[20:47:58] Bunfun5: jaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaames
[20:52:01] Bunfun5: JAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAMES
[21:02:26] Bunfun5: james???
[21:17:39] Bunfun5: cmon james
[21:18:01] Bunfun5: a brb is meant to be for like five mins
[21:18:20] Bunfun5: not for like eveeeer
[21:20:15] JJordan23: OK wow
[21:20:51] Bunfun5: theeeeeeere you are!!! finally!!!
[21:21:44] JJordan23: I was just at dinner. You’re acting like I’d been kidnapped or something.
[21:22:00] Bunfun5: you didnt tell ME that!!!
[21:22:34] JJordan23: Uhh…yes I did?
[21:22:47] Bunfun5: imma fact check this gimme a sec
[21:27:06] Bunfun5: you were right
[21:27:46] Bunfun5: <:3 did you have a good dinner tho???
[21:30:12] JJordan23: It was great, thanks. I even had seconds.
[21:30:52] JJordan23: Now, what were we talking about before?
[21:31:32] Bunfun5: like hell if i know lol
[21:32:13] JJordan23: Didn’t you just go back through the chatlog to check if I was telling the truth about being at dinner?
[21:32:32] Bunfun5: yeah
[21:32:49] Bunfun5: but that was different
[21:34:00] Bunfun5: i was trying to prove a point
[21:34:58] JJordan23: You really are something else, you know that?
[21:35:04] Bunfun5: i will take that as a complient ;D <3
[21:35:08] Bunfun5: *compliment
[21:38:31] Bunfun5: i dont remember what we were talkin about but i remember something else
[21:39:26] JJoradn23: Oh really? Like what?
[21:39:36] Bunfun5: you
[21:40:58] JJordan23: Alice, what are you talking about?
[21:41:08] Bunfun5: youve not been yourself lately is all
[21:41:28] Bunfun5: like
[21:41:51] Bunfun5: grumpy and on edge
[21:42:01] Bunfun5: even more so than usual
[21:42:37] Bunfun5: not even just ‘rarar im james and im stoic’
[21:42:46] Bunfun5: you just seem kinda
[21:42:53] Bunfun5: i dunno
[21:43:01] Bunfun5: sad
[21:53:40] Bunfun5: james???
[21:57:36] JJordan23: Well…
[21:58:01] JJordan23: If I’m perfectly honest
[21:58:49] JJordan23: You haven’t EXACTLY hit the nail on the head
[21:59:13] JJordan23: But you’re not far off.
[22:03:34] Bunfun5: cmon james talk to me
[22:04:06] Bunfun5: i know im absolutely hilarious but i can do more than just make you laugh
[22:04:27] Bunfun5: im your friend i can listen to you when you need me to as well
[22:04:39] Bunfun5: all you need to do is talk
[22:05:11] Bunfun5: so what is it???
[22:06:34] JJordan23: Well, I don’t think I can tell you everything
[22:06:43] Bunfun5: why not???
[22:07:46] JJordan23: Because I can’t put everything into words, that’s why.
[22:08:07] Bunfun5: oh ok then
[22:08:38] Bunfun5: please continue
[22:09:17] JJordan23: But yeah anyway
[22:09:58] JJordan23: You ever get that feeling that
[22:10:34] JJordan23: No matter what you do, and no matter how hard you try
[22:11:02] JJordan23: That people just don’t appreciate it? Or even notice for that matter?
[22:12:34] Bunfun5: yeah
[22:12:47] Bunfun5: kinda
[22:13:23] JJordan23: It’s just been happening a lot lately
[22:13:56] JJordan23: It’s making me want to give up
[22:14:09] JJordan23: But I don’t want to let anyone down either, and I REALLY feel like I’ll being doing that if I call it quits now.
[22:15:27] Bunfun5: sounds like you got a bit of a hobsons choice there buddy
[22:15:45] JJordan23: A what?
[22:16:39] Bunfun5: hobsons choice. youre looking at the options youve got but none of them are very good
[22:17:29] JJordan23: Alice, I don’t think you’re using that properly.
[22:18:03] Bunfun5: you know what i mean tho!!!
[22:18:12] Bunfun5: >w<”
[22:18:23] Bunfun5: anyway
[22:19:01] Bunfun5: i dunno what the full deal is but whatever it is i think you should keep going like the trooper i know you are
[22:19:34] Bunfun5: if you feel like youre gonna be letting people down and that makes you feel bad then dont do it
[22:19:58] Bunfun5: and if they dont notice you even after that then they can screw off
[22:20:47] Bunfun5: coz if no one else cares then just remember that i do ok?
[22:21:39] Bunfun5: im here for you…you know that right???
[22:24:06] JJordan23:Yeah, I do.
[22:25:32] JJordan23: Thanks, Alice. Sometimes it seems like you’re the only one who cares or even wants to know.
[22:26:48] Bunfun5: maybe i am
[22:30:07] JJordan23: Oh crumbs
[22:30:18] Bunfun5: what???
