Hannah looked around her surroundings with wide eyes and failed to hide a tremble of excitement. She whispered to Tiffany under her breath, “Ohmygodohmygodohmygod Tiffany we’re actually in a sex shop!”
Tiffany glanced around and then gave Hannah a quizzical smile. “Hannah, why are you whispering? There’s nobody here…”
“I know! It’s just what if there’s someone we know lurking in the next aisle?” Hannah replied urgently. “This one time I bumped into one of my high school teachers in Walmart while I was back home for the holidays and I felt super awkward because I’d only ever seen him in a school setting.”
Tiffany squinted in confusion at her red haired companion. “What was he shopping for, condoms? Guns? Pineapple pizza?”
“Ohmygod no! I would have died! Except the pineapple pizza thing, what’s wrong with pineapple on a pizza? I mean, anyone who says fruit shouldn’t be on a pizza clearly has no appreciation that tomatoes are fruits not vegetables and honestly Hawaiian style pizza is arguably the best kind so long as it’s Chicago style I mean obv- I’m sorry I’m doing it again aren’t I?”
Tiffany nodded. “Yes, but it’s okay.”
Just then, the door to the shop opened and a man that looked to be in his early thirties walked in. He wore ripped jeans and a heavy metal t-shirt, and his spiked hair had been coloured red and black. He glanced at Tiffany and Hannah briefly before walking across the store to browse a wide selection of vibrators.
Tiffany watched as Hannah’s gaze lingered on the man, looking him up and down.
“See anything you like?” Tiffany joked.
“What? No, nothing! I mean, I’ve not really looked yet! Oh Tiff, maybe we should just go, I don’t know what I was thinking, I can’t handle this.”
“Hannah, Hannah, relax…” Tiffany urged. “Do you want to try out what we talked about?”
“What?” Hannah said, barely able to maintain the whisper through her panic. “Here? Now? Him?” She looked about ready to bolt out of the store.
Tiffany sighed, trying to mask her exasperation. She then took hold of Hannah’s chin, her grip firm but gentle, and guided Hannah’s face towards her own until their eyes met. Hannah gasped, all else forgotten as her attention anchored onto Tiffany as she spoke. “You will now be completely calm, and completely truthful with me.”
The transformation was instantaneous. Instead of the quick, sharp breaths and jittery movements, Hannah took a long, deep inhale and calmly looked around once more, eyeing the stranger up and down. When she turned back to Tiffany, she had a wry smile on her lips. “Okay, firstly, it’s incredible that you can do that.”
Tiffany grinned in response. “Completely, yes.”
“Secondly, I find him attractive.” She paused to glance back for a moment. “Very attractive, but he isn’t the kind of guy I would want to date…”
“That’s okay,” Tiffany said. “We can—“
“I’m much more interested in just having sex with him,” Hannah continued, cutting her off, “especially since I’m now curious about what exactly he’s intending to buy… That makes me sound kinda slutty, doesn’t it?”
Tiffany managed to keep a straight face, the urge to burst out in laughter strong within her. “I don’t think so…” she countered. “It’s not slutty to want casual sex. If anything, it’s good to know where you stand on something.”
“That’s supportive, Tiff. Thanks.” Hannah smiled. “Okay, let’s give this a go. Do your thing, make me…” She paused and glanced thoughtfully at the ceiling for a split second. “Confident and playful. Not lewd, but suggestive I guess? Maybe just smooth and flirtatious. Everything I’ve never managed to be in my life, basically.” She chuckled and shook her head, before turning suddenly serious. “But I only want it to be while I’m in here, alright? I don’t want to go home with the guy or do anything today, maybe just get his number or something. Is that okay?”
“Yeah! Absolutely.” Tiffany refrained from admitting how insanely curious she was to see how well this would work.
Hannah took a deep breath and shook her limbs, as if getting ready for a race. “Okay, I’m ready,” she said with a calm nod and a glance of determination.
The two of them locked eyes. Tiffany thrilled at the subtle change in Hannah’s expression, the look of complete focus that stared back at her.. “Until you leave this store or return to me and tell me that you’re done, you will be the confident, playful, flirtatious version of yourself that you want to be in this moment. You will think about exactly what you want to say and say it exactly how you want to say it. You will still be entirely you, just you with a filter. When you say to me that you’re finished or leave this store, you will return to your typical, normal self.”
Tiffany nodded to imply that she was finished, and Hannah’s expression of calm concentration morphed into one of jubilant determination. “Thanks, Tiff. You’re a good friend.”
Tiffany only smiled faintly in reply, wishing she could believe her programmed roommate.
