Thorne insisted I stay in his hotel room until I “cooled off and regathered”. He was lucky that he had a body armor mod because I could have killed him. Absolutely. Every ounce of my energy was boiling. The image of John watching us drive away would not leave my mind.
I desperately tried to invent a lie to tell John. Maybe I was playing hooky from work and my instructor was all over town looking for me? But then that didn’t make sense because how would he know where to find me? No matter which way I sliced it, I was in trouble. Deep trouble. I didn’t know how to get out of this.
I sat in complete silence for an entire hour not willing to engage in eye contact with Thorne. He sat next to the door with his arms crossed. The same position he took when he was keeping me from Julia’s accident. I watched the gunky floor with red blotchy eyes until finally Thorne stood up.
“Go to your room,” he said.
I bolted out of the door with a tight frown. I would not be going to my room. I was going to find John.
At the corner, I caught a bus to return to downtown Liverpool. The boys would be having band practice at the canteen across the street from the college. The bus seemed to be moving at a snail’s pace and stopping for passengers every block. My knee wiggled uncontrollably. The trees passed the windows almost as quick as my thoughts. What would I tell John? How could I convince him that he was the only boy I cared about?
And anyway, he was.
When I got off the bus, I found George outside the canteen, by himself. Sitting cross legged on the ground and running frets on his guitar. I swallowed a dry lump in my throat. Not a good sign to see him alone.
“Where is everybody?” I asked as I approached.
George looked at me, grimacing with that wide mouthful of teeth. “John came over and started this raging row with Paul. Something about you.”
I closed my eyes in dread.
George shrugged. “And Paul kept repeatin’ that he didn’t know what he was on about until he finally stormed off. Don’t know what we’ll do with the audition and all. It’s tomorrow, you know.”
“What audition?” I asked in a cold robotic way. The dread kept sinking lower and lower tugging my entire body with it.
“We’ve got an audition with the fellow who owns The Cavern. Has a spot to fill. If he likes us, he’ll put us on the bill for the next several weeks.”
“What do you mean? Playing there regularly? That’s not supposed to happen for another five years!”
“What?” George’s mouth curled in confusion.
Great holy Galactica. That audition was definitely not supposed to happen yet. I pinched the bridge of my nose. Great. Just great. I had somehow created a timeline that expedited The Beatles success. Hopefully, the fight had prevented this new audition.
“Which way did John go?” The real question I wanted answered.
George nodded down the road. “To the pub. Ye Ol’ Cracke.”
“Er, I would be careful if I were you,” George added before I could leave. “You know John when he gets in a real mood.”
The little hairs stood on the back of my neck. “I know.”
George returned to his guitar; his brows furrowed in concentration. The melody he plucked almost sounded like the beginning of While My Guitar Gently Weeps. I wrenched the instrument out of the fifteen-year-old’s hand.
“Stop getting better!” I said and set the guitar on the grass.
Then, I rushed to the college pub, elbowing my way past a group of girls with fluffy circle skirts.
Inside the pub, the atmosphere was buzzing. Art students were drinking and laughing, and stinky cigarette smoke clouded the air with little cancer particles. A sick nauseous feeling burned at the top of my throat, either caused by the smoke or because I still didn’t know what I would say to Lennon. I pulled my sweater over my nose and scoured the crowd for John.
He found me.
“Back so soon from your boyfriend’s I see?” his voice boomed from behind me. And there he was. A hard expression and an empty drink in his hand. “Biiig hairy ugly man. But I guess if that’s what’s what. Then that’s what’s what.”
My brow crinkled together. “John, I was looking for you. I wanted to explain,” I said, reaching for his arm.
“Hey!” He pulled away from me. “Don’t think you can— don’t think I can come ‘round again that easy now.”
“John, please, listen to me!” I yelled over the crowd. “It’s not what you think.”
“Come off it, Em! You left me for another man today, don’t try to cover it up now,” he said, sloshing his ice around as he waved. “You left with him right in front of my face. Right in front of my very face.”
“What?” I doubled back. “Dr. Thorne? He’s just my instructor from my work study.”
