Addison moved the chess piece across the board and examined the arrangement she’d made. She’d been reading up game strategy, but practicing it by herself was a little boring. Her dad’s take no prisoners approach had honed her skills, but made playing with others–including herself–a little unsatisfying. Her fingers reached for the queen, and her thought was interrupted with a rapping at her door.
Her eyes drew up to the window. The perky blond neighbor who always waved from her porch now stood directly on Addison’s. She’d avoided her every time she walked outside. Too friendly neighbors were a red flag. But, with a sigh, she stood and pulled back the blue painted door, poking her head out.
“Hi!” blondie said, waving as she did. “I’m Marguerite! I live next door.”
“I’ve seen you.” Addison stared at her, waiting for the next part of her introduction, and when it came unprompted, she said, “Did you need something?”
“We’ve never actually talked, have we? I don’t know your name!”
She sighed. “Addison Shipman, nice to meet you.”
“Addison,” blondie repeated with a smile. “It’s been a couple months since I moved in, and I barely know anyone.”
“Yeah, it’s nice,” she said. “I like the quiet.”
“See, I can’t stand it. I’m too used to having all my friends over. You moved in like a month ago, right?” Marguerite shook her head. “See, a better person would’ve brought you something to welcome you.”
“Like a fruitcake or something?” Addison stepped onto the porch with her, shutting the door behind her. “Pass. I’m kind of in the middle of something anyway…”
“Oh, right!” Marguerite gave a ditzy little headshake. “I wanted to invite you to a party tonight!”
Addison frowned. “A party?”
“Just in the backyard. I never see anyone use it!”
Her eyes glanced to the back of the building. There was a pretty nice yard back there, with tables and a grill and a few flower plots that no one had bothered planting in. Addison walked past it on her way to work, but she hadn’t gone back there since the landlady had taken her on the tour.
“You’re going to do like a barbeque?” she asked.
Marguerite nodded. “I’m not, like, a master, but I thought I could put on some burgers and get everyone in the building together. Do like a meet and greet.”
Addison’s frown deepened. “Why?”
“Don’t you want to get to know your neighbors?”
“Not if I can help it,” she said with a snort.
Marguerite looked momentarily crestfallen, and Addison’s shoulders sagged. Blondie here probably didn’t get told no often, and Addison had no doubt in her sorority or among her girlfriends, she was queen of the get-together. Addison had moved for the peace and quiet, a virtue many of her neighbors shared. The month she’d lived here had been a better time than nearly any other place she’d lived. Newcrest was labeled as “developing” and “up and coming”. She hoped it would take its time.
“Um,” Addison said, feeling her conscience get the better of her, “what time were you thinking?”
And like a sunrise, Marguerite’s face lit back up. “I was going to start grilling around six. I just have this dingy stereo, though I think one of the guys plays guitar.”
“Yeah, I hear him all the time.” She rolled her eyes. “If I’m not still busy, I’ll come around, okay?”
“That’s amazing!” Marguerite rocked forward on her heels, grinning. “I’ll let you get back to whatever. Bye, Addie.”
“Addison,” she snapped and reached for the door. It closed shut behind her, and she rubbed her forehead. Wasn’t her inability to say no to cute girls what landed her here in the first place? Now wasn’t the time to fall back into bad habits. Whatever. If nothing else, she’d get a neighbor out of it who might be willing to water her plants if she went out of town.
Marguerite hopped up the stairs to her next neighbor. The apartment on the other side of her had wielded no results when she’d tried the door, and for a moment she’d been scared none of her neighbors were willing to be neighborly. Eight people lived here. It shouldn’t be that hard to get eight people in a room together.
Addison had been right about one thing. As she walked up the steps, she could hear the guitar music that leaked out through the thin walls of the apartment block. Marguerite had heard it on occasion, her apartment being next door, and the fast paced strumming wasn’t really her style. But a musician intrigued her. She hoped, as she knocked on the door, that it was loud enough over the music. A few moments later she was rewarded with the guitar strings stopping, and a voice calling from within, “Come in!”
The door was unlocked, and immediately as she stepped inside, she was hit with the overwhelming man smell that was everywhere. Body spray to replace showers, old pizza, and the slight sharp tinge of alcohol left out overnight. It was an otherwise clean apartment, but this guy had taken it over.
“Hey!” her neighbor said as he dumped some dishes into the sink. “You’re the hottie next door.”
She chewed on the bottom of her lip. “Marguerite Summer.”
“Emery.” He held out a hand. “Knox. I’ve seen you around.”
“I’d gleaned.” She forced a smile. “Was that you playing?”
“Yep!” He gestured to the guitar sitting in the center of the small living room. “I was practicing. It wasn’t annoying you, was it?”
“No, it sounded good.” She cringed a little and prayed he didn’t notice. “I was just introducing myself to everyone. Do you think it’s weird that we’ve all lived here a while and don’t know each others names.”
He shrugged. “It doesn’t bother me, but, hey, you’re free to hang around whenever. My door’s usually open.”
“Is that, like, safe?”
“Hasn’t been an issue yet. What’re you looking to do today?”
Marguerite shifted away from him. “I was inviting everyone out to the backyard tonight. There’s gonna be burgers and music and stuff. I want to get to know everyone.”
“That’s rad,” he said. “Anyone actually going to go?”
“I haven’t asked everyone yet,” she said, “but the girl next to me said she’d come by. You could maybe play your guitar, or whatever.”
He laughed at that. “I don’t know if this is really the crowd for it. How about I make a fool of myself after the initial introductions.”
