The next morning, I awoke in Mendips and stared at the ceiling for a good, long while. Would I still have to come back to this room after I was married? Or would we run away together and skip the country. Everything had happened so fast and we hadn’t made any real plans. Now we would have to figure things out under the watchful eye of trigger-finger Thorne.
I pulled the covers off and swung my legs over the bed. Anxiety filled every inch of me, but there was nothing left to do besides get ready for my elopement with John Lennon.
I picked through my 1950s clothes. Everything was so ugly and dumpy. The only one I could think of was the one red dress that I had already worn for John several dozen times. I ached for this gown I had in 2109. Custom fitted iridescent fabric, body tight all the way to the knees and then puddled into this gorgeous train. It even had these LED-infused sequins that sparkled off and on in the dark. Wearing that to the 1958 registrar’s office would have absolutely blown John’s mind to little bits.
The thought of him never seeing me in that gown made me feel so disappointed and heavy that I slung that red dress over my head and didn’t even bother to smooth it.
Under my clothes in my suitcase were stacks of time-appropriate cash. I didn’t know where we were running off to after the elopement, so I took each stack and stuffed them into my purse. Best to have too much than not enough.
Worry lines and dark circles splotched my reflection in the mirror. Not at all how I had imagined my “big day”. Or my “future groom”. I had a funny little spark inside of me. A tickle of happiness. I really did love that boy. And now that he was in on the secret, everything would be alright, wouldn’t it?
I clenched my purse a little tighter, hoping that John was going to be able to keep up the act for the rest of his life.
The happiness flickered off and my stomach churned. What was I doing? Committing fifty years of my life to staying here? Living as an eternal teenager, watching my husband grow old and die without me? I would be wearing weird pointy bras for another fifteen years or something. Ugh. I missed my iridescent dress. I missed that dress.
I miss drinking a paper can of Shorty-Hash. I miss the ceramic cat that used to sit on my desk. I miss feeling clean. What happens if one of my body modifications breaks? What if Thorne decides things aren’t working as well as he thought and he comes around to kill John? Would he always be in danger? What would happen to Paul and George? Would Ringo be okay?
I left my room. Each step was a reality into 1958. How could I spend fifty years here building a whole life with John and then poof back to the future expected to start an entirely new life?
I knocked on his door. My chest in knots.
Silence. No time for a groom to sleep in on his wedding day. I checked my shoulder for Mimi and opened the door.
My face dropped. He was gone. I stared at his room in disbelief. We were supposed to be heading to the registrar’s office right then. Maybe things hadn’t gone like I had hoped. Maybe Thorne knew all along.
Then I saw on his bed a second empty spot. Where his Gallotone Champion Acoustic usually sat. Missing. Ice ran through my veins.
I tore down the stairs, frightening the gray cat off his usual step. I dashed from room to room searching for my fiancée until finally, I found Mimi cross-legged in the front room with a cup of tea.
“Do you know where John is?” I asked frantically.
She gave me a disapproving eye. “I thought you would know,” she said.
I relaxed. Her coldness reflected all the disapproving of a guardian with a teenager about to get married. “Is he getting the license?” I guessed.
Her disapproving eye blinked into confusion. “He left an hour ago with that McCartney boy. Going to some silly audition in town.”
I think every ounce of blood drained from the top of my head to my feet. “What?” I asked hoarsely.
“He didn’t get my permission of course,” she huffed. “I’d have told him not to waste his valuable time.”
I couldn’t respond. My knees went weak. Thorne had promised he would be watching every moment of the day. He had just seen John essentially leave me at the alter for the very thing I told him not to do. But why? I didn’t understand. I thought I had explained everything so well. And now he was going to get shot. My John was going to die.
I stumbled out the front door. I was closer to The Cavern than Thorne. I could beat him there.
I hardly looked at the stranger’s car I jumped into.
“Take me to The Cavern downtown! As quick as you can go!” I yelled.
“Now hold on a minute young lady,” said the driver, a bristle-mustached man in a black hat. I turned my purse and let the cash rain into his lap. He cleared his throat. “The Cavern you said, alright.”
We took off. I calculated how many precious minutes we were ahead of Thorne. Not more than five or six. Why had John done this? Did he have it in his mind the whole time to ditch the wedding? My heart would have been broken if it weren’t beating like wild out of my chest. Please, Galactica, don’t die. John, please don’t die.
Before the car could roll to a complete stop, I swung the door opened and bailed, then dashed through a crowd of young men tuning their instruments and smoking cigarettes.
“Hey, you can’t go in there,” one of them said to me as I thrust through the door of The Cavern.
