CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN

Well, if I thought I had wrecked the mission before, I had no idea how much worse things could get. I had gone from plan A to plan B to plan F. But the timeline had split. There was no denying that. And there was no going back.

The screen of my IND retracted and shut off.

“John,” I said.

He backed away from me, crawling on the ground. As freaked out as ever. Which, I mean, yeah. Who wouldn’t be? There was no earthly explanation for a video to be projecting from someone’s body in the year 1958.

“What are you, Em?” he finally got out. “You’re not human.”

I shushed him. “John, look I—”

If I told him the truth, for once, I might be able to help him. This might be the only way to truly get him to hang up his guitar. But I had to do it quick before Thorne noticed my camera off.

“It’s alright. I’m not going to hurt you. I’m going to tell you the truth. The entire truth. The song that I played for you, the one about this place, Strawberry Fields Forever? … It’s not my song. It’s your song. You wrote it… In 1967… John, I’m from the future.”

John stared at me, motionless from the ground. I grimaced and held my hands by my sides.

“You’re bloody crackers!” John sprang off the ground to run away.

“Wait, listen to me!” I said. “I’m trying to save your life.”

I reactivated my IND and the garden lit up with a soft blue glow. I opened a small clip, The Beatles playing live on the Ed Sullivan show. When John heard his own voice he stopped and turned, ultimately entranced by the technology presented before him. There he was on the screen. Older, but still him. I knew from the look on his face that he had no choice other than believe me.

“Tell me everything,” he said.

I gave him the quickest run-down of Beatles history that I possibly could. Going through every major success and album that I could think of. It was a lot. A lot. And I didn’t have a whole lot of time to explain everything.

I pulled up a few pictures to show him. Ending with the Bed-In for Peace with Yoko. The same image that had given me the idea for the mission in the first place. John leaned forward examining every detail of it.

“You’d think after that many albums I could afford more than granny specs from the National Health,” he said his face close to the screen. He pointed to Yoko. “And who do I marry then?”

“Yoko Ono. You really loved her.” I scrunched my brows together. “I mean, you will love her… I mean you would have loved her.”

“But get a load of future me, Em! Look at them whiskers!” He put his hands on his knees, his nose practically touching the holograph. “If this is my honeymoon, how old am I when I finally get married? Fifty?”

“Um,” I shut off my projection. “Sometimes it’s best not to know too much about your own future.”

John slapped his knees and stood. “Alright, fine, I’m not that interested in me self anyway. Tell me more about the future! I want to know about it all. Is everyone a walking television set, or just you? Are you more machine than human?”

“It’s a little device that was installed when I was a young child,” I said making it as brief as possible. “I have other devices and body modifications too. Everyone has things like this in the future.”

“What else is there?” he asked, his eyes shining. “Have we made contact with things and beings from other planets? Have we finally ended war?”

“Okay, hold on,” I said, calming him down. “I don’t have a lot of time and I need to explain why I’ve been sent here.”

“I have a million and more questions.”

“I know,” I said. “But tonight, I have to leave it at The Beatles.”

“I can’t believe it! The Beatles! Six number one songs in a single year?” he said, excitedly and spun a full circle on his heels. “Masters of the British Empire! Ha! I’d like to hear what dear Mimi has to say about that one. Look where my guitar gets me then. You were wrong about that one! Weren’t you, Mimi?”

“John,” I tried to cut in, but he was floating away on cloud nine.

“To think of that! Us? Kids from Liverpool of all places! And we did this!” He put his fingers to his lips, a wild gleam in his eye. “How much money do we make from all that success? I bet we’re close to millionaires, am I right?”

  “Uh, well…” I chuckled.

“Do we become millionaires, Em?”

I took a breath in. Not sure if I wanted to let him know or not. He froze waiting for my reply.

“You are worth more money than The Queen herself,” I said.

John’s smile dropped. In fact, he dropped. Right onto the grass, in shock.

“But you can’t have it, John. You have to give it all up.”

“What? Why?” he asked softly.

“I’ve been sent back in time to create an alternate timeline without your band,” I said. “If you don’t give it up on your own, you’ll be killed.”

I explained to him that he was now in an alternate universe, created to study the absence of his impact. I told him that if he couldn’t leave his band he would be killed for the study. Then I briefly touched on David Mark Chapman and how he would only live twenty more years if he pursued music.

He sat still and quiet for a while. It felt like an eternity. I knew that my camera was still off, and Thorne would begin tracking me any minute.

“That’s why you were trying so hard to get me to forget about music,” he finally said. “Is that why you were trying to start a romance as well?”

My heart stung. My eyes were still puffy from bawling earlier and I couldn’t believe they had any tears left to clog my ducts.

“Yes,” I said. “I was sent to wed you away from your music career.”

“Well, that explains a lot.” He nodded to himself. “None of the feelings were real then? Not even at Brighton? Just a wee little bit?”

“A wee lot little bit,” I said, my throat constricting. “I wasn’t trying to fall for you, but I did. I really couldn’t help myself.”

“Me neither,” he said with a slight chuckle.

I shut my eyes, too afraid to say what had to be said. “The only way to stop my mentor from coming after you is if you marry me.”

What?”