Just as Hannah approached the stranger in the store, a green haired clerk wearing a deep purple apron over black clothing appeared from the back room.
“Welcome to Violet’s Delights,” she said in a practised drawl. “I’m Violet. How may I help you?”
The man offered her a brisk nod. “I’m just looking, thanks.”
“Fine,” Violet replied bluntly. “You?” She gazed piercingly at Hannah. Tiffany watched with interest; this store clerk was an unplanned variable for what this little experiment of theirs was supposed to be. Tiffany lurked in an adjacent aisle and pretended to compare two different butt plugs while she listened in to the interaction.
“Oh, me?” Hannah looked around behind her jokingly, amused by the apparent irritation that Violet portrayed. “My friend and I are just looking for some fun things to play with.”
Violet’s lip twitched, but she seemed to hold back on what she was going to say. She instead shook her head. “If you have any questions, just ask.”
Hannah smiled sweetly “I have a question.” When violet simply stared at her, she continued. “Why is your hair green when your name’s Violet?”
The other customer tried to hide his snort of amusement, while Violet’s eye simply twitched, but without skipping a beat, she replied in a deadpan manner, “Because I’m colourblind, obviously.”
Hannah laughed. “Good one. I’ll ask a proper question next time, I promise.”
Violet rolled her eyes and began unpacking a small box on the sales counter. Hannah took this opportunity to turn to the other customer.
“So,” she said pointedly. When the man turned, she fluttered her eyelids. “What are you looking for?”
He looked at her quizzically, a surprised smile quickly forming on his face. “I don’t think that’s the sort of thing you’re supposed to share with strangers in this kind of shop.”
Hannah mocked embarrassment while offering a coy smile. “Oh! Of course you’re right. I’m Hannah by the way, what’s your name?”
He paused for a second, suspicion mixing with curiosity. “Zander.”
“Hi, Zander! A pleasure to meet you.” Hannah thrust out her hand towards Zander, and when he tentatively took it, she shook it heartily.
Withdrawing her hand and theatrically gesturing to the store contents, Hannah forced a mischievous grin. “So, Zander…, what are you looking for?”
Zander shook his head and chuckled, “Okay, fine… I’m in to find some handcuffs and other restraints for spicing things up with my girlfriend.”
“Ah, I see.” Hannah nodded. “So who will be restraining whom?”
Zander raised his eyebrows, curious over Hannah’s tenacity, as well as how far she’d be willing to go. “We’ll be taking turns.”
“Nice.” Hannah looked to a nearby shelf and picked a pair of handcuffs with a leopard pattern fuzzy trim. “I’d say these are the nicest set of cuffs.” She held them out before adding, “There isn’t any chance you both are looking for a third player, is there?” When she saw Zander’s look of disbelief, she shrugged playfully. “Ah, I didn’t think so, it’s just the idea of being restrained by a couple is somehow exhilarating…”
Zander looked like he was stuck in sceptical disbelief. “Are you serious?”
Hannah grinned and raised her eyebrows now. “A little? Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I just want to follow you home and let you strap me to your bed! I’d want to get to know you and what is surely your lovely lady first, go for coffee, discuss the idea, you know?”
“Okay…” Zander stared at Hannah with fascination, lost for words.
“Oh, and I don’t do this kinda thing all the time by the way!” Hannah insisted. “My friend Tiff there,” she motioned with her head, “Well she’s got this computer screen thingy that’s able to rewrite your mind. So while normally I wouldn’t be able to look twice at a hot guy like you and have any kind of composure, I’ve basically been programmed to be significantly more confident and forward right now.”
Tiffany dropped the remote controlled vibrator she had been examining as her heart leapt out of her chest. What the fuck had Hannah just said?!
“Huh, I see...” Zander replied uncertainly.
Tiffany’s mind raced as she fought the rising panic within her. Hadn’t she programmed Hannah into keeping the Algorithm a secret? What was this Zander guy going to say next? Should she just grab Hannah and bail? As Zander glanced her way, she managed a nervous smile and resisted the urge to dive for cover.
“So I’m a hot guy?” Zander echoed, smiling as Hannah bit her lip playfully. Tiffany strained to listen in as she retrieved the item she dropped, still wondering if she should be aborting this whole idea.
“I said that part out loud, did I?” Hannah tilted her head to one side, her smile growing as she batted her eyes. “Well, what’s done is done.”
“You make a very tempting offer, Hannah.” Zander allowed a hint of awe to show on his expression, and then a conflicted look drew across him.
“But…” Hannah offered.