[22:31:09] JJordan23: I just saw the time, I’ve gotta get my butt to bed for school tomorrow or my parents will kill me!
[22:32:19] Bunfun5: ill fight them for ya >:3 let me at em
[22:33:45] JJordan23: Alice, no.
[22:35:18] JJordan23: You’re nuttier than a carrot cake.
[22:35:45] Bunfun5: wow youre really rolling with the compliments today
[22:35:59] Bunfun5: you charmer you
[22:36:28] JJordan23: Cut that out, will you? XD
[22:36:59] Bunfun5: neverrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!!!
[22:37:41] JJordan23: Haha!
[22:38:09] JJordan23: Anyway, thanks for today again. I’ll speak with you soon, hopefully.
[22:39:17] JJordan23: Goodnight, Alice!
[22:39:30] Bunfun5: gnight james
[22:40:00] Bunfun5: sweet dreams <3
James actually managed to pull himself out of bed in a timely manner that following morning, salvaging him precious minutes for an early morning browse of the internet. He opened the lid of his laptop, and realised that in his hurry to get to bed the previous night, he hadn’t actually shut the thing down. The Skype window he’d used to talk to Alice was still up there. His heart sank a little when the bubble next to her username, ‘Bunfun5’, was empty. James knew that he wouldn’t have time to talk to her before he had to meet Tara, but that didn’t stop the sinking feeling.
James found himself scrolling to the top of the chat log, and soon began rereading the typed words sent just the night before. He wished he’d told her more. He wanted to tell her more. But that was the thing about having a superhero alter ego; surprisingly, it helped your career to keep your identity a secret. His economic words were by no means false. Being a superhero was hard, and it was starting to take tolls on him, emotionally, physically, and mentally. Triple whammy.
James, or rather, The Spectre, like every superhero ever, had had his challenges. For starters, there was that snake creature woman, Madame Anaconda. If there was someone, or something, that could embody the definition of ‘nightmare fuel’, it was her. And then there was Crack-Shot, who could sling guns to the point where even Billy the Kid would have run for the hills. Of course, he dealt with them, amongst others, for the good of the city, but he couldn’t help feeling that no one appreciated what he went through. Tara was there at his side more often than not, and so she witnessed this stuff first-hand. He didn’t feel like that counted, though.
It would spell the end of The Spectre if his identity came under scrutiny, what with his brand of justice being of the vigilante flavour. Even then, James couldn’t help but wish that the news moguls would at least speculate on the nature of the mysterious hero. It would be nice to hear the street wonder who The Spectre was, maybe even utter a few words of thanks for the brave, hard-working individual watching over them. But no. Not a thing. James had danced with death one too many times for his liking, and barely anyone but Tara seemed to even take that into account. It’s not just because she endured these things with him. Or because she was the only person who knew who he was…or so he hoped. It’s because she was the only one who seemed to care.
The things he could talk about with people were limited, for sure, but that didn’t mean they weren’t allowed to care. Ever since the Mad Rabbit incident, he’d been in a rut. His enthusiasm for his career, and just life in general, was starting to wane. His grades had certainly slipped, and now he was struggling to keep them above a benchmark. He was increasingly starting to view his patrols with Tara as more of a chore than anything. Naturally, his parents and teachers had noticed his diluted demeanour, but the novelty of that had worn off now. Tara had offered to talk to him about it. He wanted to, but he just couldn’t find the words. Forget about people not caring about The Spectre, he wanted people to care about him!
That’s where Alice came in. Recently, Tara had been trying to get him into My Little Pony. Unfortunately, James didn’t know where to start, and Tara had more or less thrown him into the deep end. He signed up to a forum dedicated to the fandom to find out more, and that’s where he met Alice. It wasn’t long before they exchanged Skypes, speaking at least once a day, if not more. He often found that they had been talking all night. He couldn’t tell Alice everything like he could with Tara, nor had he known her for as long. But when he spoke to Alice, he got a taste of the simpler, more ordinary life he had lived before; before he became The Spectre, before he met Mad Rabbit, and before he dug himself into this hole. Despite the brief time they’d known each other, and the limits he placed on their conversations, James felt as if Alice knew him better than the people who’d known him first.
“How did you guys do in the test?”
“Ugh, don’t even talk to me about that. I probably flopped.”
“Wait, you guys had a test? Gross!”
“Our homeroom teacher sprung it on us.”
James was leaning against the school pillars, inadvertently finding himself watching and listening to the group of girls gathered around each other. They tittered like birds. Not in an annoying way. He could just tell that even with this banal conversation they were enjoying themselves. He was envious.
“Hey, sorry I’m late!” Tara jogged up, her shoes squeaking a little as she came to a halt next to him.
“That’s alright.” He stopped slouching against the pillar, adjusting his backpack on his shoulder. “Everything OK?”
