Mike shifted the groceries he had bought from the store down the street from one arm to the other as he walked up the flower lined path to his apartment building. He took the short stairs up to his apartment on the second floor.
As he got closer to his own door he noticed that the door to the apartment next to him was open. That apartment had been vacant for at least six months but he heard voices coming from within so he guessed that he had a new neighbour.
A girl with red hair walked out seemingly exasperated. "El! You're impossible. Why do I have to carry your shit?" She yelled to whomever this El was inside of the apartment.
"Because Mayfield, that's what best friends do."
Mike watched as the responder came to the front door. She was small, if she came up to his shoulder he would have been surprised. She was wearing a white coca cola t-shirt and faded blue jeans. She cockily propped herself up against the door frame and smiled cunningly at the girl called Mayfield. "Aww come on Max, I'll owe you a beer."
Max or whatever she was called was about to respond when she noticed Mike watching them. "Hi!" She called out to him, tipping her head in acknowledgement.
Mike shifted the heavy bag in his arms a bit. He hadn't even realized that he had stopped to watch them for so long. "Hi. Are you girls moving in?"
"Why are you asking?" That came from El. Her eyes narrowing suspiciously, as she pushed her honey brown hair out of her face, even Mike could see the distrust in them coming through from where he stood.
"Well," Mike fished into his front jeans pocket and pulled out his keys. "It's because I live here."
"Oh." El's stance changed completely and she seemed to have relaxed some. "So you're my neighbour?"
Mike nodded. El had the last apartment at the end of the hallway. "It seems that way." Mike tried to put on a friendly smile even though he wasn't quite so sure of this El character. "I'm Mike Wheeler by the way." He carefully balanced his groceries in the crook of his left arm as he stretched out his right arm towards the girl.
El looked down at Mike's outstretched hand for a few seconds as if she was puzzled as to what to do with it. He heard the girl Max muttering to El not to be a dick and that seemed to be the magical piece for it to click to El and she shook Mike's hand. It was a firm handshake.
"I'm El Hopper." Her smile was wide but not what Mike would exactly call warm.
"I'm Maxine Mayfield, Max for short." The red haired woman had stepped forward of her own accord and offered her hand. Mike shook it and noted that Max's smile was more genuine. "I'm El's best friend."
"Oh god," El groaned. "Did you have to say it like that? It makes it sound as if we're five."
Max rolled his eyes. "I'm sorry. I meant to say that I'm El's only friend."
Mike couldn't help but to grin when El sighed melodramatically. "Great. Now Mike thinks that I'm a loser."
Max shrugged her shoulders nonchalantly. "Well..."
"Don't you dare finish that sentence Mayfield." El ruffled Max's red hair affectionately. "Now go bring me my stuff."
Max looked at Mike. "You see how she treats me? This is why she doesn't have any more friends."
Mike laughed as Max dodged the playful punch that El swung at her arm.
"All right, all right. I'm going." Max put her hands up as she walked away.
Mike smiled as he unlocked his door. At least Max seemed cool. El on the other hand, he hadn't gotten a clear read on her yet.
"See you around." Mike said as he glanced at El.
"Oh, what?" El turned around to face Mike as if she had already forgotten about his existence. "Um, yeah sure."
Mike gave a brief nod as he walked into his apartment. The familiar sound of the television greeted him as he closed the door. "I'm home!" He called out as he made his way to the kitchen to finally put down the heavy bag. He always wondered why he did that. He never got a response anyway.
He followed the noise of the television into the living room. As usual he found his cat curled up on the carpet at the foot of the couch with his own remote right beside him covered in claw marks.
"Hi Paladin." Mike reached down and scratched between the cat's ears and he purred lovingly, tilting his head back.
Mike picked the black and white cat up and placed him in his lap. He continued to pet him as he tried to figure out what Paladin had been watching. Deadliest Catch. It figured that he would be watching a show about fishing. He would never forgot the evening when he came home and he could hear his television blasting from the hallway. He had been certain that something was wrong. He had hurriedly unlocked the door and rushed to Paladin. He had been sitting in his usual spot and his head was moving left to right to the beat of the music as he watched graphic visuals on television. Somehow Paladin had discovered one of the audio channels and he had the volume turned up to almost all. Mike had immediately turned it back down to a normal level and Paladin started meowing loudly to let him know his displeasure.
Paladin was a smart cat. He had figured out which button controlled the channels and which had controlled the volume, from watching Mike all of the time. But Mike got tired coming home to find his remote clawed and chewed up so he bought Paladin his own and left it on the floor, while his remained on the coffee table. This arrangement worked well as Paladin left his alone and only used the one that Mike had brought for him.
