Off to a Great Start

This is definitely not what she had imagined when she thought off her after college life.

Evan Cooksey stood in the middle of her new apartment, fresh from graduating college. And as excited as she had been to move in and start her new life free from essays and midterms, this apartment was not what she had pictured in her head. The walls were a dreary gray, the carpet was stained, and the balcony looked out to a straight brick wall and nothing else.

Dropping her suitcases unceremoniously on the floor of the tiny bedroom, she stalked to the kitchen and picked up the phone installed on the wall next to the refrigerator. "I might as well call Mom," she said aloud. "She'll be worried sick anyway."

As she picked up the phone and dialed her parent's house, she took a good look around the kitchen and living room area. She guessed it wasn't that bad, but it wasn't good either. It was just so boring, and Evan liked to think that she wasn't boring. At least that was her own opinion of herself. And anyway, other people's opinions never mattered much to her.

"Hello?" her mother's voice finally came in over the phone line.

"Hey, Mom," Evan began. "It's Evan."

A sigh of relief. "Oh, finally! Why did it take you so long, Evan Marie Cooksey?"

She rolled her eyes, grateful that her mother couldn't see the gesture. "Mom, I've been getting settled in." Total lie. "And the phone is in the bedroom, and I couldn't find it for the longest time." Another lie. "But I did call you, so be grateful, Mom!"

Her mother let out a deep sigh on the other end of the line. "Well as long as you're in your apartment and you're safe, then that's all that matters. You are safe, right?"

Evan wedged the phone between her shoulder and her chin, taking a look around the apartment before answering. "Well if by safe you mean utterly bored, then yes, Mom, I'm safe beyond reason."

"Very funny, Evan," her mother scolded. "I'm serious, you know. I don't want you out on your own if you're just going to treat everything as a joke. Then you'll never be on the lookout for someone that could hurt you. You need to be—"

"Aware of everyone, everywhere, at all times, I know, Mom," Evan groused. "I'm a responsible adult, I just graduated from college, I think I can manage on my own, Mom."

"Well, just the same, I want you to be careful," her mother complained. "Have you met your neighbors yet? Watch out for them."

Evan sunk down onto the uncomfortable, ugly couch provided in her apartment deal. "No, Mom, I haven't met the neighbors yet. And I'm not going to be living next to the BTK killer…"

Silence.

"Mom?"

Sniffles. "I just miss you so much. And your father misses you. And your sister Abigail, she needs a big sister to look up to, and now that you're gone, she's just getting into all sorts of trouble."

"Mom, you're not going to guilt me into coming home sooner than Thanksgiving." Evan paused. "What kind of trouble?"

"Oh, she wants to get a tattoo now, and this new boyfriend of hers is not a nice, clean young man. He's got tattoos and piercings in places I didn't even know could be pierced," her mother explained. "And I'm just afraid that he's going to pressure her into doing some things that she's not ready for."



"It's not going to happen," Evan assured her mother. "Abbie has a good head on her shoulders. She always has. She knows enough not to let a boy get the best of her. Is she there? Put her on the phone."

Evan heard her mother yell Abigail's name upstairs and soon there were pounding footsteps coming down the wooden stairs.

"Yeah?"

Evan smiled. Her surly little sister hadn't changed much in the year since she'd been home. "It's Evan. Listen, don't let Mom get to you. You know she's only looking out for you, so cut her some slack, okay?"

"Whatever, Evan," Abbie said a little louder than necessary. In a smaller voice, she added, "I miss you, Evan. Only Jack's home now, and he doesn't understand me at all."

"I know, Abbie," Evan said. "I miss you, too. Don't let Jack get to you either. He's just mad that he's at home right now, when he should be at college. Don't rag on him too much, okay? So what's your new boyfriend's name?"

"MOM!" Abbie yelled out of the phone. "She told you, didn't she?"

There was a brief period where the only noise coming out of the phone was an argument between Abbie and her mother in the background. Finally, a voice spoke to Evan.

"Evan, honey?" her mother called.

"Yeah, Mom. I'm still here."

