Last time on Fifty Shades of Neigh, billionaire Crispian Neigh lurked suspiciously in the My Little Pony section of a toystore and Hanna Squeal discovered that flicking it to Twilight and occasionally glancing at the Cliff Notes is no way to get a degree in English Literature. She’s just not that bright.
I rush to my car in tears. I want to go home, home to hug my thesaurus and console myself with the prolific extent of my exhaustive vocabulary. I am smart, I tell myself. I am smart. It’s not my fault that blondes hate me.
There are dumb brunettes too, you know.
You shut the hell up, Italicised voice.
And I’ve known some redheads who’d be hard-pushed to count their own buttocks.
This really isn’t the time…
You, however – whoo-whee. Where do I even start?
Great. Now my internal monologue hates me. I want to go home but it’s nearly noon, nearly time for me to meet Crispian Neigh for coffee. I’m crying and the mascara I so inexpertly applied is streaming down my face in sad little grey tributaries. (Seriously, would a moron know a word like ‘tributaries’? I think not.) My nose is streaming and swollen, making my red eyes look even piggier. I’ve never looked so terrible.
I repair the damage as best I can with a wet wipe and drive to meet Neigh.
How’s that work?
– How does what work?
You. Driving. So far you’ve glissaded across a lobby floor, tripped over a satchel strap and nearly shanked yourself with the heavily padded corner of a toy-store shelf. And we’re supposed to believe that you not only passed a driving test but are somehow allowed behind the wheel of a car?
– I don’t know, okay?
The voice is silent as I park, expertly, I might add, and step out of the car. I walk gingerly to the elevator of the parking garage, hurt and puzzled by what has already proved to be a really horrible morning. There must be some kind of mistake, but I have no more time to think about it because Crispian Neigh is waiting for me outside the coffee shop.
“Good morrow and well met, Miss Squeal,” he says, tipping his hat. I’m immediately touched by his courtly, impeccable manners and in his presence I begin to feel, if not exactly safe, then at least nervous and discomfited in a way that’s nicer than the way I was feeling nervous and discomfited before he showed up.
I’m close to more tears as we enter the coffee shop. He buys me tea and a blueberry muffin and I don’t know what to say. My whole world is collapsing around my ears and for the first time I feel alone and afraid. Is it possible that I’m really not that smart, that I’m some kind of delusional narcissist? I dip my teabag in the hot water and remind myself that I was a gifted child, and that gifted people are always misunderstood and vilified for their greater intellects.
“What are you thinking, Hannalore?” he queries, his bright brown eyes fixed on me. He sits ankle on knee, the cuff of his pants riding up to reveal a rainbow striped sock. I think of lesbians, and reasons why they might hate me.
“Oh, just…stuff,” I murmur, hesitantly. “I think about stuff a lot.”
“Me too,” he says. “Stuff preoccupies me from one end of the day to the other.”
The twin ghosts of a smile haunt the corners of his mouth and I frown at him.
“Are you making fun of me, Mr. Neigh?” I ask.
“No,” he says, holding up his hands, open palmed, as if to offer proof of innocence. “I wouldn’t dream of it. You seem a little off – preoccupied. Time of the month?”
I sniff hard and get a grip of myself. “You know how you asked what I wrote my dissertation on?” I whisper, leaning across the table. “Like, what kind of paper?”
He nods. I feel the words building inside me and there’s no way I can not say them.
“I wrote it on pink Hello Kitty notepaper I stole from the toystore. I wrote it in silver pen and dotted the i’s with little smiley faces but they don’t like that and now they’re not going to give my degree and I am in so much trouble and my professor hates me because she’s secretly in love with me and my whole life is basically fucked.” I pause for breath. An odd little whooping sound comes out and I start to cry again. This wasn’t supposed to happen.
Crispian Neigh arches an eyebrow. “I see,” he says, taking a sip of his hazelnut latte. He regards me thoughtfully for a moment and says “You know, Hanna – I’m a very rich man.”