“Stop it. I know what you’re doing,” he said.
“What am I doing? I’m not doing anything.”
“You’re lying to me, Em,” he said getting closer to my face. “You’re lying. How can you even know anyone here? How can you— it’s all a lie.”
The corners of my eyes were burning. If only he knew. Thorne was the last man I would choose in every timeline. But John was the first. If only he knew.
“That man is nowhere near a boyfriend or even a friend,” I said.
“But, when he threatened to end it, you came runnin’ right round, didn’t you? Ah. See.” He pointed his finger at me. “You’re lying.”
Everything inside of me was churning with fear and grief. “I can explain,” I said desperately, although I knew I couldn’t explain it at all.
“About Paul?” He spat out. “Go on. I’d really love to hear you try to get out of that one.”
There was that hit I was anticipating. “I don’t like Paul like that. At all!” I said.
“Lies, lies, lies, LIES,” he yelled so loudly that the students nearby cranked their heads to gawk. “How’d that man even know his name then, hmm?”
“John, calm down and let me explain,” I said, trying to grab his arm again. At a table nearby, a group of students got up to dance with each other. John leaned over, exchanged his empty glass for one of their half-finished drinks and downed it.
“Hey, stop that!” I said, pulling the glass away.
“You can’t tell me what to do, Em,” he said, coughing a little. “Sure, I still love you. I probably always will. But I also hate you for that. If there were other men you should have told me in the first place, because four’s a crowd in the bed, Em.”
He was battering on and on. I closed my eyes. Why did the history books have to be right about the famously jealous thing? Why couldn’t it have just been a half right thing? A reasonable thing? Not a raging drunk kind of thing.
“I don’t care about anyone else! Don’t you get it? There’s no one else! I love you, you stupid idiot!” Probably could have done without the ‘stupid idiot’ part, but my irritancy was boiling over.
“Don’t say what you don’t mean!” he said, rubbing his nose with the back of his hand. “Oh, you’re just like me mum! If you don’t want me, then just go! Don’t linger about making it worse than it already is. Just piss off already since you want to.”
He twisted away from me and stormed to the other side of the pub, where his friends Stu and Bill sat at a table.
“John!” I yelled after him as I followed through the chaotic crowd. “I don’t want to go,” I said. “I want to be with you! I always have.”
He shot me an angry smile that sent shivers down my spine. “There you go, lying again. Your best hobby. I knew it from the beginning that you didn’t want to be with me. You never did. And now you have this other guy. Okay. Great. I’m sure he can give you what you want. A nice little house and a smooth predictable life. Where you can bring him his slippers and pipe by the fire. Well, that’s not me. It never was me. It never will be. So, leave me then. Alright, leave me, like you were going to anyway.”
He sat hard in between his friends and took the drink out of Stu’s hand, only met by a small protest and a frustrated sigh. I took the last empty chair directly across from him.
“I’m not leaving you,” I said, trying to calm the raging fire that had unreasonably set in his mind.
“I don’t want to hear it,” he kind of mumbled out.
“If you would just shut up and listen, I can explain!”
“Alright, what?” he said with his elbows hard pressed on the table. “What is there to explain, ay? How you’ve gone behind my back with one of my best friends? Playing me for the fool?”
Bill and Stu expressions flashed uneasiness. I scrunched into my seat, my face burning with frustration.
“Are you actually kidding me right now?” I asked through gritted teeth. “You’re playing that victim game as if you’re not going to leave me in ten years for some Japanese concept artist.”
John curled his hands by his face in frustration. “What the hell are you talking about?!”
“Yeah, yeah, you think you’re so innocent,” I said with a scoff.
“You’re lying to me, Em,” he said, his eyes glazed with tears. “I phoned the college to find out the name of this man you left me for.”
My stomach tightened and knotted, and he must have seen it in my face, because he gave me a nod.
“You don’t have an internship there. You never did,” he said. “And you’re paying Mimi 105 a month.”
I couldn’t respond the tightening in my chest hurt more and more taking my breath away.