“Yeah, we just had to rearrange the tables for a game in homeroom, so we were just putting ‘em back.”
“You’re lucky. Some people got surprise tests.”
“I heard about that, I dodged a bullet there!” Tara laughed and tossed her hair over her shoulder. “I’ve dallied enough, though. Let’s go already.”
He didn’t mean for it to happen, but James found himself walking in silence with Tara. She talked to him first, rattling off the classic small-talk ice-breakers to try and instigate a conversation. It wasn’t long before she gave up. When he realised what he’d done, he felt the cloud of guilt descend upon him. Tara was his friend. He shouldn’t be treating her awkwardly like a stranger he just met at a party!
“Oh, did you get round to watching those episodes I sent you?” Tara said.
Her voice sounded a bit softer, more hopeful. James decided he would oblige and actually engage this time. “No…no, not yet. I’ve kind of been letting the homework pile a bit.” Wow. That wasn’t so hard. James felt like patting himself on the back.
Her expression flickered for a moment in response to the comment about his homework. Tara’s mouth opened, like she wanted to say something, but her brow furrowed as if she’d decided against it. She smiled instead. “That’s alright, it’s not like they’re going anywhere. You might want to watch at least a few episodes before we go to Bronycon, though.”
“Br…Bronycon?” James tilted his head quizzically, like a dog that had been given a command it didn’t understand. “What’s that? Since when were we going?”
“What?” Tara blinked at him with wide eyes, mirroring his puzzled stance. Then she slapped her hand to her forehead. “It completely slipped my mind. I thought I’d asked you already!” She straightened up again. “Well…you know Comicon?”
“Of course I do.”
“It’s like that, except it’s dedicated to the My Little Pony fandom. More the Friendship Is Magic brand, but, you know…everypony’s welcome there!” She snickered at her own pun, tucking some hair behind her ear. “I kind of want you to come with me. But it might help if you actually get into the thing you’re going to a con for before you go.”
“Maybe.” James shrugged. “I’ll see how I feel about the whole thing. I kind of want to buckle down on school stuff before I go jetting off to a con. I’ll watch a few episodes of the pony thing and if I like it then I’ll definitely consider it.”
“Then I’ll have to run it by my parents. They’ll probably want to-”
“Don’t worry about that now!” Tara put her arm around his shoulders, giving him a friendly shake and a squeeze. “Think of the fun first. You can deal with the business later!” She laughed, before relaxing a little. “But speaking of business…should we go out tonight? It’s not been too long since our last patrol, but we don’t want to start getting slack, do we?”
James gently moved Tara’s arm from off his shoulders and shook his head. “Nah, not…not tonight. I’m not feeling it.”
“James…” Tara sighed and put a hand on her hip. “These days you haven’t been feeling it at all. What’s up?”
James left her in silence for a few moments while he chewed his lip, thinking hard. “Tara…can I ask you something?”
“Duh. Of course you can.”
“Do you ever think that….I dunno, the whole thing is stupid?”
Her shoulders stiffened. “…what are you talking about, James? What’s stupid about saving people?”
“Because no one cares.”
“It’s not about if anyone cares or not. That’s kind of a selfish way to look at it”
“I know!” James sighed, annoyed that he’d dared to raise his voice to Tara. “It’s just…I know heroes are meant to do good for the sake of good…I’m just thinking what’s the point of risking my life day in day out if-”
“James. Listen to me.” Tara swung herself round on her heel, putting her hands on his shoulders. “There’s no reason to get all agitated now, out of the blue. I know you’ve not been ‘feeling it’, or rather, anything, for a while now. But you can’t stay like this forever.” Her gaze slid over to the side as she gathered her words, before returning to him. Her emerald orbs twinkled with a soft expression that no other face would have been able to muster. “Just don’t think about anything heavy this week. Or for the rest of the week. Don’t fret about tonight. We’ll go on a nice, quiet patrol soon, when you’re ready. There’s no point in doing it if your heart’s not in it. Until then, just…chill. Spend time with the rentals. Watch some MLP. Do anything but worry. Besides…” She rolled her head around, and by the time she locked eyes with James again, she had comically raised eyebrows and a mischievous grin on her face. “It’s not good for you to stew like a hag’s casserole!”
James felt the euphoria of laughter flush through his body. What she’d said hadn’t been particularly funny, but it was the almost cartoonish expression on her face that really struck his funny bone. “Thanks, Tara.” He leaned in, giving her a hug. Much to his surprise and joy, she returned the gesture. “Sometimes I really wonder where I’d be without you.”
“Halfway up the creek without a paddle, probably!” She pulled back with a grin, ruffling his hair. “Anyway, this is where I turn off. If I delay any lnger my parents will probably be tearing their hair out wondering where I’d got to.” Tara gave him the customary fist-bump, and James didn’t move again until she’d disappeared around the corner.
