A/N: Hello, everyone, welcome to my story! As some of you may have noticed, I haven't exactly updated in, well... more than a year, actually. I'm looking to start updating this story again, but before I do I'll be giving it a bit of a re-work. My writing skills have improved somewhat in the past year and I'm looking to make this the best fic that I possibly can.
Warnings for child abuse scenes, assorted violence (fairly mild), and curse words. I've rated this T because I don't think it's enough to warrant an M rating, but if you disagree, feel free to PM me. Actually, PM me anyway. I love talking to people!
Disclaimer: Don't own the Beatles or anything even remotely related to them (except for some CDs, t-shirts, and a biography of George). Also, this is NOT an Across the Universe fiction, which should go without saying by the summary I posted, but I'd just like to be sure you all know.
Hope you like it! Review, message, whatever you please. With love, Claire.
February 9, 1946
Bobby had been drunk the first time it happened. His job, as the bartender of a seedy hotel in Wavertree, gave him more access to alcohol than anyone else did on the new postwar rationing system, and he was quick to take liberal advantage of his luck. He worked the second shift, and wouldn't come home from work until well past nine in the nighttime, long after John's mother had tucked him into the house's large, single bed for his night's rest.
John wasn't Bobby's real son, no matter what his mother said. John's real father, Julia said, was in New Zealand, where the economy was better, trying to find a job and make some money. And, she said, once he got back, they would all live happily ever after as a proper family. And this all made reasonable sense to John, even though he didn't know where New Zealand was or what economy meant. Bobby, he figured, was just living with them so he could share money with them. It was awfully nice of him, John thought, even if Bobby smelt a little like pickled cabbage.
On that night, the first night, John wasn't sleeping very well. The night was somewhat chilly, and the heating in the house was sometimes spotty. One hour, the temperature would be comfortable, and the next it would chill to the bone. John didn't particularly like the new house. The walls were the wrong color and he didn't have his own room and it was much too big, so big that Julia's and Bobby's furniture together wasn't enough to make it feel homey. It was not having his own bed, though, that really bothered him. Bobby made the sheets that all three of them had to share smell like pickled cabbage. Sometimes, he would lie awake until midnight, when Julia would crawl in next to him, cuddle him close, and sing him songs. That night, he lay alone in the chilly room in the cabbage sheets and waited for his mother.
From down the staircase, the distinctive sound of a slamming door could be heard. Intrigued, and not at all sleepy, John hopped out of bed, slid on his little house slippers, and padded quietly over to the top of the staircase. He stuck his ear between two wooden rails and strained to listen. He didn't hear much, just some indistinctive mumblings and the sounds of footsteps - Bobby's heavy, plodding ones and Julia's more light, dancelike steps. And then, the shouting started.
"What the bloody hell," snapped Bobby all of a sudden, lurching around a corner and right into John's line of vision. Slightly frightened, John shrunk back into the shadows and pretended to be invisible.
"You think you can just order me around, you dumb broad?" Bobby continued. "I can do whatever the fuck I want!" He was lurching around the foyer, holding a half-emptied bottle and flailing his arms back and forth so the liquid within splashed onto the walls and floor. John craned his neck out further and was able to see his mother, who was standing in a corner, biting her lower lip and wringing her hands - a disconcerting departure from her normal attitude of bold, fiery, and outgoing assertiveness.
"Bobby, please," she said plaintively, beginning to follow him around the room as she tried to reason with the drunk before her. "He's my son! I can't just leave him like that! They already made me give up my sweet Victoria, please not John too!" She looked to be close to tears.
The entire exchange was very confusing to John, who was gripping the stair rails in his nervousness, still unnoticed by the two quarreling adults. He didn't know who Victoria was, or how his mother would know her, and he certainly didn't know why Bobby would want him to leave - John was Julia's only son, so it had to be him they were discussing. John had been on his best behavior around Bobby for the last few months they had been living in the same house, except for a few harmless pranks. Maybe he hadn't been as charming as he had been led to believe.
"Damn it, Julia!" Bobby snapped, suddenly stopping his pacing and wheeling around to face the frightened redhead. "Have you not noticed we have no money? I work ten bloody hours a day, and all I make goes into caring for you and that fuckin' kid of yours! I barely have enough as it is to pay the rent! We will lose this house soon! Do you hear me? We will lose the goddamn house!" He was angrier than John had ever seen a person be, and he shook Julia's shoulders violently, making her move back and forth like a helpless rag doll. John shrunk into the wall behind him, wishing more than anything that the cheap plaster could absorb him away from reality. He watched silently as tears fell freely down his mother's face while Bobby assaulted her.
In a fit of characteristic pith, Julia roughly pushed her boyfriend's hands off her and regarded him with a look of pure venom. "John's my son! I will not give him up, you fat souse!" She screamed, pointing at her boyfriend's face with one long, manicured finger.
