I have nearly finished drafting this beast, so it should hopefully be up as a Kindle freebie by the beginning of next year, if not sooner. Assuming the world doesn’t end tomorrow, of course. I’m going to be really pissed off if it does because I already put down a £30 deposit on an 8lb turkey crown that I fully expect to be cooking on December 25th.
So, Happy Mayan Apocalypse. Look on the bright side – if we all fucking die then at least nobody’s going to look stupid for laughing at the people who turned out to be right.
Once again we stand side by side in the elevator, staring straight ahead, not daring to look at one another, not daring to breathe. Especially not daring to breathe. Not after last time. The tension hangs heavy in the air – we are alone and nobody can see us and everything is different now, now that we have acknowledged that we feel…something for one another.
“Mr. Neigh?” I murmur, finally daring to break the silence.
“You when you said you’d pay for my degree?”
“Is that illegal? Or is it…” I raise the first two fingers of each hand. “‘Illegal’?”
He smiles. “Option B,” he says. “And I’m glad you’ve come to see sense, Hanna.”
“I’m not seeing anything – I’m just asking…”
He turns and presses his finger to my lips. “Shh,” he whispers. “Little girls who ask too many questions cause a whole bunch of trouble.”
I try to speak again but he presses harder, mashing my upper lip against my nose. His other hand comes up behind my head and takes hold of my ponytail. “What does it take to make you shut up, Miss Squeal?” he growls, and before I know it his lips have replaced his finger. He tastes of eggs benedict and Bawls and something indefinably Crispian Neigh. I would have tasted of vomit but I had the good sense to use his toothbrush while I was in the bathroom. If only he’d had the same idea. I can still taste hollandaise when the elevator doors open.
“What is it about elevators?” he smirks. I get out in a hurry, before the barely perceptible poot can follow me. He could have at least tried to hold it in that time – that was my first real kiss.
“I’ll pick you up at about seven,” he says.
“But you don’t even know where I live,” I protest.
“It’s cool,” he says, leaning forward and pecking me on the cheek. “I put a GPS tracker in the clasp of your pretty new bra.” He adjusts his fedora. “Laters, toots.”
I watch him walk away through the crowded hotel lobby. Oh my God, what a bizarre night. I drift towards the doors, only just resisting the urge to tear off my bra there and then. He’s kidding, right? He must be kidding.
I turn around and stare. Kate is sitting on one of the sofas in the middle of the lobby, where she appears to be trying to hide behind a newspaper. “Oh my God,” she says. “It really is you. What are you doing here?”
“Me? What are you doing here?” I sit down beside her and she spreads the newspaper wider.
“Boning,” she says. “What else would I be doing? What’s with the My Little Pony t-shirt?” She shakes her head. “Hanna – have you been stealing from the toystore again?”
“I did not st…”
“Shhh,” she says, sinking down in her seat. “Get down. Do not let him see us.”
I peer out from a tear in the newspaper and see the fratboy from last night – the big one. He’s at the reception desk with Crispian and they’re not only talking but they exchange a high five.
“Hanna,” whispers Kate. “Why are they high fiving? Did you fuck fedora-boy last night?”
“No! Of course not! I’m not like you.”
Kate curls her lip at me. “Tell you what, My Little Klepto – the next time you’re in the toystore, why don’t you steal me one of those alphabet t-shirts. How about a nice big A, in red. No – scarlet. Tell me how you really feel, why don’t you?”
“How do they know each other?”
“Oh, now she asks relevant questions. They’re brothers, dumbass.”
“What?” I say. The fratboy is huge, easily a foot taller than Crispian Neigh. “They don’t look anything like one another.”
“Well of course they don’t,” sighs Kate. “They’re adopted. The parents are like some kind of fancy fertility doctors or something, only not so good at what they do that they could unclog Mamma Neigh’s tubes, I guess. So they got all these kids from some kind of crack baby sale – like, a whole litter of little weirdos.”
“He’s not a weirdo.”