James did, in fact, follow Tara’s advice that evening. He found himself making cordial conversation with his parents and his grandma over dinner, which is something he hadn’t done in a while. When he retired to his room for the evening to do homework, he managed to get a lot of it done for the most part. Eventually, he reached the point where simply picking up a textbook made him want to yawn. He popped everything back in his schoolbag so he didn’t have to look at it. That’s when he decided that now was a good a time as any to start watching those episodes Tara had sent him.
He’d never watched My Little Pony. Not even as a kid when the pony dolls, that looked like deformed horse Barbies, were everywhere. After a few episodes of this new stuff though, he found himself thinking, ‘This is alright.’ It was easy on the eyes, at least, and the songs were surprisingly good for a kids’ show. They actually made him tap his feet at times. It was when he found himself smiling that this happy mood, ironically, came to a stop. It was like those girls at school; he didn’t know what hardships they were facing, if they had any, but in that short moment they were happy. It could have been their temporary refuge for that day. But he couldn’t have ever envisioned that at this moment without Tara. He couldn’t help but feel as though he’d been unfair to her…mean, even. Once again, when it came to these things, James’s mind drew a blank, and he couldn’t think logically around this conclusion about himself that he’d come to.
That’s when the guilt set in like a dark cloud. While watching the little cartoon ponies dance across the screen, James felt the heaviness in his stomach become increasingly sickening with each passing frame of animation. What had made him happy, even briefly, became completely subverted. As soon as the credits rolled for the current episode he was watching, he shut down the video player, and started up Skype.
[17:09:28] JJordan23: Alice, you there?
[17:10:06] Bunfun5: always <3
James found his peaceful sleep being disturbed by a doorbell. But it wasn’t the doorbell he knew. The one in his parents’ house played a nondescript tune, while this one actually sounded like a bell being pulled. He tried to block out the noise by turning himself into a burrito with his blanket, but whoever was at the door was not giving up. With a groan, James rolled to climb out of bed. His endeavours to cocoon himself in his covers proved to be his undoing, as when he attempted to move he ended up toppling onto the floor. James let out a yell, struggling momentarily as he kicked the covers off and scrambled to his feet. He went to go rub his hands with his eyes, before realising that he no longer had hands.
He had hooves.
James yelled again, slamming his hooves back down on the floor as he spun around, trying to catch himself in some sort of reflective surface. He spotted a large mirror set in the wall, and galloped over to it. He willed himself to see a teenage boy, but he could not deceive his own eyes. The mirror reflected back at him a black horse, with white hair cut into a bowl, and upon his rump was the small image of a pair of white shades. He looked into his eyes, large and brown and glistening. It came to his realisation that he was not the kind of horses you’d see in dressage, or at the races. The smooth edges, the pastel colours, the cartoony proportions…he had turned into a cartoon pony.
The persistent bell didn’t necessarily snap him out of his daze and confusion, but it did give James the ability to tear his attention away from the mirror. That’s when he looked around, and, to little surprise, saw that he wasn’t even in his own house! The place he was in was cream-coloured, and shaped like a bubble or a dome. On either side of the mirror were shelves of books. He looked further along the wall, passing a kitchen, and a fireplace whose chimney extended up the wall into the ceiling. Above the bed he had stumbled out of was the biggest window in the place, covered by a thick curtain. He turned to the direction that the sound of the bell was coming from, spotting the arched main door.
James trotted over to it, almost tentatively, wincing a little every time his hooves clicked upon the floor. The bell was still ringing as loudly as it was when he first heard it a few minutes ago.
“Alright, alright, I’m coming!”
He reached out towards the handle on the door, pausing momentarily as he stared at the hoof where his hand would be. James shook the confusion off before pushing down on the handle. The door swung open, and before him was another pony. She was blue, but her hair a rather psychedelic pink with yellow streaks through it. In her teeth was the rope that was causing the bell to ring. As soon as she laid eyes on him, she let go of the rope and grinned at him.
“Well, good morning, ya sleepy-head!” Her tail swayed from side-to-side. “Or…more like afternoon, now. I was ringing that bell foreverrrrr!”
“Who…” James leaned forward, peering into the other pony’s face. She was just as cartoony as he was, if not a bit more of an eyesore. “Who are you?”
“James, anypony would think you’ve got amnesia or something!” She turned, giving him a coy look out of the corner of her eye. Upon her rump, in the same place that James’s white shades were, was a pair of devil horns. “It’s me, Alice.”
James heard a noise not unlike clapping, before realising it was his own hooves making the noise on the floor as he took a few steps back on four feet. “A-Alice?! That’s you?!” He moved forward again, out of the house, and circled Alice a few times, inspecting every inch of her. “But…we’re both ponies…what’s going on?”
“What do you mean what’s going on?” Alice tossed her hair, giving a rather equine-sounding snort. “It’s a dream, James. This is all in your head.”