“So where does the money come from then? Is the old gorilla man supporting you? Or are you supporting him, turning tricks?”
His tone was venomous. Tears pooled in the corners of my eyes, but I didn’t dare let them drip.
“Oh, wait, that’s right,” Bill piped in. “Stu saw her leaving an older man’s hotel room the other day. Didn’t you, Stu?”
Stu shook his head rapidly, but it was too late.
“What!?” Lennon yelled.
My heart sank deep down into the pub floor. “John, I—”
His eyes widened and he pursed his lips. In one motion he brought his foot to the edge of the table and kicked it full force. The heavy wooden table tilted off its legs and right on top of me. WHACK. I crashed onto the floor along with everything else. A glass shattered next to me. A nearby girl startled and yelped.
I pulled my legs from under the table. I was completely unhurt with the body armor, but I was in absolute shock. So was everyone else around. All at once the deafening chatter of the pub stopped. The students gawped at the upended table.
“Cripes, John!” Stu knelt to help me. “Look what you’ve done!”
“You’ve got a macro-ton of circuits loose in your brain, Lennon!” I yelled at him from the floor.
John stiffened his shoulders all the way to his ears. His glossy eyes started spilling tears before he fully turned his back on me and ran out of the pub.
Stu helped me to my feet. But I was over it. I was going home. Not Mendips. Home. I couldn’t stand to be in this mission anymore. Knocked around physically and emotionally by men on either side. Manipulating and torturing a boy I genuinely had feelings for. I couldn’t stand this stupid place. This stupid summer. This stupid mission.
I pulled away from Stu and the other students circled around me. The door cracked open as I left just in time to see the back of John’s wiry hair turn the corner of the street. I left the opposite direction.
My heels clickety clacked on the sidewalk. Hot tears stung my eyes, but I was not going to cry for a boy who treats me like that. You better believe it. I blinked hard. Keeping the anger inside and focusing on one foot in front of the other, one foot in front of the other. One foot in front of the other. I would make it to the bus. I would make it to my room. I would make it to the portal. And then I would make it the hell out of here.
I emptied the rest of my pocket change to catch the bus once again and get back to Menlove Avenue. The entire journey I did not cry or groan or breathe any different. Only sniffed. I would think about John’s face at the pub before he ran away. Sniff. John at the fun fair. Sniff. Thorne telling me to grow up in the car. Sniff. Strawberry field. Sniff.
I sniffed all the way home and up to my room. John’s door was wide open. His empty room was more of a mess than usual. Papers everywhere, spilling into the hallway, which I knew would give Mimi something to yell about.
I shut the door. A little too hard. I guess you could say it was a slam. And then I pulled the suitcase from under my bed and threw it onto the mattress. I guess you could say that was a slam too.
I threw all my clothes in the bag. One after another. Piling them in. Not bothering to fold anything or keep them wrinkle free. Who cared? Not me. They were all old baggy potato sacks to begin with and I didn’t want them. They would have all been confiscated anyway with the tight security measures at the portal, so what was the point of all this packing? I needed to leave it there. Leave everything there. Especially my last romantic whim and flimsy emotion.
I moaned and sat right on the floor. Right where I was. I pulled my knees to my chest. Finally allowing myself to go over the consequences of a decision like leaving.
Should I really abandon the mission? Should I go back home? It wasn’t as if I didn’t know about this side of John. The time council had drilled it into me ever since the body armor mod and dozens of notes in his file. And what about the truck lights I saw coming through the other side of the portal? Would it be dangerous to go back?
And not just dangerous for me. Or John. But now Paul. Thorne had seen everything unfold. My argument in the pub, the table crashing on top of me. If I left, there would be no one to protect Paul, or George, or even Ringo from getting killed. This wasn’t just anger-issue Lennon on the line now, this timeline could be a whole blood bath if I left. And that would be on my shoulders for the rest of my life. I felt completely drained. As if I were navigating a hostage situation. Which, in a way, I guess that’s exactly what it was. I didn’t know what to do, but I was so tired and so exhausted. All I wanted was to sleep. At the very least, one more night in the drafty and stuffy Mendips.