“No, seriously – he’s a weirdo. He must be. You know Casper, the one with the irritable bowel syndrome? Well, according to Bennett…”
“Bennett. The big motherfucker over there with your freak conquest – try and keep up, Hanna. Anyway, according to Bennett, Casper can only get a boner while he’s dressed as a zebra and being topped by a guy roleplaying Mufasa from The Lion King. Apparently they have to do the James Earl Jones voice note perfect or Lil’ Casper won’t come out to play.”
She pauses for breath. “Then there’s the girl, Alicia. She’s in Japan right now. Nobody will tell me anything more than that, which makes me think there’s got to be something creepy going on, because all these kids are fucking weird. All of them. Crispian is maybe the least weird of the boys and he allegedly wasted his formative years poopsocking on World of Warcraft and posting filthy doodles of fat busty dwarf maidens on his DeviantArt.”
“Oh,” I whisper, my heart sinking. I can still taste ham.
“And as for the other one, he wants me to sign a non-disclosure agreement and this forty page contract so that he can not only tie me up and beat me but also so that he can dictate what I eat, how long I sleep, what I smoke, what I drink and even determine how and where I get my twat waxed.”
“He sounds like a control freak.”
“So what did you say?”
“I said ‘No. Fuck off – do I look like Maggie Gyllenhaal?’ Fucking weirdo probably wants me to pee on the floor too. I don’t mind a little playful tiesy upsies now and again but any man who thinks he’s coming between me and the pizza menu when I’m high as fuck has got another thing coming. I mean, his dick’s big, but not that big.”
She tugs me down behind the newspaper. “Get down. He can’t see me here.”
“Why are you even here if you don’t want…”
She elbows me in the ribs. Her phone brrs and she takes it out. “Okay,” she says, looking at the screen. “Let’s go. Follow me, Hanna – and don’t fucking fall over, please.”
Kate dumps the newspaper, grabs my hand and more or less drags me out of the hotel lobby. Her car is parked outside and once we’re inside she drives it to a side street. Jesús comes out of a doorway labelled ‘STAFF’, pushing a trolley loaded up with boxes. “Trunk’s open!” Kate yells out of the window.
“Can I get some help back here you think?” Jesús sounds testy. Oh God – we’re going to have to talk about last night.
“Hanna, get out and give the man a hand.”
“Hanna?” says Jesús. “I don’t think so, man. I wanna get this shit home in one piece.”
“What shit?” I ask. “Kate, what is he putting in the back of the car?”
“Nothing,” she says. “I don’t ask about your extra-curricular activities and you don’t ask about mine, okay?”
Jesús slams the trunk shut and joins me in the back seat. “Hey Hanna. Did you find your panties?”
“How’d you know about Hanna’s panties?” asks Kate, as she drives away.
“He tried to put his hands up my skirt,” I say, glowering at Jesús.
He holds up the offending appendages and at least has the decency to blush. “Hey, I’m sorry, okay?” he mumbles. “I was fucking blazed, dude. And she came right out and said she wasn’t wearing any panties – you know what that does to me, Kate.”
“Oh my God,” giggles Kate. “She’d just peed herself, you idiot.” She catches my eye in the rearview mirror and laughs like a maniac at Jesus’ disgust. “You pervert,” she cackles. “You mean to tell me you smelled beans and tried to chow down on her taco?”
“Hey, I’m pretty sure that’s racist…”
“…yeah, and I’m pretty sure you’re a rapist, dude. I can tell – just look at Hanna’s face. Poor Hanna, did he try and eat your pussy in the parking lot?”
I nod. Why must my life be so squalid and awful? I wish I was back in the hotel suite, talking about long words with a proper gentleman, one who wears a hat and tie and would never attempt to eat my…you know. And especially not in a parking lot.
“I got what was coming to me,” says Jesús. “She gave me a goddamn Roman shower, for fuck’s sake.”
“It’s not funny! I’ve washed my hair five times this morning and I swear to God I can still fucking smell it.”
“What’s a Roman shower?” I ask.
“One of those things you should never, ever Google image search,” says Kate. “Like ‘diabetic foot’ or ‘goatse’.”
We arrive home and Kate and Jesús unload the four cardboard boxes from the back of the car. The boxes clink as they lift them and when they get them inside I see that the boxes are stacked full of tiny bottles.
“Baby bottles of booze,” says Kate. “From the hotel minibars. Aren’t they cute?”