James sat back on his haunches, hearing the Alice-pony’s words but not quite believing them. He attempted to see if there was anything else that indicated towards the likelihood of this crazy scenario. The grass and trees looked like they’d jumped right out of a picture book. Leaving houses identical to his were ponies that resembled him and the Alice-pony, but with varying colours and icons upon their rumps. It was an exact replica of a background scene for the cartoons he was watching. He was beginning to believe the Alice-pony now; there was no way this couldn’t be a dream given how surreal this all was.
But…at the same time, it all felt so real.
He turned back to the Alice-pony, whose ears twitched while her expectant gaze lingered. James sighed, lowering his head momentarily, before raising it again and shaking himself out from head to toe.
“OK, I believe you.” James surveyed his environment one more time. “This has to be a dream…it’s just too crazy. I mean…I don’t know why I’m here, or why you’re here, Alice, but-”
“Oh my god, James, just stop worrying, will you?!” Alice stomped her hooves playfully, kicking up small clouds of dust. “We haven’t got all the time in the world, since, y’know, it’s a dream and people wake up from those? Let’s just have some fun!”
James opened his mouth, about to protest. He quickly shut it again when he realised he didn’t actually have anything to say. This was his dream land, and for some reason Alice was here, and for another reason, they were both ponies. Unless he was in some sort of drug-induced coma and he was hallucinating all of this, he was going to have to wake up at some point anyway. Here, he was with a friend, and safe from the follies of the ‘real world’. He decided to shut up and enjoy his time here while he could.
“You know what, Alice? That actually sounds great.” James kicked his door shut with one of his hind legs. “Let’s go have some fun!”
“Yeah, that’s the ticket, my little stick in the mud!” Alice put a hoof to her mouth as she giggled. As James started to walk, she followed suit, a little spring in her step.
“I don’t…actually know what’s going on in Ponyville today. So I’m counting on you to lead the way.”
“Oh, James!” Alice gave him a mischievous grin, bumping her rump up against his own and making him stumble slightly. “You say that like you had a choice in the first place!”
James had no idea what to expect. The sheer fact that he was here, with a pony version of Alice, was evidence enough that this dream did not follow any line of logic. But the feeling he got wasn’t uneasy fear; it was simply uncertainty. He decided to dive into this headfirst, and it seemed to pay off. With every game he played and meal he ate with pony-Alice, and with each laugh that escaped his throat, he felt his spirit lift.
As the sun set in Ponyville, it dawned on James that this dream was coming to an end. With every step he took with pony-Alice back towards his house, he felt his heart grow heavier and heavier. It was the sensation of wanting to stay there forever, but knowing it had to end. When he set his eyes upon his front door, James felt sick.
“So…I guess this is it…” James felt his ears flatten against the side of his head, as he willed himself to look pony-Alice in the eyes.
“Yeah…” She looked down at her feet, her ears in a similar position. “You’re going to wake up any minute now…”
“Can I see you again? You’re not gone forever, are you?”
“This ‘me’? Maybe…there’s no guarantee you’ll have this dream again. As for the ‘me’ in the ‘real world’, well…” Pony-Alice grinned and tossed her hair. “You know I’m there for you round the clock like a 24/7 McDonald’s.”
James laughed. “That’s true! I’ll guess have to make memories with you in the real world that are just as good.” He shuffled forward a little, nuzzling pony-Alice along her muzzle and neck. A smile came across his lips as she affectionately returned the gesture. “Even if this is only a dream…thank you, Alice. I had the best time…”
“I’m sure it won’t be the last you see of me, pony or otherwise.” Pony-Alice pulled away and smirked. “See you on the other side, partner.”
And that’s when James woke up. He looked at his hands, checking that all ten humanoid digits were indeed present and correct. He sighed, resting his arms by his side and staring straight up at the ceiling. Why did that dream have to end?
[19:05:27] Bunfun5: so let me get this COMPLETELY straight
[19:05:39] Bunfun5: you were having this dream
[19:05:47] Bunfun5: and you were a pony
[19:06:22] JJordan23: Yes.
[19:06:59] Bunfun5: and I was a pony
[19:07:14] JJordan23: That’s right.
[19:07:20] Bunfun5: and what exactly happened in this dream???
[19:07:43] JJordan23: Not much, really.
[19:08:25] JJordan23: We just kind of…walked about and had fun.
[19:09:01] JJordan23: If we had sung any songs, it would have been THE perfect MLP:FiM episode.
[19:09:34] Bunfun5: wait
[19:09:46] Bunfun5: MLP???
[19:09:52] Bunfun5: as in
[19:09:58] Bunfun5: my little pony??
[19:10:07] JJordan23: Yeah. Do you watch it, too?
[19:10:28] Bunfun5: well im kinda going to bronycon soooo…
[19:10:42] JJordan23: Tara mentioned that!
[19:11:01] Bunfun5: thats great
[19:11:38] Bunfun5: are you actually going to go then???
[19:12:02] JJordan23: Maybe. I’m not too sure.
