Last time, Hanna (Who was born in 1990 and apparently raised in a Skinner Box by a radical sect of Amish separatists) got her very own computer. After annoying her friends by sending several hilarious chain e-mails of the kind that usually come from the e-mail addresses of octogenarian aunties, she decided to Google ‘bronies’ and ‘clopping’ and discovered some very horrible things about her billionaire boyfriend, Crispian Neigh. (Don’t Google ‘clopping’, by the way. Just don’t. You won’t like what happens.) Then Crispian came over and discovered that Hanna didn’t even know what she was freaking out about, because it turned out that a mouse wasn’t the only thing she had never right clicked in her twenty one years of life. Yes – seriously. That’s exactly what you think it means. I don’t know either.
Crispian doesn’t stay for breakfast. He’s very busy.
Jesús has been playing with my laptop all night. He shuts the screen down as soon as he sees me, but I glimpse a suspiciously large amount of bare skin. “Jesús, have you been looking at internet pornography on my computer?”
“Oh, is it your computer now?” says Kate. “So you’ve definitely decided to accept it now that he’s your…clop-friend or whatever?”
I round on her, furious. “Katherine Joyce Hannigan – are you calling me a whore?”
She laughs. “Oh, Hannalore Moonbeam Galadriel Squeal – of course I’m not calling you a whore. A whore would know how to give a blowjob.”
I smile, smug down to the tips of my toes. “Well, that’s where you’re wrong,” I say. “As a matter of fact I have a natural talent for it.”
“Hanna, you refer to your genitals as ‘down there’ and have never even played finger hockey with your fleshy puck. You’re seriously trying to tell me that, after a couple of mediocre sexual experiences with It Came From OKCupid, you’ve suddenly turned into the Cocksucking Queen of Seattle?
Jesús frowns. “Deep throat?” he asks.
“Deep throat,” I say, folding my arms.
“What the fuck, man?” Jesús shakes his head. “And a woman wrote this?”
Kate shoots him a warning glance. “Yo – I do the meta round here, okay? You do the werewolf jokes. Division of labour and all that shit.”
“Yeah, but aren’t the werewolf jokes technically meta-jokes? Because I used to be a Mexican werewolf?”
“Native American? So when was I a werewolf?”
“In Twilight. You were originally a Native American werewolf. Then someone wrote a Twilight fanfic, discovered the magical power of find/exchange, published the fucking thing and bam – you’re a handsy Mexican photographer.”
Jesús squints. “Yeah. I’m gonna need the bong for this one.”
“Don’t sweat it, ese – it’s fucking confusing.”
“It seriously is. I don’t even have a camera. Why are we discussing this again?”
“Because the alternative is discussing Hanna’s love life, such as it is.”
I wave. “Hi. I’m over here.”
They ignore me. “Wait,” says Jesús. “Isn’t this whole book supposed to be about Hanna’s love life?”
Jesús stares into the middle distance for a while and shudders. “Dios mio – that’s like…”
“I know, right?”
“Purgatory. Just thinking about is like staring into an endless grey wasteland of Dull.”
“Tell me about it,” says Kate. “And get this – there are two fucking sequels.”
“Holy shit. Is boring the new kinky?”
“I’m right here. Hello?” What the hell is wrong with them now? They’ve said it themselves – this is supposed to be about me.
“Okay, so here’s what we’ll do,” says Kate, smoothing down the front of Jesús’ shirt. “I’ll call Bennett Neigh and tell him to meet me at the Heathman. Then you sneak into the stockroom, we’ll steal some more mini-bar bottles and sell them to freshmen – and if we can raise enough spare capital then we’re going to fucking Barbados, how about that?”
“Barbados? Can I wear your bikini?”
“Awesome,” says Jesús. “I’ll get the car.”
Kate turns back to me. “So, yeah,” she says, scratching the nape of her neck. “That’s kind of what we have planned – drugs, stealing, ripping off bondage addicts, weird sex and experimental transvestitism in Barbados. Just to keep you up to speed, you understand.” She smiles and adopts a perky expression that reminds me uncomfortably of my mother. “So, what are your plans for today?”