“I have a girlfriend…” Zander looked away, as if afraid to show any signs of disappointment. “And the conversation of threesomes or swinging or whatever hasn’t ever come up between us. It’s not something I’d want to suddenly drop on her.”
Hannah nodded. “That is more than understandable. I think she’s a very lucky lady.”
“If that ever changes, I hope I bump into you again. Tell your shy friend that your programming or whatever seems to be working well for you.”
“I will.” Hannah beamed before offering her hand again. “It’s been a pleasure meeting you, Zander.”
“You too, Hannah,” Zander replied, shaking her hand before placing the handcuffs on the counter.
Violet emerged from her task to ring through the sale, and as they watched Zander exit the store, she turned to Hannah with an amused sneer.
“Hit and a miss, red…” she said with thinly veiled delight. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone coming in so strong be shot down so hard. Fuck me, that’s gotta sting!”
Hannah just shrugged and smiled. “It’s okay. Nothing ventured, nothing gained I guess.”
This hadn’t been the reaction Violet had expected at all, and she found herself quickly losing interest in Hannah’s lack of distress.
As Violet muttered something under her breath and started arranging items on the shelf behind the counter, Hannah returned to Tiffany’s side with a triumphant smile on her face.
“How was that?” the redhead asked, eager for Tiffany’s response.. Upon seeing Tiffany’s expression, however, she frowned in concern. “Tiff, what’s wrong?”
Tiffany shook her head and covered half of her face with her hand. “You’re not supposed to mention the Algorithm!”
The realisation drew across Hannah’s face, her eyes widening. She paused for a moment, before grimacing insincerely and offering a playful, “Whoops?”
“Hannah!” Tiff frowned. “Seriously, the last thing I need is for random strangers to know we have a mind altering computer sitting in Josh’s apartment!”
Hannah considered this, then all playful jubilance left her face. “You’re right, Tiff, I’m sorry. I’ll be more careful in the future. I didn’t think it would matter. I don’t even think he took me remotely seriously when I said that.” She then burst out into a wide grin. “He was more focused on me calling him hot, don’t you think?”
Tiffany couldn’t help but smile even as she shook her head disapprovingly. Images flashed in her mind of a myriad of things she could do that would easily put Hannah in her place. One glance and a few well chosen words and her careless roommate would find it impossible not to strip naked before her. Feeble protests and meek apologies would not stop her from dropping to her knees and burning up in shame as customer after customer would be invited to try out any item they wished on the helplessly willing fuckdoll. An involuntary smirk flickered briefly across Tiffany’s lips as she imagined the angry green haired shopkeeper teaming up with her to strap Hannah down, gag her mouth and give her some convincing discipline to drive home the crux of Tiffany’s concerns regarding secrecy. Tiffany almost bit her lip at the image of a broken and grovelling Hannah begging her forgiveness as it flooded her mind like seductive wine.
“Yeah?” Tiffany snapped out of her vision to see Hannah looking at her expectantly.
“I don’t want you to worry about it. It was a random guy who was too busy checking me out to really listen to what I said.”
Tiffany shook her head and pinched the bridge of her nose. “Hannah, I’m sure you’re right.” She sighed heavily. “But I’m going through a lot of effort to brainwash a lot of people by Friday night just in order to ensure all loose ends regarding the Algorithm are closed up neatly. The last thing I need is you or anyone else opening up new ones.”
Hannah looked thoughtful for a moment. “It’s a pity Josh and Janet won’t have that tablet ready for a while, huh? You could’ve ripped that bad boy right out and made poor Zander forget the whole thing…” her mind seemed to wander at the idea. “Huh...”
“What. What is it?”
A sultry look filled Hannah’s eyes. “If you had that tablet here today, would you have let me use it on Zander?”
Tiffany’s eyes widened. What had she unleashed in the depths of her formally shy and innocent roommate? “I… umm…” Tiffany was split on whether or not she’d let this version of Hannah loose with an algorithm tablet. Part of her was enticed by the possibilities, while the part of her trying to reign herself in was chastising her over what a risky idea it would be.
“It’s okay.” Hannah winked. “I think you prefer to be the one holding the tablet. So how about this…” She motioned to the contents of the store. “We pick out a fun outfit for me tonight, something that leaves little to the imagination, and then for tonight only, I’ll do and say everything you want of me. No need to look into my eyes, just a completely compliant me, apologising for my careless slip of the tongue earlier.”