Suddenly, unexpectedly, Bobby raised his bottle and used it to hit Julia across the face. It produced a loud crashing sound, like a wind-chime being thrown to the pavement, and shards of green flew across the room. The shock of the event caused John to gasp involuntarily, and he clapped both hands over his mouth. Ten feet below, Julia fell to the ground amidst a flurry of red curls and drops of vodka.
Forgetting the potential danger of the situation, John scrambled to his feet and launched himself down the white wood stairs to his mother, who was still lying limp on the wooden foyer floor.
"Mummy? Are you all right?" cried John, sliding to his knees beside her head and shaking her shoulder. "Mummy! Wake up!"
Upon hearing her son's voice, Julia stood with unexpected force and lifted her son off the ground. She looked wild, with chips of green woven into her unbrushed hair and a deep cut in her left cheek that spilled red all down her face and nightgown. Quickly and determinedly, she began walking towards the stairs, pressing her face to the side of her son's to whisper in his ear. The warm slipperiness of her blood fell into his hair, and John shuddered.
"John, love, I'm taking you back to be and you will stay there, do you understand?" She almost sounded angry.
Suitably confused and his feelings wounded, John opened his mouth to protest, but before he could, a large hand seized hold of John's collar and he was lifted away from the warmth of Julia's embrace. Suddenly dangling in midair, John kicked and flailed wildly in the air and tried to worm his way out of Bobby's grip. The front of his nightshirt dug into his neck, making it exceedingly difficult to breathe, if not impossible in his panicked state. Julia's frantic pleading provided a suitable soundtrack for John's terror, punctuated by a loud squeal that was likely coming from John himself - but he couldn't be sure. His vision, already fuzzy without his little glasses, became a swirl of kicking feet and screaming mothers and wrongly-colored walls.
Then, just as suddenly as he had been lifted, John was dropped to the ground. He could practically feel his brain rattling in his skull as he crumpled, dazed, into a heap. Wincing at his new headache, John tried to blink away the stars in front of his eyes and search for his mother. However, he didn't have time to recover before Bobby gripped his shoulder, tight, and spun John around so he was gazing upwards at the face of a man much larger and stronger than he.
Bobby's eyes were red and his breath exuded the foul scent of stale whisky that masked his normal, equally unpleasant scent. His entire face was contorted into a malicious sneer of drunken hatred. "Look at me, you little bastard," Bobby hissed, and John's core was struck with a pang of pure, unbridled fear. From behind Bobby's shadowy, hulking form, Julia appeared holding a lamp. She swung at her boyfriend with a feral scream, but Bobby anticipated the blow; he ducked the lamp, which sailed across the room and into the kitchen table, and dropped her with a single punch. Julia fell to the ground and rose no more.
John couldn't help it. His mother was limp on the floor, it hurt to move, and his near-stepfather was looming menacingly over him. All of his stress and fright spilled over and burst forth in rattling, wailing sobs. He curled up as best he could without causing himself pain and shut his eyes, attempting to block out the world around him.
John could feel himself being lifted again by the back of the shirt and he hung once again in the air. He flailed his limbs again, weaker than before, hoping to connect with something, but failing miserably. "You get rid of him, you fuckin' bitch, or I'll kill him! I'll swear to god I'll kill him!" screamed Bobby, shaking John. Droplets of alcohol flew from his lips as he howled.
Upon hearing these words, John stopped flailing and hung perfectly still, hoping to become invisible. His grandmother had died only a week or two previously, so he knew all about death, or at least enough to know that he wanted very much to stay alive. In a fruitless attempt to remain calm, he trained his eyes on the whorls of the floorboards below and tried to take small, deep breath. He wasn't ready to go to heaven, he didn't want to die. But he knew better that to say it aloud, fearing the retribution.
"Bobby..." said Julia from the corner, her voice trembling and soft. Through the tears pooling in his eyes John could see that she was sitting up now, leaning into the wall about six feet away. He wanted nothing more than to be back upstairs, firmly sealed in her warm and comforting arms.
"You know I will, you whore!" Bobby screamed.
Julia's face fell in absolute defeat. Bobby could kill John very easily, she was absolutely sure - he certainly wouldn't do it sober, but Julia knew all too well that a drunk man had no inhibitions. Tears fell from her eyes so quickly that they carved paths in her cheeks, trickled down her neck, and soaked her shirt. Her hair was a disheveled mess of red and her eyes were rimmed to match. There was only one thing she could possibly tell Bobby, no matter how much it hurt to do so.
"Okay," she whispered, burying her face in her hands as hysterical sobs overtook her.
"Okay what?" growled Bobby, tightening his grip on John, who had by now given up fighting and was hanging limp, shocked at what he saw as betrayal by one person who was supposed to love him unconditionally.
"Tomorrow," Julia said, her voice shuddering and barely audible. "I'll take him to my sister's house tomorrow. Mimi's."
"No, he goes now," said Bobby with finality, stalking towards the door with John still in hand.
"Bobby please, you can't do this to-" began Julia, but her protests were cut short when, suddenly, Bobby kicked open the door and tossed out John like he would a sack of rubbish.