I stare at the floor. “I was going to think about Crispian.”
“He did a picture of me. It was pretty.”
“Hmm.” Kate nods. “That’s nice. So you’re okay with the whole cloppy-fucky pony thing now?”
“I dunno,” I say, picking at my fingernails. “I think so? Maybe. I don’t know if I’m fully okay with it, but I could be okay with it, if I never thought about it again and we never talked about it or mentioned it or anything like that.”
Kate sighs. “I don’t think that’s going to happen.”
I bite my lip in thought. “Maybe I could just learn to enjoy the cute parts?” I suggest. “I like My Little Ponys. They’re adorable. If I just concentrate on the adorable and…I dunno…”
“Try to forget about the parts with strap-ons.”
“And nipple clamps.”
“And double-anal penetration with the little dragon dude from the cartoon…”
Kate exhales and stares at me. “Yeah – you’re not going to be able to forget about that,” she says. “Let’s face it, that’s fucking gross.”
“It is. Really. There’s no getting away from it, is there?”
“There really isn’t, Hanna. That’s fucked up shit. If you can’t handle it just dump him and date someone you like. You’re a grown woman – if you find his sexual kinks gross and disturbing and he’s not prepared to compromise or get therapy then what the hell is the point of sticking around? Sounds to me like a recipe for straight-up misery.”
“Or another ten thousand words of protracted unnecessary drama and two sequels,” I sigh.
She grabs my arm. “Whoa – Hanna. You’re coming over a bit meta yourself lately. You feeling okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine,” I bowdlerise. “Just thinking aloud. Voices in my head.”
“You have voices in your head?”
“Yep. I have voices in my head and no gag reflex – I’m a well adjusted individual.”
It’s moving day.
Kate and Jesús did not make Barbados. Instead they almost got caught sneaking into the stockroom and had to make a mad dash for it. In my car. Wendy, my beloved VW bug, is now wrapped around a streetlamp a block away from the Heathman Hotel. I was with Crispian at the time it happened. We were having lunch in a fancy boutique restaurant in the forest, where he told me about how he was sexually molested by a lady jockey, a disclosure that left me reeling for several pages until the police called me and said I was about to be arrested for leaving the scene of an accident.
Kate has a big foam collar around her neck and several bruises. I have no sympathy.
She’s lucky that Crispian can take time out from his busy, non-stop business life to help out. He sends his brawny brothers round – the ones Kate refers to as ‘Kinky Ben’ and ‘Mufasa’s Bitch’ – and they start hurling our stuff into the back of a van as easily as if the boxes were filled with feathers.
Crispian doesn’t like Kate, for obvious reasons, but for the first time in her life she can’t say a thing. I have to admit, the moral high ground is pretty intoxicating, and I didn’t even have to scramble up here to breathe the pure, sweet air of smug, annoying righteousness. As soon as Kate totalled my car it was like I hitched a helicopter ride to the summit.
“I’m sorry,” she says, for the twelfth time in as many minutes. “I’m really, really sorry. My parents insurance will cover it.”
“Can your parents give her back the memories she made in that car?” asks Crispian. “The melted hard candies in the glove-box? The pine christmas tree airfreshener that had long since lost its smell?”
“Or that weirdly diamond shaped stain when my period came early and I was stuck in traffic?” I add. Crispian goes pale and clutches the side of the door for support. He’s not good with what he calls ‘lady business’.
“Okay, I know,” moans Kate. “I fucked up, okay? I’m sorry. It’s like I’m already wearing the cone of shame.” She gestures to the foam collar and winces. “Hanna, if it’s any consolation I’m in a fucking shitload of pain right now. I’ve got three broken ribs and my tits are black and blue.”
Crispian’s phone rings.
“Business?” I mouth.
He shakes his head. “Bennett and Casper. They’re at the new apartment. Apparently there’s some Puerto Rican already there…” He holds the phone to his ear again. “And he’s wearing a bikini. Do you know anything about that?”