Tiffany wasn’t sure when exactly her jaw dropped, but she realised her mouth was agape as Hannah grinned back at her. “Hannah…” she started in earnest. “Look, you’re only saying this bec—“
“Because you’ve finally lifted the crippling insecurity out of me?” Hannah scoffed lightly. “You don’t need to panic, Tiff. I’m not throwing myself at you. I’m not even sure if I’m finding you attractive right now or am just more curious about exploring my preference boundaries. But the offer involves you setting the pace and me simply following. I trust you to pay attention to me, to see what I can and can’t handle.”
“Okay, but once you go back to normal don’t you think you’ll…”
“Freak out?” Hannah offered. She looked off to the side. “I might. Maybe.” When she looked back to Tiffany she held a solemn resolve. “But this, what you’re doing for me, dragging me out of my comfort zone, it’s what I’ve wished to be able to do for years.”
Tiffany gazed at Hannah with uncertainty. “Promise me you’ll change your mind if you need to.”
“I definitely will,” Hannah assured her. “Now let’s find something for me and something for you. I want to make sure Erin responds exactly as you’d like her to.”
Tiffany took a deep breath before agreeing and the two of them spent the next half hour exploring everything Violet Delights had to offer, giggling at most of it. By the end of it all, Tiffany had a basket full of gear, accessories, and a few different outfits. Together they had picked out something Hannah considered to be fun and exciting enough to try out, but still something that her normal personality would be able to handle, albeit with difficulty.
“Okay,” Tiffany said with an air of finality, “I think we’re good here.”
“I’d say so…” Hannah looked down at her selection and smiled.
Tiffany looked at her roommate and cocked her head. Their experiment had clearly been successful, it felt like a different person next to her. But that left Tiffany wondering. Would the unaltered Hannah be able to stick to the decisions this alter ego of hers had made?
“So, you’re finished?” Tiffany asked slyly. Time to test out that thought.
“Yeah, I’m finished.” She nodded, before immediately blinking in surprise. Tiffany watched closely as Hannah tensed all over, looked down at the outfit she held, and then looked back up at Tiffany in a panic.
Tiffany didn’t say anything, instead looking at Hannah expectantly as the redhead processed the previous hour.
Hannah seemed to be short circuiting, looking simultaneously like she was concentrating on a difficult problem while at the same time seeming like she might bolt out of the store at the drop of a gimp hood.
It was truly fascinating to watch Hannah take a deep breath and shakily say, “I can do this.”
Tiffany placed her hands on Hannah’s shoulders and beamed at her before drawing her into a tight embrace. “Yeah, you can.”
After a moment of silence, Hannah shifted and looked hopefully at Tiffany. “Although you could always program me to not feel quite this terrified at the idea of facing that scary shop owner lady again, right?”
Tiffany chuckled. “Hannah…”
Hannah looked frantically around the shop as if the perfect solution was hiding under a tube of lubricant. “Or I dunno, just spitballing here, but maybe make it so I feel no fear whatsoever? Or like I have a lot more bravery whenever I feel scared of something…”
“Maybe you can make me like an emotionless robot? Just until we leave the store, yeah? I mean, for the rest of the day would work too, I know I’d wear this thing if I didn’t actually have any feelings about it whatsoever… Heck you could make me a perfect three-laws robot and then problem solved…”
“Or maybe if you make it so I enjoy doing what you say more than I get nervous at the idea of anything you ask me to do, would that work?”
Tiffany shook her head in exasperation and started dragging Hannah towards the sales counter.
“No, you’re right,” Hannah said more to herself, letting Tiffany guide her through the store. “It’s like you said, I can do this, if I can be that confident just like that then this should be so easy.”
Tiffany rooted Hannah to the floor in front of the cash register and then handed her all of her items followed by her bank card. “There’s enough on this for all my stuff and yours. It would be super helpful if you could pay for everything then meet me outside. Sound good?”
She didn’t wait for Hannah’s shocked bluster to evolve into words before she practically skipped out of the shop with a cheery wave.
Hannah waited anxiously at the counter, her heart now pounding like a jackhammer. She peered through the back but couldn’t see any sign of the green haired lady. Then a sharp voice from behind her made her jump out of her skin.
After calming down from her involuntary shriek, Hannah stammered “Ye- yes!”
Wordlessly, Violet circled behind the sales desk. She looked at the clock, making sure Hannah saw her roll her eyes before she started ringing through the items. When she noticed Hannah blushing furiously and staring at her feet, an amused smirk crept across the shopkeeper’s face. “What’s the matter, red, no more clever remarks?”
Hannah looked up at Violet like a deer frozen in headlights. She inched the card over towards Violet, her hand trembling.