Inside was nothing but a set of concrete narrow steps leading into the dark club. I scurried down them one foot after another, skipping as many steps as I could. Then I skid around the corner.
The main room was a giant and dank cellar with a great domed ceiling and a small stage raised only a couple of feet off the ground. The entire place was so muggy and hot that even the greyish bricks were sweating. One table had been set up in the audience and sat two men with greasy comb overs writing on papers and clearing their throats.
“Be with you in a moment, lads,” one said.
I spun around the room until I saw the Quarrymen, leaning against the wall with their guitars at their sides. John had on an upturned leather jacket and his thick-rimmed glasses, when he saw me, he narrowed his eyes and turned away.
I shook my head in disbelief.
“John!” I hissed as I walked up to him.
He flickered his eyes at me with that heavy dipping brow. His mouth a flat little line.
“What are you doing?” I asked through my teeth.
“What does it look like?” he asked dryly.
“Excuse us,” I said to Paul and George, grabbing John by the elbow and pulling him to a secluded corner. “Are you kidding me? What is going on with you? We’re supposed to be getting married right now.”
He crossed his arms tight.
“Couldn’t sleep last night,” he said shortly. “Everything got me to thinking. Really thinking.”
He was speaking in harsh little jabs. Not the kind of nice little voice you would have for your doting bride on your fake but also maybe real wedding day.
“I don’t understand—”
“You know everything about me. And my life, right? Front to back,” he said, arms still crossed tight.
“John.” I shook my head and gestured that my IND was recording. He glared at me with narrow brown eyes.
“Did you know that my mum was going to get killed by the off-duty policeman?”
Good, holy Galactica. I stood there as dumb as ever, trying to put two words together.
“Did you know?” he pressed again.
I rubbed my lips together, thinking of what to say. Nothing I could think of would sufficiently appease both John and Thorne. If I played dumb, John would explode. And he was very good at exploding. Although, if I explained things to John over my IND, Thorne would be livid and there would be no hope of talking him out of the kill.
John’s honey brown eyes were shimmery. I hated when they shimmered like that. I had lied too many times to him already.
“I tried to save her,” I said.
Those shimmery eyes flashed with anger.
“See?” he said. “Because all this time, I thought I had this nice little imaginary friend named God that I could blame. Or the policeman. Or even myself. But instead, I find out, that someone knew that this horrific thing was going to happen. And yet, it happened. That’s a crock of shit right there.”
“I really did try to save her,” I said, the words clawing out of my throat. “I tried! But Thorne wouldn’t let me go. He said he would have killed you if I went!”
“So, let him then,” he said, through angry tears. “You should have… you should have let him.”
He wiped his nose with the sleeve from his leather jacket and tried to walk away, but I stood in his path.
“He pulled a gun on me!” I said, my voice was high-pitched and strained. “I used my technology to call the house, but it was so weak. Mimi didn’t hear the phone ringing until Julia had already left.”
“It’s a lie.”
“Why should I believe anything you say? Hmm? You’ve done nothing but lie to me from the beginning.”
“This isn’t a lie!” I said. “He’s going to shoot you if you step on that stage!”
“We’re ready,” the same man from before called from the table.
John shoulder-checked me as he moved for the stage. I grabbed ahold of his arm, keeping him back.
“Wait, no! Don’t!” I yelled as he pulled from my grasp. I stomped my foot.
Then to my horror, he hopped onto the stage to join Paul and George.
“No drummer?” the club owner asked.
“Don’t need one,” John said slipping under his guitar strap. “Yet.”
I clawed down my face. I had to stop this audition from happening. I had to get these kids to safety somehow.
“Alright then…” The owner checked the sheet on his clipboard. “The Quarrymen?”
“The name’s outdated,” John announced rolling his sleeve. “We’re going by The Beatles from now on. Gotta feeling about that name,” he added while giving me a dirty glare from behind his glasses.
Paul and George both gave each other an incredulous look but seemed like they were too focused on the audition to debate the name change.
My IND hiccupped. I blurted a cuss word under my breath.
“Alright, lads, whenever you’re ready.”
With a nod the three put their fingers to their guitars and began playing In Spite of All the Danger.
I had to do something, and I had to do something quick. A power chord ran from the stage to the back of the room. I squinted to find the outlet or power source. Maybe one of those old-timey boxes where you could flip a switch. The underground cellar club was too dark. I felt along the wall with my hands, frantically tracing the bricks hoping to find where that dang power chord ended. My shin knocked into a bucket with a sharp pain. I looked down to see a pail full of rags and old squeeze bottles. PCMX cleaner. I stopped in my tracks. That was a close one.
Loud and angry footsteps echoed from the staircase.