She breathed out. “I’ll just play some music then. So you’re in? I’ll probably set up at six.”
“Yeah, I’ve got nothing else to do.”
“Well, great.” She stepped back. “I’ve still got people to invite. I’ll see you tonight.”
He waved her off, and Marguerite walked up the stairs to the second floor.
So far so good, she thought as she looked down the row of apartments. Addison she saw occasionally hanging out on her front porch, and Emery’s music had become somewhat constant since she moved in, but the upstairs folks were a mystery. They were legs rushing past on their way to work, or the occasional smell of herbs and spices as dinner was being made. She glanced at the first door, whose windows were decorated with little plants. A friendly house, by the looks of it.
She knocked on the door, and a minute passed before a face poked out of the door. The soft faced woman with her hair done up gave a nervous look before stepping out onto the walkway. Marguerite decided for a more straightforward approach.
“Hiya, neighbor,” she said. “I’m Marguerite Summer. I live downstairs.”
“Yasmin Cantu.” Nervous was the only word to describe Yasmin. She squeezed her fingers together and shifted on her heels. A smile tried to make its way on her face, but it didn’t quite reach. “Did you need something?
“I’m putting together a little backyard barbeque,” she said. “If you come around back at six, I’ll make some burgers and stuff.”
“Oh.” Her eyebrows came together in a quizzical look. “Is that a common thing around here?”
“I want it to be. I’m trying to get the neighbors together.”
“I’m not used to being around so many people,” Yasmin said.
“It’ll just be whoever’s living here. Minus whoever doesn’t show up.”
“I guess that could be okay.”
Marguerite’s lips pursed as she looked at her. Her friends back home would call Yasmin Cantu a romance novel and glass of wine sort. Marguerite was trying to gauge how many drinks it would take to get her wild.
“I promise,” she said. “Low key and easily escapable.”
“I’m usually outside anyway.” Yasmin reached for her door. “I’ll see you later then.”
“Yeah, sure!” Marguerite called, but the door was already closed in her face.
Well, that interaction wasn’t all bad. And just three more houses to go. The next door opened easily, and she was greeted by an absolute bro in a knit cap and hoodie. He introduced himself as Orion Torres as he snacked on his grilled cheese.
“A barbeque sounds like a cool idea,” he said. “I’m always down for free food.”
“I was hoping that’d be the big draw.” Marguerite saw his computer from the corner of her eyes and the series of scripts he’d left open. “Is that your work?”
He nodded at it. “Yup. I started at this tech company. Mostly writing scripts and stuff. Do you do any of that?”
“I wouldn’t know where to start.”
“It’s more fun modding games and stuff. Do you ever play Incredible Sports?”
Her lips turned down. “Um, no. I’m not a big gamer or whatever.”
“That and R.E.F.U.G.E. is like my jam. I’ve been trying to set up a livestream channel and there’s this awesome new game coming out–”
Marguerite tried to suppress it, but a yawn escaped her lips. She had the decency to look embarrassed about it. He laughed.
“It’s not everyone’s jam,” he said. “If you ever need any tech help, though, you know where to hit me up. I try to charge reasonable rates.”
She smiled. “Thanks, Orion. I’ll see you tonight?”
She walked down to the next apartment. Violin music wafted out, and she tried not to be too eager peeking through the windows to this apartment. The only thing she knew about the guy who lived here was a Grade A hottie, but as she knocked against the door, there was no response.
At least the first apartment she’d tried had been silent. She wondered if he couldn’t hear her, or if he was deliberately ignoring her.
She was pretty sure she wouldn’t like the answer.
The last apartment was quiet, but when she knocked, a voiced called her in. She pushed open the door
The apartment smelled like fresh flowers and paint, and the girl painting on an easel put a few more strokes to paper before turning to greet her. Marguerite did the usual introduction.
“Selena Malloy,” the painter said. “It’s nice to see a friendly face around here.”
Marguerite let out a breath. “Don’t I know it. I’ve been trying to talk to everybody, and I might as well have the plague.”
“A party sounds nice. You know I’ve lived here six months and I still don’t know anyone’s name.”
“That’s so my problem!” Relief flooded through her. Finally a like minded person.
“You said you were going to grill right?” Selena asked. ” Do you do tofu?”
“I never have before.”
“I’m vegetarian. It’s not a big deal.”
“Oh, no, I’m glad you told me!” Marguerite said. “I can put together some veggie burgers. Parties should have something for everyone.”
Selena smirked. “How ethical of you.”
“Maybe it’ll make our neighbors a little nicer,” she said. “I chatted up that gamer boy, and it’s the only thing he would talk about.”
“It’s important to have diverse interests,” Marguerite said. “But yeah he went off on me. It’s a little over my head.”
“I wouldn’t worry about it. People probably zone out when I talk art.”
“No, art’s so cool. Do you paint often?”
She nodded. “I’m trying to get back into it. I took a break for a while.”
“I’ve never talked to a real artist before,” Marguerite said. “I had a couple of friends who made jewelry, but it was garbage.”
Selena laughed. “I’m sure it wasn’t.”
“Oh, it was.”
“Half the time I feel like I paint garbage. But, hey, if you ever want something for your wall…”
“Please!” Marguerite smiled. “Anything beautiful.”
“You’re thing’s at six right?” Selena picked up her paintbrush. “Let me finish up here and I’ll come down.”
“Awesome!” Marguerite tried to contain her excitement. “I’ll see you downstairs.”
She skipped down the stairs elated. Finally someone she could talk to around here. And hopefully tonight would go well. Now all she had to do was set it up.