Violet scoffed in amusement as she put through the sale. “So what, you only confident when your girlfriend uses her computer to program you that way?” When she saw the surprise on Hannah’s face, she tutted mockingly. “You know, neither of you have particularly quiet voices, it’s almost as if you don’t care who hears you talk about mind controlling tablets and brainwashing algorithms…”
Hannah felt a stabbing panic envelope her. Tiffany wanted to keep everything to do with the Algorithm completely secret! Had Violet been eavesdropping the entire time?
She needed to be helpful to Tiffany, not cause problems for her! Oh heck! Oh flip! What would Tiffany do? Wait… What would that confident version of herself do?
Hannah exhaled a breath of agitation, her cheeks still burning red. “Excuse me, miss, but whatever roleplay I get up to with my girlfriend is none of your- your darn business!”
Violet gave Hannah a look of irate bemusement, as if a puppy had growled at her. She offered the trembling redhead an insincere smile and thrust the filled shopping bag into her face. “Have a nice day.” Her voice dripped with venom.
Hannah grabbed the card and the bag and scurried out of the shop like a startled rabbit. Violet watched her with a satisfied smirk, and reflected on all of the things she and the dark haired girl had been saying. Programming. Algorithms. It was all a bit odd.
Letting her curiosity get the better of her, she wandered across the store so she could see the two girls through the front window. Though she couldn’t hear what was being said, the weird redhead was literally bouncing on the spot like she was a squirrel on crack. The other one was listening calmly and smiling, though the longer it went on the less patient she got. Eventually she seemed to sigh in exasperation and said something forcefully.
What happened next was truly fascinating. The hyperactive energy seemed to just siphon out of the jittery redhead. She stopped bouncing, moving, even blinking as her face drained of all expression. Unmoving and unblinking, she looked like she had mentally checked out. The dark haired one smiled in relief and took her hand, leading her away down the street and out of sight.
“Huh,” Violet mused. “Roleplay…”
Before she could give it much more thought, the bell of the store jingled and Violet turned to see a tense looking middle aged couple enter the store. The bags under the woman’s eyes and the hopeful look on the man’s face told Violet everything she needed to know. Struggling marriages desperate to spice things up were the occasional cash cows that lined her pockets. Feeling the cartoon dollar signs appear in her eyes, Violet forgot about the two weirdos and dug deep within herself for a genuinely welcoming smile.
“Welcome to Violet Delights, where dreams do come true…”
Tiffany approached the door to Erin’s apartment slowly, taking in her surroundings. Flaking paint, flickering lights, and a stench of mold and rot. It felt like she had stepped into a saw movie. Upon Erin’s cracked door with its multiple locks was an angry scribbled note.
RENT! PAY UP OR YOUR FUCKING GONE!!!
“You’re…” Tiffany muttered under her breath, before knocking lightly on the door.
As she waited, she thought about her plan. It was simple enough. Hannah had been woken up, calmed down, and sent home with all of their purchases. She’d made sure their apartment was in good shape at least. It would be a nicer environment than Erin’s abode, that was for sure.
She knocked again and waited for a couple of more minutes with no answer. Feeling the grime of the corridor close in around her, she turned to leave when a door burst open at the end of the hall.
“Where’s my fucking rent!?”
Tiffany tensed and prepared herself to run as she saw the crusty looking old man emerge from the end door limping with a baseball bat in his hand. She would have laughed at the cliche of it all were it not for how angry and unstable he looked, straggly grey hair hanging from his balding head, his stained tattered clothing the victim of booze spills and neglect. The stench of stale smoke and vodka flooded into the corridor, mixing with the existing smells to create a foul cocktail that burned Tiffany’s nostrils. It took the demented landlord a few moments to really register that Tiffany wasn’t Erin, and then sneered.
“Tell your dyke friend that she’s this close to me dumping her stuff on the street!” he snapped gruffly, before he burst into a coughing fit, a hacksaw grinding his lungs for several moments before he spat out a dark globule of flem onto the floor. He muttered under his breath before turning away and slamming his door shut.
Tiffany waited a few moments, painfully aware she had to pass the landlord’s door to get to the stairwell. When she felt confident enough, she crept past and then barreled down the stairs two at a time.
When she got outside, she had never been so grateful to feel the city’s polluted air in her lungs. The sun was threatening to set, and still no Erin. Shaking her head, she took out her phone. Her plan had involved the spontaneity of turning up unannounced, but that looked like it wasn’t going to happen.
Moments after she texted Erin asking where she was, she received a plain and simple reply.
“That’s close…” she murmured, toying with the idea of calling a cab. She felt exposed standing still and waiting, and although it was far from a friendly neighbourhood, she only had a few blocks to go.
She walked briskly as the streetlamps flickered to life, trying to ignore the feeling that she was being watched.