[19:12:23] JJordan23: I kind of want to get stuff at home and school sorted out before I run off anywhere, you know?
[19:12:29] Bunfun5: i hear ya
[19:12:49] Bunfun5: buuuuuuuuuuuut
[19:12:55] Bunfun5: <:3
[19:13:06] JJordan23: ….but?
[19:13:44] Bunfun5: if we both went, it would be a great way to meet each other
[19:15:18] JJordan23: You want to meet up? For real?
[19:15:48] Bunfun5: we always talk about it but weve never actually done anything about it
[19:15:59] Bunfun5: now would be the perfect time, wouldnt it???
[19:16:15] JJordan23: Maybe…I don’t know, Alice.
[19:21:51] Bunfun5: its me isnt it???
[19:21:58] Bunfun5: you dont want to meet me
[19:22:04] JJordan23: Of course not! I’m just not feeling up to a lot of things lately.
[19:22:30] JJordan23: It’s not that I don’t want to meet you, I promise. The case is quite the opposite, in fact.
[19:22:47] JJordan23: When I think of the most important people in my life, you’re like…UP there.
[19:23:03] JJordan23: If I could meet you, I would. If anything, it’s another incentive for me to go to Bronycon.
[19:23:52] JJordan23: It’s just me holding myself back again, I guess.
[19:24:28] Bunfun5: alright then
[19:24:39] Bunfun5: i believe you
[19:27:04] Bunfun5: sorry for getting all clingy like that
[19:27:59] JJordan23: That’s alright. I probably would have done the same thing.
[19:28:07] JJordan23: I think I heard my mom calling me for dinner.
[19:28:18] JJordan23: I’ll come back online when I’m done, I guess.
[19:28:34] Bunfun5: sure
[19:28:56] Bunfun5: and ill remember where you went this time hehehe
[19:29:08] JJordan23: Speak to you in a bit!
[19:29:15] Bunfun5: dont keep me waiting <3
“Thanks again for having me for dinner, Mr and Mrs Jordan. Sorry for intruding.”
“Oh, not at all, Tara. You’re a friend of James, and therefore a friend of ours. Needless to say, you’re always welcome here.
Tara had been to James’ house several times before, but it was tonight that she realised she’d never stayed for dinner. The most she’d do was come over to play games, and she’d usually be gone by the time his parents came home. Her parents had brought her up right, and she’d been taught not to outstay her welcome. It’s not like Tara hadn’t met James’ parents. If they happened to catch her on the way out, she wasn’t going out of her way if she stopped to make conversation with them. This still felt slightly unusual to her, though. However, she’d been getting closer to James these days, although through unfortunate circumstances. She figured that making herself at home was just another step of getting to know him better.
Tara found herself, more often than not, thinking about how much had changed since that incident with Mad Rabbit. Certain aspects of his life had taken steep downturns, and she could see how his words and thoughts were tinged with bitter cynicism. He’d certainly improved in the past few months or so. His grades weren’t as good as they used to be, but he’d stopped them dropping. Their superhero career had been on the backburner for a bit but that didn’t mean they’d stopped hanging out as friends. Tara had said to James, on several occasions, they could talk if he’d wanted to. Despite James never taking her up on her offer, he seemed to be improving. Slowly, but surely. Perhaps the ‘passive’ mode of support for James was more effective than the ‘active’ one.
“So, Tara, you seem like a girl with a bit of personality beyond her school life,” Mrs Jordan addressed her with a smile. “What kind of things are you…‘into’?”
“Well…” Tara returned the smile. “I guess you could see I’m kind of a geek. I’m head of the science club at school. A-And I love comic books and…stuff like that, really. And some old British TV shows, I guess?”
“Comic books, is it? I can see why you and our boy get on so well. Nana, careful, you’re going to spill your gravy! James, can you help your grandma, please?”
“Old British TV shows?” Mr. Jordan chipped in while his wife attempted to avert a gravy spill onto the clothes of James’ grandmother. “Which ones are we talking here?”
“The first one that comes to mind is Doctor Who, if I’m perfectly honest.”
“Uh huh…now, then, who’s your favourite Doctor?”
“Ooooh…it’s gotta be the Third for me.”
“Ahah, you really are going old-school!” Mr. Jordan gave his son a gentle nudge with his elbow. “This one’s a keeper, eh, James?”
He laughed a little. Both Tara and James knew he was joking, but when they caught each other’s eyes, they blushed and looked away. It didn’t take them long to regain their composure though, and for their private awkwardness to subside.
“I’m actually doing a Doctor Who-themed cosplay when I go to a con, soon.”
“A con?” Mr. Jordan tilted his head. “Is it Comicon? That’s the only one I’ve really heard of.”
“Not quite Comicon, I’m afraid. It is in California, though. It’s called ‘Bronycon’.”
“‘Bronycon’? I’ve heard of it being spoken of around the station but I couldn’t tell you a thing about it…you’re going to have to explain it to this old man, dear.”
