“John, that’s disgusting,” I said, as I watched him rip into a steak as though he hadn’t eaten for a week.
Grinning widely, in a clear effort to show me everything in his mouth, John leaned towards me and ripped a large piece of meat off of his fork in an exaggerated motion.
“So sorry, love. I don’t know why we let him out in public,” George said, his arm draped around my shoulders. George gently stroked my shoulder, as he took a swig of beer.
George had invited the boys, as well as Astrid and Klaus, out for a proper dinner to announce our engagement. Since they usually subsisted on coke & rum, prellies, ciggies, and fish & chips, the boys acted like a pack of wild hyenas at the sight of proper food. Within 10 minutes of receiving their dinners, they had cleared their plates.
After everyone had finished eating, George stood up, taking my hand and helping me up.
“Well, I wasn’t about to pay for you all to eat for no good reason. The fact is, we’re getting married!” George said giddily, holding up my hand so everyone could see the ring.
Paul nearly spit out his steak in surprise. “Really?? Oh, that’s marvelous!” He jumped up and gave George a bear hug, slapping him on the back. “Congratulations, mate! She’s a wonderful girl.”
Turning to me, Paul gave me a hug and a kiss on the cheek. “Welcome to the family, Stella. Take good care of Georgie for us.”
John laughed a little and finished off his fifth beer of the night (or so I thought … Paul had been keeping track, but the rest of us lost count a few hours earlier). “So, Georgie boy, you saw me get married and decided you had to have a wife too, eh? It’s just like those matching Gibsons we bought over the summer, right?”
Paul shot him a glance that clearly constituted a reprimand, and John reluctantly got up and shook George’s hand. “Well, Georgie boy, welcome to the penitentiary.”
Turning to me, John said, “Welcome to the supporting cast, love. It’ll be nice for Cyn to have a friend who understands, I s’pose. You’ll be coming back to Liverpool with us, then?”
I tried to think of a way to respond to a question I had no answer to, but luckily didn’t have to, since Astrid then embraced me in a warm hug. “Congratulations, Stella. George is truly a special person. He has a heart of gold, which I’m sure you know. I wish you two only the very best. Do you have anyone to take engagement or wedding photos yet? I’d love to do a shoot with you.”
“Oh, Astrid, that would be wonderful! What do you think, George?” I said, turning to George.
“Sounds great, love,” he said, kissing my forehead, and then turning to resume his conversation with Klaus.
Astrid’s expression then changed slightly, and she said quietly, “Can I talk to you outside for a moment?”
Unsure what she wanted to talk to me about, but sensing maturity and wisdom in Astrid, I complied.
Astrid and I sat on a small wrought-iron bench outside the pub. She lit a ciggie and offered me one, which I accepted. Before I met George, I wasn’t a smoker, but it was tough being the odd one out, so I quickly picked up the habit. I didn’t want to seem like just a little school girl to George and the rest of the band, not to mention Astrid and Klaus, who seemed so sophisticated and mature.
“Now, before I say this, I want to make it clear that I think it’s absolutely wonderful that you and George are getting married. I’ve known George since the boys first came here two years ago and I count him as one of my dearest friends. He’s truly a lovely person, and I know he will treat you like a queen. However, and I mean this with no disrespect whatsoever, you are really very young. Have you thought about where you’ll live? As you know, the boys will be back in Liverpool in three weeks, and you still have a year and a half of high school left. I have a feeling George expects you to move to England with him; how do you feel about that? I don’t doubt that George believes he has your best interests at heart, but he is so very blinded by love right now—he’s such a sentimental boy—that he might not be thinking very logically.”
Astrid had articulated everything I was worried about. “George and I are so in love, but you’re right – I don’t know whether I can move to England. It’s seems so far away. I’ve only been out of Germany once, and that was to visit my aunt in France. I suppose I could finish high school there, but I wouldn’t have any friends. I wouldn’t know anyone except for the boys.” At the thought of leaving behind everything familiar to me, I felt tears well up in my eyes.
“Oh, sweetie, come here,” Astrid said quietly, hugging me and rubbing my back. “George needs to know how you’re feeling about this. He’d feel terrible if he knew you were holding this back from him. Promise me you’ll talk about it, ok?”
I silently nodded and wiped my tears away.
Looking up, I saw George approach me, “There you are, love! I was looking for you.” Upon seeing my bloodshot eyes, he gasped and immediately took me in his arms. “What’s wrong, love?”
Astrid smiled at me warmly and started back into the pub. When she passed George, she kissed him on the cheek and said, “Stella has something to talk to you about, dear.”
George smiled at Astrid, but when he turned back to me, his smile disappeared. “What do you need to talk to me about, Stella?”
“Well, I was just thinking about how you’re going back to England in three weeks and about whether you want me to go with you. I’ve only left Germany once, and this is where all my friends are, and where my family is and …” I began to cry again. George took me in his arms and stroked my hair.
“Shh, don’t worry, love. Let’s think about a way to work it out, ok? What if you stayed here until you finish high school, and I could visit you and you could visit me as much as possible? And then when you’re finished, maybe you could move to England? The thing is, I’ve got to live there since that’s where our studio is and all that.” George was clearly searching my eyes and face for signs of agreement and relief.