Paladin rolled over on his back and stretched out as Mike scratched his tummy. "Guess what Pal? We have a new neighbour. Her name is El Hopper." Paladin only shifted his front paws from left to right and couldn't seem to give two hoots about a new neighbour. "She seems a bit, I dunno, weird I guess." Mike thought about his new neighbour for a couple of minutes. He didn't have much to go on. He just hoped that she didn't bring any sort of trouble home with her.
Mike lived in a nice, peaceful neighbourhood in Queens, that bordered Long Island. Sometimes he even forgot that he was a part of the Big Apple. Out here had a more of a small town feel like his home town, Hawkins and he enjoyed owning a car and not having to deal with public transportation. He was an IT consultant by trade and was able to walk the few blocks to his office where he had to check in a couple of times a week. He mainly got his car for when he had to go out and visit clients who were scattered through out Queens, Brooklyn and Long Island and the obligatory visits to his family home.
"Okay Pal," he lifted the cat up and placed him back on the floor. "I have to go make dinner."
He smiled when Paladin's ears perked up at the word dinner and meowed at him expectantly.
"Give me a few minutes, alright?" He headed into his bedroom to change his clothes before starting dinner.
Half an hour later, Mike was sitting at the breakfast counter eating his meal while Paladin crunched noisely on his dry food in the corner. He picked up his cellphone and checked his calender to see his schedule for the rest of the week. He was distracted when he felt something furry rubbing against his leg.
The cat meowed in response and looked up at him expectantly and watched Mike hard as he placed a piece of chicken into his mouth.
"I just fed you."
Paladin meowed again and rubbed himself even harder against Mike's leg.
"That's not going to work this time."
Paladin purred and then butted his head gently underneath Mike's knee.
Mike laughed as he placed his fork down. "You don't ever like hearing the word no, do you?"
He tore off a piece of meat from the chicken breast. He held it over Paladin's head. "Okay just one small piece."
Paladin got up on his hind legs and eagerly bit the piece of meat that Mike was holding, pulling it out of his fingers. Mike watched as the cat ate the meat with relish before returning to his own food.
Paladin was looking at him expectantly again.
"I told you just one piece."
Paladin just cocked his head to a side. Green eyes wide.
Mike sighed and handed his last piece of meat over to Paladin who snatched it out his fingers with his paws and placed it on the tile to eat it.
"You're gonna get fat you know. And how is that going to look? A fat cat."
Paladin was not concerned or interested in Mike's dilemma as he ate the chicken and Mike washed the dishes.
Saturday morning found Mike cleaning his apartment, while Paladin was at his usual spot watching television. Formula one racing was on and he seemed to be fascinated by the cars speeding around the track.
Mike had just emptied the dust pan into the garbage when there was a knock at the door. He was a bit surprised when he opened the door and saw his new neighbour standing there.
"Um hi." El shuffled about on one foot. "It's Mike right?"
"Yeah." He observed him curiously.
"Look sorry to bother you but the air conditioning is out in my apartment and the super says that it will be a couple of hours before the repair guy gets here. Do you mind if I crash here until he comes?" She said hopefully. "It's really hot in there."
Well fuck. He couldn't really turn her down even if he wanted to. Although deep down Mike didn't. "Yeah sure you can stay here." He opened the door wider. "Come..." before he could finish the sentence El had already walked in and Mike noticed that she was barefoot. Though it didn't really make any sense to put on shoes to go next door he reasoned.
"Nice place." El said as she took in the warm earth toned hues with splashes of burgandy.
"Thanks." He watched as El went over to a side table and picked up an ornament, examined it with her fingers and then placing it back down before picking up another one. Mike couldn't help wondering if she was planning on stealing it.
"Do you want something to drink?" He offered.
"Yeah, thanks." El picked up a silver picture frame of Mike and his two sisters.
Mike walked away nervously as El ran her finger along the edge of the frame. He really didn't know anything about this girl he thought as he grabbed a soda out of the fridge.
When he came back out, El had made her way to the living room and he heard Paladin meowing loudly as if he was in distress.
"Pal, what's wrong?"
Paladin was standing and glanced over at Mike and meowed and looked up at El.
"I don't know what's wrong with your cat. I just picked up the remote and he started going off. Why is it so chewed up?"
Mike laughed lightly. "That's his remote. You took his remote." Mike picked up the remote that was on the coffee table. "This is mine."
El looked absolutely perplexed. "Your cat has its own remote? And why did you name your cat Pal?" she set Paladin's remote back down on the floor and took the drink and remote that Mike offered her.
"Yes he has his own remote. He's home all day and I got tired of replacing mine. And I didn't name him Pal, his name is Paladin, after my D&D class". Mike replied blushing slightly.
He watched as El sat in the middle of the couch and saw how Paladin narrowed his eyes at her as he draped himself over his remote.
"So what do you do?" Mike asked as he fixed a stack of gaming magazines on a nearby table.
El popped the ring on the can of soda and the familiar hiss of the fizz sounded as it hit the air. "Stuff."