“It’s basically a My Little Pony convention.” Tara rubbed the back of her head awkwardly, jumping straight into an explanation before Mr. Jordan’s face could make a confused expression. “The series has been rebooted recently. And…it’s done really well! So much that kids and adults alike watch and enjoy it. They made Bronycon so all the fans could come together and enjoy it. I’m cosplaying as Doctor ‘Whooves’…who’s basically the Doctor in the My Little Pony universe.” Tara folded her hands in her lap. “I…hope that explains everything…”
Mrs Jordan shrugged gently. “I don’t understand, but it sounds like fun.” She turned to her son. “It seems like it’d be something up your street. You know…a place dedicated to cartoons. Why don’t you go?”
“Tara’s already invited me, Mom,” James said, after finishing his mouthful. “I’m still kind of sitting on the fence about it…”
“No harm in thinking about these things, after all.” Mr. Jordan nodded. He placed his knife and fork at five o’clock, before sitting back in his seat. “Although, speaking of harm…you might want to be careful when you go, Tara.”
“Why is that, Mr. Jordan?”
“I’m not sure if you’ve heard about it, since us in the police force have tried to keep it hush-hush, but…” The man sighed. “Does the name ‘Mad Rabbit’ ring any bells for you?”
Tara’s hands gripped her knees under the table as she immediately dropped a poker face. She stole a peek at James, expecting him to have sunk back into his chair at the sheer mention of the name. But he wasn’t acting like a frightened turtle. He was sat up straight, looking directly at his father. Tara turned back to Mr. Jordan, who was waiting for answer. “I can’t say it does, Mr. Jordan.” She shook her head.
“I shouldn’t really be telling you this, but you’re a friend of the family, and I trust you to keep your mouth shut for the most part. Anyway, there was an incident last Valentine’s Day, where a bunch of couples were targeted for some theatrically sadistic displays. Most of them we managed to save, but…not everyone was so lucky. We got barely info from the occurrence, apart from a possible suspect, a female by the name of ‘Mad Rabbit’. Now, here’s the kicker…” Mr. Jordan turned his fingers into a steeple, leaning in to the table. Everyone around it, even the usually quiet Grandma Jordan, was hooked on his words. “We’ve heard rumours that there’s a possibility that this…‘Mad Rabbit’ will be in town around the same time that Bronycon is occurring.”
“Dad, they’ll have security at the con, you know,” James piped up, much to Tara’s surprise. “They don’t just go into a building and nerd out. There are rules, you know.” He patted his father’s arm. “There’ll be safety measures in place.”
“I suppose that makes sense…” Mr. Jordan still shifted in his seat, visibly uncomfortable. “Still…it feels wrong for a young woman like Tara to risk being anywhere near a person like that without at least a friend nearby. Maybe you should go with her, James.”
“You know what, Dad? Maybe I will.”
Tara’s head snapped towards James for a moment, her eyes wide in disbelief at what she heard. Did her ears deceive her? She relaxed, and when James looked over she grinned and gave him a thumbs-up. But then his father, his fears somewhat quelled for now, started up a much lighter conversation topic, and he looked away from Tara to join in. That’s when Tara found her eyes beginning to narrow in scrutiny. Tara may not be ‘on duty’, as it were, but there was some sleuthing to be done tonight.
Over the course of the evening, the initial invitation for Tara to stay for dinner slowly turned into an invitation for a sleepover. After appropriate sleeping arrangements were made, she received her parents’ blessing via a phone call. When Mrs Jordan lent Tara some nightwear and a spare toothbrush, Tara and James retired to his room for their usual gaming session. Tonight it seemed that they were intent on showing each other what for in Mario Kart. Tara let the atmosphere migrate into a jovial setting before beginning her interrogation.
“So, what changed your mind?”
Tara was a little taken aback by the forwardness of James’ response. She expected him to dance around the topic for a while, or give vague answers, before she heard what she wanted. “Well…yes. I mean, a few days ago you were uhmm-ing and ahh-ing about it like an undecided girlfriend at an awkward proposal. What changed your mind?”
“As a matter of fact, I’ve actually been watching Friendship is Magic, and I like it, so now I want to go. But I know what you think changed my mind.”
“You practically bolted upright in your seat when your dad mentioned ‘Mad Rabbit’. You want to go to Bronycon because she’s might be there.”
“Well, you’re not wrong…”
“James!” Tara’s thumb slammed down on the pause button. She turned to look at him, furious, and their eyes immediately locked.
“We know what happened when you last tried to face off against her.” Tara sighed and shifted on her beanbag, her eyebrows furrowing. “What will you do if it’s even worse this time around?”
“First off, Dad says it’s just rumours. She might not even turn up. And you saw her, didn’t you? The security will see her coming from a mile off. If anything, we’ll just be providing back-up in case they need it.” James turned back to the TV and hit the pause button again, resuming the virtual Grand Prix. “Besides…she’s only a part of the reason I want to go. There are other reasons, too.”