“I know it’s boring and it’s not a life with music. But whatever! It could be great! We could fake it together and you would live past forty! And you know, we could do whatever we wanted! We could travel to Aruba or anywhere in the world. It doesn’t even have to be real. We could fake through it—”

“I’ll do it,” he said.

My IND jabbed me with a buzzing hiccup. Dread washed over me. He was coming to kill John.

“Listen, we can make it out of this okay, but we have to act fast!” I said taking him by the elbow and moving him to a darker spot in the field. “When I activate my camera, you have to propose to me. And make it sound convincing enough to stop Thorne! Tell me that you’re going to give up music forever. Then we have to part ways. Don’t be around me until I know you’re safe. I have a tracking device on me, so I don’t want you anywhere near me.”

“I don’t…” John stammered.

“Okay, I’m going to count to three and turn on my camera,” I said.

“Wait, hold on, hold on, hold on, on, on!” He grabbed my wrists. “How am I supposed to ‘make this sound convincing’? I can’t do that. I can’t act at all!”

“Nice try,” I said. “You’ve been in six motion picture movies. Now hold still, I’m going to count to three.”

He ran a hand through his hair. “I’m dead nervous,” he said to himself.

I held up three fingers. “One… Two…”

I pointed at him. Which made him laugh right at the same time I activated the camera. I gave him a stink eye. This isn’t a joke John, this is a bullet through your brain.

“Em, can I ask you something?” He still trailed a giggle although the tips of his fingers were trembling as he brought them to his chest.

What is it, John?” I could tell that my acting was no good either. My voice was all high and wispy. I held my breath and hoped that this would be believable enough.

“Let’s get married, Em.”

There was this awkward pause in the field. Crickets chirped. John leaned his head forward as if he were prompting me for my next line on stage.

“That’s not a question,” I said.

“True,” he said with an eye roll. “But if it were to be a question. What would your answer be?”

“I would say yes,” I said and smiled at him. “If, of course, you agree to give up your band.”

“Whatever you want, Em. I’ll get a bank job and turn thirty-five tomorrow if you’d like. Buckle down and be a Brummer striving for the rest of my life.”

“Don’t be sarcastic,” I said through gritted teeth. Pointing at where my IND was actively recording him.

“I’m not,” he said, fully in character now. “We’ll marry as soon as we can. I’ll get the things together. Tomorrow at ten o’clock. We’ll go down to the register office.”

My eyes bulged. Tomorrow? He was really playing the whole nine yards.

“Great,” I squeaked. “10 o’clock tomorrow.”

My leg muscles twitched, preparing to run far away from John so that Thorne wouldn’t have a way to track him.

“And Em,” he called after me before I could leave. I turned to face him in the dark field. “I’m real on that, if you are,” he said in a low soft voice.

Little electric currents ran into my fingertips. I searched his face for hidden meaning, but all he gave me was a quick little nod of his head. I returned the nod and then flew on my heels to find Thorne. I had to get to him before he got to John, or that would be the end of everything.

I quickly scaled the red iron fence. The scratches that I had gotten before were nothing compared to the careless bumps and bruises that were now forming on my knees and shins.

Where could I find Thorne? There had to be a way I could reverse track him. I was just about to activate my IND when a voice boomed through the dark alley.

 “I wouldn’t use that in public, if I were you,” Thorne said as he moved toward me wearing a dark trench coat. “You should know better to be more careful. John could have seen you using it at any time.”

  My heart leapt. He hadn’t figured us out.

“And I shouldn’t have to remind you about turning your camera off.” Thorne towered over me. “Once is a terrible mistake. Twice is a terrible offense. Your camera was off more than three times as long as it should have been.”

“I turned it off because John came to the field,” I said, trying to hide the quaver in my voice. “After he apologized, we ended up, you know… wanting privacy.”

“That’s a dangerous situation. We’ve been through this,” he said. “I’ll have to write a report on this once we’ve terminated the subject and sent you home—”

“John proposed.”

Thorne was unamused by the exciting news. “Why’s that?”

 “He was so sorry about what happened. He vowed to give up his music for me. Surely, you felt the timeline split.” I gulped. “The mission was a success. We elope tomorrow morning.”

“And that’s what you want?” he asked, his face unmoving. “You want to be married to an abusive and unsuccessful man, spending the next fifty years discouraging him from his one true passion?”

“Well, jeez, when you put it like that…” I mumbled.

“What about McCartney?” he asked sharply. “You said he was a threat.”

He was a threat. Musically of course. His songwriting talent unmatched now that John was out of the way. Plus, not to mention that he would probably start a new band with George.

“Don’t worry about Paul,” I said, worrying about Paul. “They won’t be able to audition tomorrow and Paul will give it up once John is gone.”

“This is what you really want.” Thorne pressed, like the annoyed father pushing his own agenda onto a stubborn child.

“Yes,” I said, my whole chest tightening. “I want to marry John. I want to go forward with the mission I came here to do.”

Thorne’s mouth tightened. He scratched at his bristly chin.             

“Fine,” he huffed. “You’ll marry tomorrow. But you will not at any point turn your camera off again. I’ll be watching.”


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CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX

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!

  • John

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!”

CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE

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.”

“Okay, thanks.”

“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.