“He’s Mexican,” says Kate. ” His name’s Jesús and sometimes he likes to dress up and feel pretty. Don’t judge.”
“I wasn’t about to…”
“Good, because you’re in no position to do so, My Little Pervy. You want me to speak to them?”
Crispian hands her the phone and goes out onto the balcony, clutching his forehead. I follow him. “I’m sorry about my friends,” I say. “I know they’re strange and terrible…”
He waves a hand. “They obviously like you.”
“Sometimes. They call me an asshole a lot. Although not today – because they wrecked my car.”
“No,” he says, and he looks sad.
“Do you have many friends?” I ask. “Can I meet them?”
Crispian sighs. “They’re mostly online,” he says. “And to be honest I never had much of a social life growing up. I had Warcraft, of course. But meatspace friends – not really. That’s why ponies were such a big deal for me. It’s about friendship. That’s special.”
“Yeah,” I agree, taking his hand. “It is. Even when they try to rip off a hotel storeroom and wreck your car.”
He kisses me and smiles. “You’re sweet, Hanna. I’ll tell you what – why don’t I get all my friends together for a party and you can come meet them?”
“That would be awesome. I’d really like that.”
He drives me round to the new apartment so that I can start unpacking boxes. Jesús got off more lightly than Kate – with barely a scratch. She says this was because he drank half a bottle of tequila to ‘help his nerves’, so that when the car crashed he was as limp as a ragdoll.
“Your boyfriend left you this,” he says, gesturing to a bottle of pink champagne on the mantelpiece. “Have fun. I can’t even be in the same room as alcohol right now.”
He scurries off and I hear him vomiting in the bathroom. At least, I hope it’s the bathroom.
We do pretty well for a Mexican transvestite and a skinny Lit graduate, and by the time Mufasa’s Bitch and Kinky Ben bring round the next load we’ve almost got the kitchen in order. There’s a large pantry cupboard and a doorway at the back of it, which Jesús says goes up to the attic.
“Hey – you can be a real madwoman up there, Hanna,” he says.
I stare at him. “What do you mean?”
“You know – Mrs. Rochester. The first one.”
“Yeah. I know…I know. Jane Eyre.”
“Yeah,” says Jesús. “The madwoman in the attic. Although wasn’t that a book too? The Madwoman in the Attic?”
“Yeah, yeah. It was. Elaine Showalter and…and someone. You read it?”
Okay. What? “Er…I don’t think so,” I say. “Is it like…dirty?”
“No man. It’s like one of the greatest pieces of feminist literary criticism ever written – all about the rise of the woman novelist in the nineteenth century. I would have thought Professor Jarrett would have had that right at the top of her list – her doctorate was about feminism and gothic literature and shit. Did you hear she got deported, by the way?”
“Um…I might have heard of it,” I say. “When did you start reading books? I just thought you sat around playing Left 4 Dead and preparing for a career in the fast food service industry?”
“Duh. I’m a Literature Major.”
“Oh my God – how did I not know that?”
Jesús sighs. “Look, Hanna – we probably need to clear the air, right? You know how I kind of stuck my hand up your skirt that time?”
I blush. “Yes.”
“You know I was really fucked up, right? We’d been doing bong hits all afternoon and Kate made me do jello shots and I vaguely remember snorting something off the top of a toilet in the little boy’s room – could have been coke, could have been speed. Could have been toilet cleaner, to tell you the truth. I’m really not sure. The point is, and there’s no nice way to say this, but that’s how fucked up I had to get in order to make a pass at you.”
“Yeah. You’ve always been kind of self-absorbed. I’ve always found that a very unattractive thing in a woman.”
“Great,” I say. “You stole my car.”
Jesús bites the inside of his cheek. “Yeah. Yeah – I did do that. Borrowed. Borrowed – was totally going to give it back.”
“Only now you can’t.”
He nods. “Sorry, sorry, sorry. Have I mentioned that I’m sorry? I just wanted you to know that you can totally feel comfortable around me, because I’m not going to try and eat your pussy again. And also you should probably pull your head out of your ass now and again and pay attention to stuff that other people say and do, because introversion is bad, man. It’s bad. Especially now you’ve got a computer.”