John landed on the second step, and practically rolled the next few until he stopped on the sidewalk. Blindsided, he sobbed louder than ever before, so loudly that he was surprised the neighbors didn't come out to see what had happened, even though several meters of precious lawn separated the houses in Woolton. He cried out of betrayal and heartbreak, out of pain both physical and emotional. He sobbed for who knows how long, until the slushy gray snow below him seeped through his thin blue pajamas. The cold numbed his face and his limbs, dulled the aches from being thrown twice, but it didn't numb his feelings in the slightest.
He sat up after a while and hugged his knees to his chest, shivering. It must have been freezing outside, quite literally, and the frigid air sunk into his very bones. A few more tears rolled down his cheeks and into the snow, burning sorrowful depressions into the muted sludge.
He got up slowly, favoring his left side, and made his way up the steps to the door and tried the handle. It was locked, unmistakably so. He was locked out, and nobody had come to get him. Not even his mother, who he thought loved him. But she probably doesn't, he reminded himself, if she let Bobby kick me out. Suddenly, the depressing realizations of what he said hit him. He wasn't wanted. Not even his own mother cared to come find him. He tried in vain to look in the window, but he wasn't tall enough to see in. For all he knew anything could be happening, or could have happened, in there. How long had he been outside? He could barely feel his feet and his tiny fingers didn't have enough motion left in them to try to operate the complicated window latch. His wet pajamas clung to him, sticking to his legs and arms and torso and doing nothing to alleviate his chill.
For all John knew, Bobby could have hurt his mother even worse while John himself was curled up in tears on the sidewalk. He could have even killed her. That idea in particular made John's heart lurch and skip a beat, and the grip of fear clamped its unrelenting vice on the little boy. She could be dead. Julia could be dead, his mummy, the only parent he still had left. Even if she wanted to give him up to Aunt Mimi, John still loved her. He didn't want her to be dead.
Sniffling, and with that thought still plaguing him, John began his journey down the sidewalk.
He knew that three of his aunts lived around here. One of them even lived in the same neighborhood, at address 200-something, but he didn't know the rest of the number, and much less the street it was located on. He momentarily considered going to a stranger's house to ask for directions before he remembered his mother's instructions not to talk to strangers. While he would usually ignored the rules set by others, he felt oddly obliged to pay attention to that particular set, especially now.
However, there was one place John knew how to reach from where his home, and that was Strawberry Field orphanage. He visited there every Saturday with his mother, or sometimes with one of his aunts if his mother couldn't come, to see the band play in the back field. He knew it was only a street behind him and a bit to the right, closer than any other location he knew of. So, grinning in pride at his new idea, he cut across the road and shuffled through the snowy lawn between two houses to the next street- a shortcut, if you will, to save time.
The snow was almost as high as John's waist, and he kept tripping over unseen dips and bumps and falling flat on his face onto the snow-covered ground until his pajamas were soaked thoroughly, along with his hair and face. Halfway through a stranger's backyard, he lost his left house slipper and couldn't find it again. The sky was pitch black and he couldn't see what was in front of him anyway. A sudden strong wind coming from John's front and sent him toppling backwards, soaking the back of his pajamas as well as the front. John was struck with the urge to start crying again, but he pushed himself up anyway and kept onwards, vowing not to stop anymore until he reached his destination.
Eventually, he had reached the front of the orphanage. He went up to the large, beckoning front door, which he knew for a fact was always unlocked, and opened it as quietly as possible.
Strawberry Field Orphanage was a beautiful, homey place, equipped with friendly staff that did their best to make the children living there as comfortable and happy as possible. In a way they were spared the dismalness of postwar childhood. They got plenty enough food, knew nothing of the ration system, and had more siblings than a child could dream for - especially John, who had always longed for the closeness that kids with brothers and sisters seemed to take for granted. John sighed lightly and traversed the hallway as quietly as possible down the corridor, sensation returning slowly to his feet as he padded across the soft and blissfully warm carpet. Eventually, he reached a closet, clearly marked 'LAUNDRY' in authoritarian print, which he opened slowly and entered. Once he was sure that no one had heard his intrusion, John shut the door behind him and, after some fumbling, flicked on the light switch. The room flooded with the light from a single bulb hanging from the ceiling, and John squinted as his eyes readjusted. Once he cracked open his almond shaped eyes, he realized that he was in a room no larger than just the bed he shared with his mother and Bobby. In one corner was a zinc tub, a washboard, and an industrial bottle of detergent. However, on the other side of the tiny room was a heap of clothes- laundry, no doubt. Not even caring whether it was dirty or clean, John flicked off the lights and dove into the basket like it was a pool of water. He burrowed himself deeper into the folds of cloth, which were definitely clean because they carried the unmistakable smell that clothes get when they're line-dried on a nice day. He felt somewhat guilty about getting them all wet and dirty again, but it couldn't be helped. The clothes did the job of the warmest blanket in the world, trapping his body heat and slowly thawing him.
And in a pile of orphan's clothes in a closet, a small and exhausted boy fell into a light sleep, full of soft dreams peppered with terribly realistic nightmares.