“I know that.”
The italics stir. They say nothing but start humming, maliciously and with intent.
He nonchalantly inspects his fingernails. “I have relatively inexpensive hobbies. My time is the most precious thing to me and I’m always looking for satisfying ways to fill it…”
Oh. He’s doing it again – the sexy voice. The italics are humming ‘Hey Big Spender’. I hate them.
“I guess what I’m saying,” he says. “Is that I can help you, if you don’t mind helping me.”
“Helping you with what?”
“Just…filling time.” His gaze is steady, his face impassive. He’s so freaking hot. I wish he wasn’t. I don’t even know what he’s proposing but he makes me feel better. “I can make them give you your degree.”
“You can’t do that for me,” I mumble, staring at my uneaten muffin. “It’s too much.”
“Not at all. It’s just my way of saying how much I could come to value the pleasure of your company.” He leans close and smiles the most sensual smile I have ever seen. “Quite innocent, I promise you.”
My heart sinks and my panties droop. Oh. Of course he wouldn’t want me in that way.
“Can I eat your muffin?” he asks. “You haven’t touched it.”
I push it towards him.
“Don’t look at me like that,” he says, breaking off a piece. “I’m a philanthropist. I’ve made countless charitable donations to academic institutions – this isn’t much different.”
Great. I’m a charity case. Just when I was beginning to admit to myself that I like him. I’m nothing more than an object of pity.
“I have to go,” I say, trying to rise from the chair with unimpeachable dignity. Unfortunately the hem of my skirt has caught under the leg of the chair and dumps me right back down in the seat, as if he were some kind of immovable force I can’t resist. Maybe Kate was right – maybe my fashion sense is kind of Amish.
I wrangle my skirt loose from the chair and eyeball the slippery cafe floor. It’s maybe ten or twenty feet and if I concentrate I can make it across without a pratfall, but how can I concentrate when he’s looking up at me? He’s so handsome, so generous. His eyes are amused as he chews sedately on my muffin – no doubt he thinks I’m a silly but fascinating creature, bound to his whims by the bright chains of his enormous fortune.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Neigh,” I say. “But I’m not for sale.”
I sweep out of the coffee shop. Someone says ‘ow!’ as my purse smacks them in the ear, but I keep moving, my eyes blurred blind with tears, running towards the elevator.
He’s right behind me. He darts into the elevator before I can stop him.
“For the love of God,” he says. “I’m just trying to help you, Hanna.”
“But I don’t want your help!”
He sighs. “Don’t think of it as help – just think of it as me setting things to rights. You earned that degree. You worked for it – for four years, right?”
I nod and wipe my nose. “I guess so.”
“You guess so? It seems pretty straightforward to me. Besides, how many honorary degrees do universities give out to dumb celebrities who have never even cracked a book? They do it all the time. Come on – I’ll walk you to your car.”
I take his arm and walk obediently towards my ancient rustbucket of a car (How did he know it was mine? Was it the ‘Honk if you love regressive bestsellers’ bumper sticker?). Suddenly, from out of nowhere, a microscooter comes tearing across the parking garage. For a moment I am transfixed, like a deer in the headlights, and there is a strange moment of suspended animation as I stare into the eyes of a little boy – maybe nine or ten. He’s going too fast and he knows it. He’s grinning like a goblin and every aspect of his mien says ‘Imma gonna run you down, lady!’.
Neigh pulls my arm and, uncoordinated as ever, I tumble backwards and then, oh God, oh sweet merciful God – I am in his arms.
He’s gazing down at me, looking at my lips. Oh holy crappity poop fudge and other eight year old swear words – I think he’s going to kiss me. And whatsmore, I want him to. I want to feel his mouth on me. I want to feel his tongue reaching for my uvula, trembling over my bicuspids. It occurs to me that he probably still tastes like my neglected muffin and the thought gives me a strange tightening sensation deep down in my…oh my.