“What does a computer have to do with anything?”
“Tumblr,” he says cryptically.
A horn honks outside and Jesús goes to the window. It’s a loft window and he has to go on tiptoe to look out. Half a man-gland peeks out of the side of his bikini bottoms – Kate’s bikini bottoms. When did he start dressing up in ladies underwear? And why does his butt look better than mine?
“Dios mio,” he says. “Hanna, look what your sugar daddy bought you now.”
I slap him across the backs of his legs and scramble up onto a crate. Crispian is grinning up at me, his head sticking out the sunroof of a brand new car. There’s a pink ribbon tied across the hood.
“He is not my sugar daddy,” I say.
“Whatever you say. First the computer, then a car. Hey, next time you guys have a fight could you ask him for a yacht? I’ve always wanted to have a yacht party.”
I go downstairs. Crispian is still grinning but has removed his head from the sunroof. “Hey toots,” he says. “Will this do?”
“What do you mean, will this do? You can’t buy me a car.”
“Why not? I can afford it, and you’re currently between cars.”
“But people will say I’m a hooker!”
“Who says you’re a hooker? It’s not like you’re trading sexual favours for money.”
“No, but in the last two days you’ve bought me a state of the art laptop and now you’re trying to buy me a car. Don’t you think it looks a little…whorey?”
“Depends,” he says. “On who wants to get sued for libel. If I want to buy you a car I’ll buy you a damned car. You can push it off a cliff for all I care – I’ll just buy you another one.”
I sigh. It’s a nice car. It’s a cute little white hatchback with orange trim on the hubcaps and wheel arches. “Is the colour scheme on purpose?”
“I saw it and thought of you,” he says. “With those little orange cutie marks.”
I shake my head and smile, remembering when I used to think Q.T. Marx was responsible for the art in his office. Now I know that a cutie mark is the picture on the pony’s flank, in my case a couple of cheeto-orange crescents. Off brand. It seems such a long time ago that I was so innocent, but in fact it’s only been a couple of days. Time goes slowly when you narrate everything. I blink, an involuntary reaction controlled by my brain sending signals to my eyelids. My eyelids move up and down, removing dirt, grit and stickiness from the surface of my eyes.
“It’s very thoughtful,” I say, “But I don’t know if I can accept this. I think I need some space, Crispian.”
“Space?” He pronounces the word as if I have said something obscene. “Hanna, it’s just a car. You need a car. What’s wrong? Are you still upset about the pony thing?”
I bite my lip.
“Don’t bite your lip,” he growls. “You’ll make it bleed.”
I sigh. “I don’t know,” I murmur. “I just don’t know, Crispian. It’s just…it makes me feel unsettled. And kind of sick. Sometimes I think I’m going to be okay with it and then other times I’m not. Do you think you can…change?”
He arches his eyebrow at me. “Why would I change?” he asks, rhetorically pointing to the ‘Brony Pride’ button on the band of his fedora. “This is who I am, Hanna. I want you to accept me for who I am – the way my friends accept me for who I am.” He sighs and shakes his head. “I thought everything was settled after last night. I thought you understood me. Why are we even having this conversation?”
“You know why.”
“I know. Two sequels…” He sighs again. “Hanna – take the car. I am ordering you to take the car.”
“But I don’t…”
“Shh.” He presses a finger to my lips. “Shush now. No more talking.”
“Shh. I bought you a car. Deal with it.” He removes his finger. I hate him, but in a sexy way. “Come round to my place tonight,” he says. “I think you need to learn a lesson – a lesson about love, and tolerance.”
“What? You want me to dress up as a unicorn so all your friends can admire me?” I’m surprised even as I say it, but I can see from the light in his eyes that I’ve hit a nerve. Specifically several nerves. All of them below the waist. Oh my.
“No,” he says. “But wear something nice. And just a heads up, you could probably use another lip wax. It’s like kissing a sea otter. Grows back fast, doesn’t it? Was your Dad Italian or something?”