“John!” I screamed, but to no avail, the game was up.
“Stay right where you are!” Thorne barked.
He flashed his gun around the room. The two club owners at the table stood and threw their hands in the air.
Paul and George both dove to each corner beside the stage. John didn’t, he hugged his guitar to his chest with a pale expression. I would have said, ‘I told you so’ if I wasn’t so horrified or sick.
What could I do? I couldn’t overpower him; he had the body armor same as me. No cop would be able to stop him. It was happening, right before my eyes and there was nothing I could do about it.
I felt helpless and angry. Angry at Thorne for being so set on termination. If only we were in the year 2109, he’d have no power to gun people down like this.
Suddenly there was a light from the entrance stairwell. A young kid with a pair of drumsticks hopped into the doorway.
“Have Rory and the Hurricanes already auditioned?” Ringo asked, then as soon as he saw Thorne with the gun his eyes bulged. “Sorry, wrong room,” he whispered and backed away.
I closed my eyes and slapped my forehead. Are you kidding me? Of all the worst possible timings ever.
“You!” Thorne pointed his gun in Ringo’s direction. “Get over here.”
Ringo clutched his drumsticks and slowly walked toward the stage with the others. Well, now he had all four of them.
Thorne turned his gun at the owners. “You two. Leave. I have no need to disrupt your timelines.”
The chairs pitched and squealed as the owners fled The Cavern with their hands above their heads. I bent down and carefully plucked one of the squeeze bottles from the bucket.
“All of you,” Thorne barked at them. “On stage. In a line.”
I leapt in front of Thorne’s gun. The cold barrel pressed hard into my chest.
“Em, don’t!” John screamed from the stage.
“Move!” Thorne shouted at me and tried to push past me, but I grabbed the gun by the barrel and held it in place, nestled into the body armor on my chest.
“No,” I said firmly. “I couldn’t save Julia, but I can save the boys.”
Thorne curled his upper lip in fury. “You’re rogue,” he said.
I pulled the bottle of cleaner from behind my back and squirted four or five good shots right into his eyes.
POP. The gun went off right into my chest. The bullet clinked onto the ground between my feet. The armor had stopped it, but it still hurt. Like when Que and I used to play Astro Shooters with those rubber balls that would 3D print on demand. Galactica. It felt just like that.
I stumbled, dizzy from the PCMX. The gun clattered to the floor, followed by the loud thump of Thorne’s body.
I braced myself for the hard floor, but instead found myself in a pair of warm arms.
“Em, hold on, hold on!”
I shook my head trying not to inhale any more of the PCMX. I could see Thorne twitching and reaching for the gun.
“Get out of here, we have to get out of here,” I said as loudly as I could muster.
As well as I can remember, the boys helped me up the stairs and out of the building. The dank Cavern faded but the adrenaline carried me through. When I awoke, I was half lying on the pavement, half in John’s lap. His hand was rattling my chin. The other boys circled around and leaned in.
“I’m fine, I’m fine,” I reassured them by pulling the neck of my shirt so they could see the welt of the bullet that had not penetrated me.
John’s face relaxed in complete relief. “I thought I lost you,” he said with a wavery voice.
I grabbed him by the opening of his leather jacket and pulled him in close. “I told you so.” There. Now I could say it.
“I’m sorry, Em. I didn’t—” He ran a hand through his hair so panicky he almost knocked his glasses off. “I’ll marry you! I won’t touch another guitar again, I swear!”
The other boys exchanged confused and uneasy glances.
I swallowed painfully. “It’s too late,” I said.
“What do we do?” George asked. “Should we go for a policeman?”
I sat up on the sidewalk. The Cavern was four or five buildings away, where we had left Thorne’s twitching body.
“He’s like me. He can’t be killed,” I said, rubbing the purple welt on my chest. “And I can’t hide you forever. He’ll spend the next fifty years hunting you down.”
I cupped my chin with my fingers. There was only one place I could take them that would stop Thorne from trying to kill them. One place that would secure a timeline without The Beatles. It’s true, I was rogue. Nothing was off the table. Including this.
I had to take all four of them through the portal.
“The only way you can all be truly safe is if I take you back home,” I said.
“Well, who’s to say he won’t follow us straight to America?” Paul asked.
“No,” I said. I raised my brow at John. “All the way home.”
His mouth parted in shock. “How?” he asked.
Then I saw it. The unmistakable grey hood of a meat truck puttering down the street. The driver stopped to unload boxes from the back. The car idled with the keys still in the ignition. My eyes widened. I knew those headlights. I knew that front grill. I had seen it before.
“That’s how,” I said, pointing to the truck.