“Where did you get these?”
“It’s like this,” explains Jesús. “When you’re a Hispanic-American these days there are a lot of doors open to you. Mostly doors that say STAFF and UTILITY CLOSET. Seems a shame not to take advantage of the glowing opportunities offered by our warm, wonderful and totally not racist society.”
“I don’t understand,” I say.
“And that’s why we love you,” grins Kate. “Even if you are an asshole.”
I follow her into the bedroom. “Kate,” I murmur, staring at my shoes. “Um…you know what you said about…extracurricular activities?”
“Yuh huh,” she says, lighting up one of her gross herbal cigarettes. “What’s up? Look, if anyone asks, do your dumbass Daisy Mae routine and say you don’t understand. They’ll totally believe you.”
“No, it’s not that. I…um…I think I have a date.”
Kate piles up her hair, cigarette between her teeth. “No fucking way,” she says. “Fedora-freak?”
“His name is Crispian.”
“Whatever. What? You wanna borrow something non-Amish to wear?”
I take out the money and show her, my hand shaking. “I think,” I burble. “That I want to buy something non-Amish.”
Kate stares at the notes for a moment. “Okay,” she says, after a short, breathless pause. “He just gave you a grand and told you to go shopping?”
“You know,” she says, decisively. “I always said that hat was really distinguished. And I’m sure his interest in fat, busty dwarf maidens is strictly artistic…”
“…Kate, it’s not like that. I’m not interested in his money.”
“You aren’t? What the hell is wrong with you?”
“He likes me! He says I’m…” I swallow.
“He says you’re what?”
“Serendipitious,” I whisper.
She arches an eyebrow at me and shakes her head. “Okay,” she says. “Maybe it really is a match made in freak heaven. You want me to help you pick out clothes? Is that it?”
I nod in assent. “Yes please. And…er…do you know a salon? Is there one where you go? You know. For…waxing. Intimate waxing.”
Kate’s eyebrow arches ever higher. “Isn’t this your second date? You don’t need to wax that until your third, you know.”
“Yes, but he saw everything in the hotel last night…”
I think her eyes might be in danger of falling out of her head. It feels kind of good to shock her – who’s the woman of the world now, Kate?
“You’re a dark horse, Hanna,” says Kate. “Was he impressed?”
“Um…he mentioned the sasquatch?”
“Oh dear. Okay – lift your skirt. Lemme see what we’re working with here. Well. Holy shit. Welcome to the jungle.”
I have been plucked, buffed, waxed, scrubbed, scraped, exfoliated and bleached in unlikely places. Kate assures me that this is necessary to please a man.
“It seems superficial,” I protest. “He wants me for my mind.”
“Yeah,” says Kate, admiring her new manicure. “Which is why he told you to get the lower Amazon deforested. Don’t you feel better? You look great.”
“It was all extremely unpleasant,” I mutter, darkly. “And I don’t see why I had to get that bleached.”
“You didn’t have to – I just wanted to see how much the peroxide stuff stung. Has it settled down any or is it still burning?”
I want to cry. “This is awful. I hate it.”
“Yeah, but you hate everything, Hanna,” says Kate. “You hate when it rains, you hate when the sun shines, you hate when billionaires ask you out for coffee…”
“…I did not ask him out for coffee. You asked him out for coffee, while pretending to be me.”
Kate rolls her eyes. “Yes, because the alternative was sitting around watching you cry yourself into a Alice-sized puddle because you thought he didn’t like you. And after, by the way, he gave you his fucking card and said ‘Call me’. Oh, and by the way, you managed to come home in tears from the date because he didn’t slip you the tongue and buy you a helicopter then and there.”
“It’s not like that!” I scowl. “I told you – I’m not interested in his money.” I haven’t told Kate about my degree yet – it’s too humiliating.
“Says you.” She looks me up and down. “Although now I think about it, I believe you. You’ve just had hundreds of dollars of expensive beauty treatments and you’re still fucking whining. Don’t you feel the least bit pampered?”
“No. And you know why.”
“Aw. Does your little pink ring donut still burn? Get in the car, Cinderella. We need to do something about your clothes.”