“That might work. But I don’t know what England is like. What if I don’t like it?”
“Oh you’ll love it, I promise! And we’ve got German restaurants, y’know, so we can go all the time and I’ll get you lots of food that reminds you of home.” I suppose sensing my continued hesitancy, George added, “What if you came back to Liverpool with us, just until your winter holiday is over? That way you can see what you think of it.”
Even though living away from George and then moving to England would be hard, the fact that George was so desperate to make me happy helped the anxiety in me subside.
“Ok, that sounds good. I can’t wait to meet your family, and see where you live,” I said, stroking George’s hair and kissing him on the cheek.
Clearly relieved, and satisfied that he had found a solution, George kissed me gently. “What do you say we head back inside?”
“More stew, dear?” my mother asked George, realizing he had wiped his plate clean quite quickly.
Still finishing his last bite of stew, George nodded eagerly. “Yes please, Mrs. Kirchherr. And thank you again, it’s delicious.”
“You’re too kind, dear. Lord knows you could use some meat on those bones, so eat up. Now, what did you say the name of your band was again?”
George wiped his mouth with a napkin (I could tell he was trying very hard to be polite), and answered, “The Beatles. It’s like the bug when you hear it, and it’s like beat music when you read it.”
My mother nodded slowly, trying to understand. Her English abilities were rudimentary at best. My father laughed a little. “You know what that sounds like in German don’t you, son?”
“Yes sir, I do.”
My father took a swig of beer and turned to George, sitting up a little in order to make his already-formidable figure seem even more imposing. “Now I understand you’ve been seeing a lot of Stella. I was your age once, too, and I know how people like you think.”
My mother placed a hand on my father’s shoulder in an attempt to calm him down. He shrugged her hand off. “Don’t think I don’t know what you’re up to,” he said, leaning into George.
George swallowed, and answered in nearly one breath, “Sir, I can assure you that I would never do anything to hurt Stella. She’s a smart, sweet, and caring person. I don’t have to tell you that. Yes, I’m a guitarist and yes, I’m not from a rich family or anything like that, but I promise I’m not delinquent or anything like that. I care about your daughter more than anything in the world, and I’d do anything for her.”
My mother placed a hand on George’s shoulder. “It seems like you care about Stella a lot, dear.” Turning towards my father, she said, “Klaus, can I speak to you in the kitchen for a moment?”
Sighing heavily, my father pushed his chair out from the table a little too quickly and, throwing his napkin on the table, followed my mother into the kitchen.
George turned to me. “Your dad hates me! I think he might actually murder me if he finds out we’re engaged!” he whispered.
In reality, I agreed with George that my father, with his explosive temper, might actually hurt him if he knew we were engaged. But feeling that only I could reassure him, I moved my chair close to his and, rubbing his back, said, “My mom will talk to him. She’s good at talking sense into him when he’s angry. I think she likes you, actually!”
George was fiddling nervously with the watch his band’s manager gave him for his 19th birthday. Turning to me slightly, he said quietly, “You think so? I hope she can convince your father to at least not kill me. I can’t very well play guitar, or be a decent husband if I’m dead, after all.”
I was about to respond when I heard the back door slam. My heart sank – I knew where my father had gone. My mother confirmed my suspicions when she returned to the dining room.
“I’m afraid your father has gone off to the pub. But please don’t worry about him; I can handle him. Is there anything you needed to tell us?” My mother refilled George’s glass of water and sat down next to me.
George sat up a little. “Well, Mrs. Kirchherr, the fact is that I’m completely in love with Stella. I know I’m only 19 years old, but I’m quite positive she’s the girl for me. And I can assure you that my band is actually doing quite well. We have a record contract now with EMI in London, and our single got into the Top 20 this year. We’re set to record an album in February, and we’ll be on tour with Helen Shapiro in the UK as well. I feel that I can provide Stella with everything she needs and wants, and even if we do flop, I will do anything to make sure she’s taken care of. So what I’m trying to say is: I proposed to Stella, and she said yes. We’re getting married.”
George put him arm around my shoulders and pulled me closer to him as we waited for my mother’s response.
She took a deep breath and pointed to my hand. I had taken off my ring until then, not wanting my parents to find out about our engagement just by seeing it. As George was talking, I had taken my ring out of my pocket and put it on. “So is that the ring, dear? It’s beautiful.”
George smiled, and explained, “My friend Astrid’s mother gave it to me when I told her my intentions.”
My mother was obviously in shock, but I could see her facial features soften as George explained to her how he asked Astrid’s mother for advice about what kind of ring to buy.
“Well let me say this. Of course, you both are terribly young. George, you’re only 19 years old, right? And of course Stella, you only turned 16 a few months ago. But your father and I got married when I was 17 and he was 21, and though we do have our problems, I love him dearly. All I ask is that you finish high school here, Stella, and that you give me your parents’ phone number, George. I’d love to speak with them.”
I was shocked at how easily my mother took the news. George stood up and shook my mother’s hand, stuttering from surprise, “W-wow, thank you for your support, Mrs. Kirchherr! Of course, I’ll give you my parents’ phone number. My mum would love to talk with you.”
My mother laughed a little. “George, dear, you’re part of the family now. Give me a hug.”