“Oh, really? Like what?” Tara felt like putting her arms on her hips, or moodily folding them, in some form of protest. But that would involve taking her hands off her controller and she didn’t want to lose this race.
“Isn’t it obvious? The main reason I’m going is because of you. I mean, I wouldn’t even have heard about it if it wasn’t for you.”
“…oh.” Tara’s shoulder sank a little. Now she felt bad.
“We’ve certainly not been seeing each other as much since we…I put the superhero stuff on hold for a bit. I just want to spend some quality time with my best friend.”
“Me too, James.” As the race finished, Tara turned to James and smiled, finding that he’d already thought of doing the exact same thing. “That’s all I ever wanted it to be. I didn’t want to make it into some sort of drama at all.” She gave James a friendly punch on the shoulder, before turning back to the screen to select her next character. “Hang on a second…you said ‘reasons’, and you’ve only told me one. What’s the other?”
“Oh, well, I-I uh…” James pressed the wrong buttons several times in a row, trying to pull words out of his mouth but only managing stutters. Tara saw his cursor darting wildly across the screen, before raising an eyebrow at him once she noticed the blush brewing in his cheeks. He finally let out a heavy breath, before taking out his phone and finding something on it. “Here. You’ll see why I can’t really vocalise it right now.” He passed it to Tara, who regarded it with an air of suspicion. “It’s nothing bad, I promise!” he reassured her. “It’s…quite the opposite in fact…”
Tara rolled her eyes, settling her controller down on the ground so she could grip the phone properly. She flicked through the folder on the phone that James had directed her to. It was mainly pictures of a girl. She was smiling, or pulling a silly face in a lot of the photos. She was blonde and slender…very pretty. Peppered throughout the gallery were screenshots of Skype chat logs. Tara only briefly skimmed these, but she saw the small gaps between the timestamps of each reply and the frequency of the heart emoticon increasing with each conversation. Tara found herself glazing over as she went further and further into the folder, before she handed the phone back to James to resume their game.
“I’m hoping you know who that is and you’re not just being a creep,” Tara said jokingly. She was trying to lighten the mood to avoid any awkward silences between them, but she couldn’t help but feel as though her voice was about to crack.
“Of course I know her!” James said, tucking his phone back into his pocket. “Well…on Skype, anyway.”
“What’s her name?”
“Alice. I was doing some research on My Little Pony when you sent me those episodes and I met her on a forum. She’s going to Bronycon, too. It’d be great to finally meet her in person, but you’re always meant to bring someone with you, y’know, ‘just in case’ or whatever. And I can’t think of anyone better to do that with than you.” He sighed, but it sounded happy rather than heavy for once. “It’s almost like I’m meant to go to this Bronycon thing…my two favourite people in the world are going to be there and I-”
“You like her, don’t you?” Tara cut in. Short, sharp, and straight to the point. It was rude to do it, she knew that, but there was an insatiable urge in her that had risen up and she just had to know.
James froze for a moment. There was no noise in the room about from the happy Mario soundtrack playing from the TV. “…wh-what do you mean…?”
“You like like her. Your face lights up when you talk about her. And she likes you, too. I can tell from how she talks to you on Skype, and how she’s picked all the nice pictures of her smiling to send to you.”
James was just full of surprises tonight, because once again Tara expected him to shy away, or avoid the question, anything but talk about it. But he came out with a direct answer to match her direct question. “Maybe I do. I think I’ll know once we actually see each other. And that’s why I want you there.” He gave her a playful nudge with his foot, avoiding jogging her arm in case it messed up her game. “It’ll probably be a while before she ‘meets the parents’, so…you’re the next best thing, I suppose.
Tara laughed, nudging his foot back and making him slip a little. “I’m going to take that as a compliment, you little rascal…oh my god, don’t you dare use that Blue Shell on me!”
For the remainder of that evening, Tara pushed back all the thoughts in her head that would have made her ask questions. She knew that she wouldn’t know what those questions would do until she asked them. Even then, she didn’t want to risk ruining the innocent tranquillity of her evening with James. It was just pleasant, almost sublime, to see him so simply happy in this moment. He wasn’t forcing himself to grin, or trying too hard, just for her sake. Genuine laughter flowed from his lips like a song, and when he smiled, she could see it reach his eyes as well.
When Tara lay down to sleep on the futon that night, all the feelings she’d pushed to back of her mind that evening flooded back all at once. She found that she was curling in on herself in a foetal position. Tara couldn’t understand why. If James was happy, and no one was hurting, she should be happy for him, too. Tara couldn’t help but feel as if there was something wrong with that fact that it wasn’t just her that was making him happy. There was no specific reason as to why it should or shouldn’t be her or Alice. The more she dwelled on this nonsensical line of logic, the more her own thoughts become murky and hard to actually discern.
It took Tara until the early hours of the morning to realise that the strange feeling was, in fact, jealousy.