"I'm going to have to let you go," she said in an exasperated tone. "Abbie's having a tantrum. I love you, be safe!"

"I love you, too. Tell Dad I love him. Bye."

Evan pulled herself off of the low couch and hung the phone back on the hook. Just glancing around the dreary apartment depressed her, but hopefully she wouldn't be spending much time at home. Tomorrow, she was starting her new internship with the Chicago Sun-Times. She'd gone to college for journalism, and she was ecstatic to finally be starting something.

Evan had always known she wanted to write. She'd dreamed of becoming a serious journalist. She printed her own newspaper, complete with made-up classifieds, articles, and everything else imaginable, when she was ten. By sophomore year of high school, she was the chief editor of her high school newspaper. And she had also been editor of her college paper. And she was finally interning with a real newspaper, well on her way to becoming a real journalist.

But even a serious journalist needed an apartment that didn't smell like wet dog.

She sniffed around, attempting to find the source of the offensive smell. Unsurprisingly, the foul odor was escaping from the sink drain in her bathroom. Turning on the water to try to wash away the smell, Evan immediately discovered that the faucet sprayed water out instead of down. She slammed the handle to turn off the water and looked down at her now-soaked shirt. Wrinkling her nose, she lifted the bottom of her shirt to her nose and took a whiff. Unfortunately, her new scent was apparently eau de wet Shih Tzu. Lovely.

Trudging back into the living room, Evan set her biggest suitcase on the couch, she unzipped it and randomly removed a clean t-shirt. It looked like the balcony was receiving at least a little bit of the sunshine from outside, so she decided to check out the balcony. Dry shirt in hand, she unlocked the sliding glass door and stepped onto the balcony and into the sunshine. She tilted her head upward for a moment to let the sun warm her face. Then she set the shirt on 

the wooden bench that sat against the wall and took the chance to lean out over the railing and discover exactly what was in the alley.

Which wasn't much. Both ends of the alley were actually walled off, but it was about noon, so the sun was directly above her, explaining the sunshine. Since her apartment was on the top floor, she didn't have to worry about peeping Tom's from other floors, and there was only one other balcony on her floor which was on the other end of the building. So she felt completely comfortable peeling her wet shirt off over her head.

Tossing the wet, smelly shirt onto the balcony floor, Evan reached for the dry shirt on the bench.

"Excuse me, could you refrain from stripping on my balcony?"

Evan gasped and spun towards the voice, clutching the tee to her chest. "Excuse me, your balcony? I believe this is my balcony."

A guy who appeared to be about Evan's age stepped through another door connected to the balcony. "I guess this is our balcony."

Evan glared at him. "Could you turn around for a second?"

He shrugged and turned to face the apartment he had come from, hands behind his head like a felon. Then she pulled her shirt over her head as fast as humanly possible.

"Done?" he asked, turning around without waiting for an answer.

She glared once more. "Listen, I don't know who you think you are, mister, but I paid for this balcony. I think it's mine." Taking a moment to study his face, she discovered that he actually was quite attractive, but with a cocky smirk that seemed to suggest that he knew as well as anyone that he was attractive. His sandy blonde hair fell was cut short enough to not cover his stunning green eyes, which sparkled with a naughty amusement from her state of undress.

He continued to smirk, as if her temper amused him. "Well, miss, I also paid for this balcony. And I don't think I'm anyone but myself."

"And who is yourself?" she asked, squinting at him.

"Caleb Hawkings, at your service," he replied, bowing to her.

"I'm Evan. Evan Cooksey."

He continued smirking at her. "Well, Miss Cooksey, it looks like we're stuck together."

She rolled her eyes, a gesture she meant condescendingly, and hoped he didn't take it as a flirty move. "Lovely. Remind me to lock the balcony door at night," she quipped as she turned on her heel, strode back into her apartment and, drawing the shades to cover the door, she set to unpacking her things.

But no matter how much she tried to erase the events from moments before, she couldn't help but see those twinkling green eyes again every time she closed her eyes. Only four words came to mind. Hell of an introduction.