The Cavern,” he said in a gruff voice. “He left with Paul shortly after speaking to you and filled this damn thing out before I intercepted it.”
I examined the paper on the paisley bedcover. Sure enough. John’s handwriting. Tomorrow morning 10 AM. Quarrymen. Signed John Lennon, Paul McCartney.
“I can stop the audition,” I said my throat constricting. “I can still get him to choose me instead.”
“He won’t choose you. I know that. You know that,” Thorne said with a sneer. “I think you’re forgetting that I can feel when the timeline splits just the same as you.”
My shoulders tensed, pulling my entire torso with them.
“So?” I asked with a choking voice.
“So, the timeline didn’t split,” he said blankly. “He didn’t choose you.”
My chest rose and fell quickly. “He hasn’t made his choice yet. You have to give him more time.”
“It’s over, Emmeline. It’s done. You know what you have to do.”
My nose stung and twitched, and I pushed it away with my anger. “I don’t have to do anything. I need more time.”
“No more time. No more chances. You need to decide tonight,” he said. “Who will be eliminated, McCartney or Lennon.”
The breath collectively knocked out of me.
“No, I can’t just make that choice—”
“Eliminating one of them is going to alter this timeline, so you need to tell me who is behind the success of The Beatles.”
“I don’t know,” I said my voice shaky.
“You do know,” he snapped. “You know who it is. You know who has to die.”
“No one! I mean, neither of them! No one is more talented than the other.” I felt desperate like a rodent trapped by a cat in an alleyway.
“Then is it George? Or maybe it’s this Ringo. Tell me who has to die, Emmeline.”
“I can’t— I don’t know.”
“Tell me who has to die, or I will eliminate all four of them.”
“No, you can’t! They’re just kids!”
“Then tell me who has to die!” Thorne yelled.
“John!” I heard myself shout. Then a dark silence filled the rest of the room.
Thorne’s posture relaxed.
I hung my head. “I know it’s John… Not because he’s the most talented… but because he’s the one who will never give it up.”
“Then it’s time to finish the mission,” he said.
I leapt off the bed and gave Thorne a piercing glare.
“I HATE you,” I said, pushing each and every sound of the word so he would feel it. Feel it driving right into his malicious mind. I shoved past him and out the door, slamming it behind myself and running down the stairs so roughly the entire stairwell echoed like a war drum.
Dashing down the street, I could no longer contain the intense choking sobs that were creeping up on me. I cried. A real, hard, ugly cry. Loud and uncontrollable. At least one small family stared at me as they passed.
“What’s the matter, dearie?” the woman asked me.
I was so overwhelmed and overran that I pushed past. My footsteps picked up speed. I was running but everything seemed to be moving around me in slow motion.
Trapped at every turn. I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t just leave John to die, but how could I stay? I couldn’t salvage what was. Obviously, he would not give up his music and I would only get more attached before having to kill him. It was toxic. Everything about the situation. I wanted to run away back home, but I couldn’t.
So I ran to the next best place. The place that had most felt like home since I had been there. Strawberry Field. Outside the big iron gate, I took my heels off again. My stockings were covered in cigarette butts, leaves and at least one prickly thorn.
Thorne. He was a thorn. A big fat thorn.
Thinking of him, made me cry harder. He would kill those teenagers no problem. He would put them all in a shallow grave by the river. The imagery made me sick. I had gotten to know them. Hear their voices in person. Talk to them about their dreams. Kiss John…
I grabbed ahold of the iron gate with both hands, grunting as I hoisted myself and climbed to the other side. The night air made the iron that much colder. I let go a little too soon, landing hard on my feet and almost knocking over. Shutting my eyes tight, I leaned against the gate and stuck my hands into the pockets of my jacket. There I found a folded piece of paper.
I pulled John’s neatly folded note from my pocket and held it in my shaking hands. The note he told me was only for bad days. Wow. If there were ever a bad day, I would say this takes the cake. I sighed from the top of my chest. Not daring to open the contents.
Reading that note would do nothing for my emotional glass wall. But, fine. I was obviously beyond that now.
I unfolded one side. Then the other. Slowly exhaled and turned the paper to see what John had written at the fair.
On the other side of the flyer was a sketch of a girl kneeling with her arms lovingly around the neck of an angry tiger. A boy watched with a big grin from behind the barrier, half a dozen hearts around his head.
Beneath that, he had scribbled a couple of lines.
A cheetah has spots,
A tiger has stripes,
And I have a girl,
Who fits me just right
I love, love, love you!
That was the secret message? I thought it was going to be some profound words of advice or something. I let out a laugh. But as soon as the air rushed in from that laugh it turned into a sob.
I pressed his poem against my chest. “John. No. No.”
I wandered aimlessly into our secret garden. The garden that he took me to. That’s where I collapsed. My eyes were soggy and swollen and I was too exhausted to cry anymore.
I wiped my eyes with the back of my hand. Whatever. I was drowning and I didn’t care anymore. Time to sink underneath the waves.
“Play Que’s videos,” I commanded my IND. It lit up and projected the screen right in front of me. The video of us playing at Big Bear appeared, lighting the entire garden around me.
Not more than a few seconds into the video and I was jolted by a distinct feeling. A pulling inside my chest. The tug of war between the two rib cages.
I bolted up. What had happened? The timeline split somehow. But what? What was it? I scanned the garden until I found what had caused the split.
John sat not too far away from me, his eyes wide, staring at me and my activated IND with a frightened look.
Oh. My. Galactica.
“System override, camera off!”