“We should probably burn them, to be on the safe side. Take them to a patch of wasteground and have ourselves a bonfire. Then we should scatter the ashes to the four winds and water the ground with holy water and plow it with salt. It’s the only way to be sure.”
“Now you’re just being silly.”
“Eesh, Hanna – chill the fuck out. I would have thought an English Major of all people understood hyperbole.”
“Understood what?” She pronounces it hy-per-bol-ee. So much for her glittering career in journalism. Her inner blonde is coming out to play.
“Hyperbole. You seriously telling me you’ve never heard of hyperbole?”
“Yes,” I say. “Absurd exaggeration for comic effect. Of course I’ve heard of it. It’s pronounced hyper-bowl – there’s no accent on the e.”
She frowns into the rear view mirror. “Um…okay. You sure about that?”
“Yes, I’m sure about that.”
“You don’t think the etymology counts for something? I mean, I’m not an expert but it sounds like it might be from an Ancient Greek root and you know how they loved their not so silent e’s.”
“Look,” I say, taking a deep breath. “I know it’s embarrassing when you pronounce a word wrong…”
But Kate is off in a world of her own. “Synecdoche,” she murmurs. “I wonder if that’s like the same.”
I love Kate, but she can be very self-absorbed at times.
Meanwhile, I have to get ready for my big night. I don’t think I should dress up – he might get the wrong idea. Or is it the right idea? I don’t know. I’m so confused. I don’t know how to put on make-up or how to dress. Why can’t I be like other women, who seem to have been born knowing how to apply mascara or walk in heels? Why am I so different from the common herd?
Kate lends me a dress but I demur and settle for my most flattering jeans and a lace trimmed blouse. “Fine,” says Kate. “If you must. You still look like a Christian but at least now you look like a regular one instead of one of those ones from weird separatist sects where the women are expected to keep pumping out babies for the Lord, despite the fact that they’ve had fifteen kids and three uterine prolapses.”
“I’m so nervous,” I say. “Butterflies and everything. I think I really like him. What if he doesn’t like me? Holy crap – what if he thinks I’m an asshole?”
Kate laughs. “Hanna, you are an asshole. But at least now you’re a hairless pearly pink asshole and your toenails don’t look something from Jurassic Park.”
“Does that matter?”
“I dunno. Probably. I can’t believe we’re doing this – seeing you off for a first date and all.”
My ride is here. A big black SUV with the Neigh logo on the side – a rearing winged pony – has pulled up outside the house. I take Kate’s hand. She’s been so kind to me. “I know it must be intimidating for you,” I say, gently. “And you’ve always been the pretty one, but here we are…”
“Whatever, shitlord,” she says, shoving me out of the door. “Don’t fuck him without a condom and if he tries anything really freaky then remember to use the pepper spray.”
A large man emerges from the SUV. He has a shaved head and an earpiece and in his arms he is carrying a dozen pink roses. For me?
“Compliments of the boss,” he says. “My name’s Naylor – I’ll be your driver tonight.”
His gaze shifts behind me. I turn and see Kate slouched seductively against the porch wall of our duplex. She is showing at least an inch of cleavage and wiggles her fingers in a wave at Naylor. I have a flashback to my senior prom, when my mother did something similar. Only it wasn’t her cleavage she was showing.
“My roommate,” I explain. “I’m sorry about her – she’s a hopeless alcoholic.”
He holds the door open and I step into the SUV. There’s a note in the flowers. It says ‘Strap yourself in, baby – and get ready for a wild ride!’.
I have no idea what that means.
We reach the hotel. There we take the elevator to the…to the roof? Oh holy crap.
As I step out onto the roof the first thing that hits me is the noise, a roar so relentless that I have to cover my ears. The second thing is the wind – it nearly knocks me off my feet. The third thing is trying to grasp the fact that Crispian Neigh is grinning down at me from the cockpit of a helicopter.
“Hey baby!” he screams, over the noise. “Wanna take a ride on my chopper?”
My Inner Goddess stirs, exhausted from an afternoon of pointing and laughing at the beauty salon. That’s a hell of a lot of effort for one small dick joke, she mutters, and then promptly goes back to sleep.