That didn't make Mike feel any better about El possibly stealing his possessions. However, he couldn't exactly kick her out with out any proof that she was thief. "What kind of stuff?"
"You know, odds and ends." She took a sip of the drink. "Do you have the History channel? I wanna watch Pawn Stars."
Yup. She was definitely going to steal his stuff. "Uh, yeah."
"Awesome." El flipped through until she found it.
Mike decided to try a different approach. "Are you from New York?"
"Nah. I hate it actually. I'm from Chicago." El already had both feet up on the couch making herself quite at home. Dressed in a yellow t shirt and grey flannel pajama trousers, she looked more relaxed than Mike did, who was wondering at this point what sort of woman had he let into his home.
"So how comes you moved here?" He said finishing fixing the stack of magazines.
Mike waited in the hope that El would continue but she didn't.
"So what do you do?" El took another swig of the drink without taking her eyes off the television.
"I'm an IT consultant."
That caused El to actually break her eyes away from the television. She was checking Mike out in the way that people usually did when he told them that he was an IT consultant. It also reminded him of the way he was judged in high school.
"Cool, I'm useless with technology." El replied shrugging slightly and with that she turned her attention back to the television apparently ending the conversation. He had been dismissed in his own house. Unbelievable.
He decided to go straighten up his bedroom. He was certain that Paladin would alert him if El did anything funny.
When he came back out half an hour later, El was now fully curled up on the couch having taking the blanket from the back and wrapped it round her legs. Paladin meanwhile had fallen asleep on top of the remote.
"Hi, I'm going to make a sandwich for lunch. Do you want one?"
"Yeah sure, that sounds fine." she raised her hand up holding a can of soda. "I got another one, if you don't mind."
"Yeah, it's cool." There wasn't anything he could do about anyway. El had made herself a bit too comfortable in his home rather too quickly for his liking but he didn't want to seem inhospitable.
Mike was carefully putting together the sandwiches on his kitchen counter when El strolled in.
"Can you put some of that fancy mustard that you had in your fridge on mine?" She requested folding her arms on the counter to rest on them.
"No problem." Mike reached across for the fridge door and pulled it open and took out the mustard from the door.
El watched in amazement as Mike unscrewed the lid and dipped a knife into the bottle. "Don't you ever say no?"
"Excuse me?" Mike spread the mustard across the bread and then locked eyes with El still holding the knife in his right hand.
El smirked and pushed her hair out of her eyes but it still fell back. She had brown eyes with flecks of gold running through them. Mike guessed that he would have found them beautiful if he wasn't busy being preoccupied at getting irratated with his house guest.
"I mean are you always this accommodating?" El reached across the counter and placed the bread on top to cover the sandwich and then took it up with both hands. "Or only to cute girls like myself?"
Mike stared at El as if she had lost her mind, as she took a bite of the sandwich. "I..ne..never said that you were cute." he said stuttering, the blush returning to his neck and cheeks. He didn't think that El was cute, not really.
"Lies." El gestured with her hand that was holding the sandwich, predictably a piece of lettuce slipped out and dropped on the ground, of course she wouldn't use the plate that Mike had provided. "Everyone says that I'm cute." She took another bite of the sandwich. "This is a pretty good sandwich."
"Thanks." El was making Mike feel a bit uneasy. He didn't know if to eat his sandwich there in the kitchen or in the living room. However El munched through hers without a care in the world.
The familiar tune of an old country rock song suddenly assaulted the air and El pulled a dated cell phone out of her pocket. "Yeah." El popped the last piece of the sandwich into her mouth. "Ok yep I'm next door. I'll be right over." She dusted the crumbs off on the side of her pants, so of course they fell to the floor.
El ended the phone call. "That was the repairman. "He's here." El reached over to rub Mike on the arm. "Thank you."
As soon as El placed her hand on Mike's shoulder he heard a loud hiss. Both of them looked over to see that Paladin was awake and very angry. His back was arched and his hair nearly stood on end as he hissed loudly at El. She raised an eyebrow and slowly took her hand off Mike's forearm. Paladin stopped hissing. El slowly placed her hand back down on Mike's arm, gripping it firmly. Paladin hissed and looked as if he was about to attack her.
Mike shrugged her hand off his arm. "El stop. You're upsetting Paladin." He went and scooped his cat up, who made a great show of rubbing himself against Mike's chest.
"I'm upsetting Paladin?" El repeated staring at the two of them incredulously. "I barely touched you and he's ready to attack me. Your cat doesn't like me." She actually sounded quite upset about it.
"He doesn't dislike you, he just doesn't know you yet." Mike said as he accompanied El to the door while petting Paladin.
"Uh huh." El opened the door and looked back at the cat, who narrowed its green eyes at El so menacingly that a chill nearly went through her body.
"That cat doesn't like me." She repeated as she headed back to her apartment.