Kiss me, I think. Kiss me. I mentally implore him but, since he’s not telepathic he doesn’t understand me. His gaze moves from my lips to my eyes and with the shift of his gaze comes a subtle change of expression, a new, steely-eyed, square jawed resolve.
“I’m sorry,” he says, his eyes hooded by the shadow of his five dollar fedora. “But maybe this was a mistake.”
“What?” I splutter. My heart feels like a withered sack of disappointment, like a christmas balloon at New Year – wrinkled, sagging and deflated, like an old lady’s breast.
He helps me to stand upright. “It’s complicated, Hanna,” he says, looking more brooding and sultry by the second. “I’m an unusual man, with unusual desires and interests. Maybe you’re just not…singular enough to cope with the truth.”
“I so am,” I protest. How dare he? I’m unique. Everyone says so. Everyone I meet says they’ve never met anyone else like me.
“Stay away from me, Hanna,” he smoulders. “I’m bad news. At first I was captivated by your innocence, but now I wonder if I have the right to destroy it.”
He turns and walks away. I rush after him but the strap on my purse chooses that moment to break, scattering tampons and loose change all over the ground. “You get back here,” I yell, but the elevator door is already closing. “Get back here and destroy my goddamn innocence right now!”
I am shouting at a closed door like a crazy woman. I gather up the tampons, money and lip gloss, the dried out mascara tubes coated in that peculiar sludge common to the bottom of handbags – a mixture of face powder, pulverised till reciepts and the greasy residue left on coins by hundreds of sweaty, strangers hands. I want to get up, but my legs won’t work. It feels like there’s a huge hole in the centre of my chest, and I curl around it, curl in on myself, weeping hot angry tears, perfervid and bereft.
Why didn’t I pay more attention to other boys? Jesus tried to touch my ass at a barbecue once, and Paul Claypole told me I was pretty. They’re not mysterious and brooding and rich like Crispian Neigh, but I bet all the girls who settled for not-Crispian boyfriends never found themselves crying alone in dark places.
Yeah. Those dumb bitches. Forming happy non-dramatic relationships with sensible adults. They’ll never be as picturesque and enviable as you, will they Hanna?
Oh great. The italics are back. And now they’re sarcastic. That’s all I need at the moment.
You don’t want to know what you need right now. Fuck-a-duck, girlfriend – will you take a look at yourself? You’ve gone foetal in a parking garage because a billionaire didn’t kiss you on a first date. First world problems much?
– Jeez. Why can’t I have supportive inner voices that act out silly little cut scenes with cheerleader pom poms and belly dancer oufits?
Because you’re a twitchy cardboard wretch and I hate you.
– So you’re not my Inner Goddess?
Unfortunately for you, I am. Now get up and grow up before I manifest as a symptom of untreated schizophrenia and make your day a whole lot worse.
This is terrible. I walk to my car and get in, feeling as though I have a gun held to my head.
“My life is over,” I say, aloud.
Unfortunately for the readers, it’s only just beginning. At least my new, omniscent self can liven things up now and again.
– And how do you intend to do that?
Well, you know that spot where you were curled up acting out the break-up scene from Twilight: New Moon? Well, I happen to know that around 10.45 this morning a crazy old hobo came and sat by the concrete pillar two feet away.
At around 10.50 a security guard came down and told the hobo to move on. The hobo walked two feet from the pillar, pulled down his pants and bent over. He then prised his cheeks open with a noise that was surprisingly similar to Velcro being ripped apart, and revealed his unwiped anus in a high spirited display of contempt. This guy was old school, right down to the bottle of methylated spirit and the lice infestation. Then, while he still had his pants down he decided to compound the insult by pissing on the concrete. Where he was standing. Two feet from the pillar. Right where you were composing your tepid Twilight fanfiction. Exact same spot. You were lying in hobo pee.
– I take a deep breath. And you didn’t think to tell me this?
Like I said, I kind of hate you.