She first noticed him when he dropped his television down the cement steps to his apartment door.
The loud crash echoed over the parking lot, followed by a stream of rather impressive swearing. Kelsey's head popped up from her public policy text with a jerk, exchanging a startled look with her best friend Natalie.
Natalie shrugged, peering between the slats in the railing. "Looks like the guy moving in building H dropped his television – ooh, he's cute."
Kelsey put down her text and craned her neck to get a better look. "Nat, he's got to be at least seventy. When did you start robbing nursing homes?"
"You're such an unobservant bitch, Kel." Natalie rolled her eyes. "The one on the stairs, not the one in the wheelchair."
"Oh." She anchored herself to get a better position. "Oh."
Natalie bared her teeth in a smug smile. "Told you so." A devious gleam entered her eye. "I think the complex welcoming committee needs to pay a visit."
"Go right ahead," Kelsey fired back. "Nothing's stopping you."
"I don't live here."
Kelsey blinked. "Oh. Right. Well, there is that."
Shaking her head, Natalie peered back through the slots. "Come on, Kel, look at those muscles!"
Despite herself, she peeked back through railing. The guy really was kind of cute. And as much as Kelsey hated to admit it, Natalie was right. His shoulders weren't body-builder bulky, but they were nicely sculpted nonetheless. She wondered if he was hiding abs under that shirt as well.
Dammit, thanks to Natalie, she was now having salacious thoughts about her newest neighbor. She leaned back in her seat and picked up her Poly Sci textbook. "Stop drooling."
Natalie dismissed her. "When I'm ready."
Five minutes later, Natalie was still staring and Kelsey was starting to get annoyed. "I cleaned the balcony this morning," she said. "Your drool is getting germs all over it."
"Well, unless you plan on licking it, you'll live," Natalie retorted. She finally sat back, chewing on the nail on her pinky finger absently. "I think you need to meet him."
"I think you're insane."
Natalie brushed that off with a cheerful shrug. "I'd be insulted if you didn't. That doesn't change matters much."
"It never does with you."
"Exactly." Then, without preamble, she reached over, plucked the text from Kelsey's hands, and tossed it unceremoniously over the railing.
"Hey!" Kelsey was out of her seat faster than if she'd sat on a row of tacks, flinging herself after the pilfered text. Slamming against the railing, she was just in time to see the book crash against the blacktop driveway spine up.
When she turned back to face Natalie, a murderous gleam filled her eye.
"Oops," Natalie said. "I can't believe that just slipped out of my hands."
Kelsey liked to think that in a perfect world, that would have been the moment when she launched herself at her former best friend and put her out of her misery, but due to more immediate problems, she closed her eyes and wished herself to Antarctica instead.
"Hey," a voice floated to the balcony from the parking lot. "Did you drop this?"
Kelsey buried her head in her hands and tried for somewhere closer, like New York. No luck. Counting to ten, she peeled one eye open just enough to see that she was still sitting on her balcony.
Natalie leaned seductively against the balcony. "Oh, look, your book must have fallen off the railing!"
Kelsey kicked her in the shin and then bent over the railing so that she could see the guy standing two stories below them. "Yeah, that's mine," she said. "Can you throw it back up here?"
His nose twitched. "Throw it?"
"Yeah, you know, like…" She demonstrated a vertical toss, feeling more like an idiot with every passing second.
"You want me to throw this? Up there?"
She scratched her head. What wasn't to understand? "Um, yes, please."
"But the pages…"
"It's not like I'm asking you to deface government property," she said, now thoroughly embarrassed. "Just toss it up here."
His nose twitched again, and she saw part of a dimple winking out of his smooth cheek. "If you insist."
Mere moments later, the book came flying up, up – and fell back down as it peaked at the first balcony. Kelsey knew she was lucky it hadn't gotten stuck, because the drunken boys beneath her would probably use it to engineer a paper village before she had a chance to ask for it back. Actually, she'd be lucky if they just ripped it apart and didn't do anything worse.
She ignored Natalie, who was trying to reign in her laughter so hard that her face was a surprisingly vivid fuchsia.
He'd caught before it could splay itself against the ground again. She saw him worrying the edges flat while he frowned up at her. "I'm pretty sure this counts as abuse in some countries."
That made her hesitate. "Abuse for you or the book?" He contemplated that, blinking. "Never mind. I'll just come down and get it."
Natalie raised a smug eyebrow, so Kelsey kicked her again for good measure. "I'll be right back," she warned. In other words: don't you dare say anything incriminating while I'm out of earshot. To her new neighbor, she called, "Wait right there."
She wove her way out of the apartment, down the steps, through the yard, and across the blacktop to where he hadn't moved, like a well-trained puppy. He wasn't even looking at her as he surveyed the damage to her book mournfully.
"I'll take that, please."
He handed it to her, his brown eyes crinkled in reproach. "You should probably watch where you leave this."
"He'll be fine," Kelsey said shortly, barely sparing the textbook a glance.
One eyebrow popped up inquisitively. "How do you know it's a he?"
She gnawed on her lower lip. Any answer she gave here was going to sound psychotic, so it didn't really matter what she said. Finally, she shrugged. "Does he look like a girl to you?" She made her escape while he floundered for an answer. "Thanks for rescuing him!"
Disappearing around the side of the building before he had a chance to think up a suitable response, she didn't stop until she was safely inside her apartment. "Get in here, you traitorous bitch!"
Natalie slid through the French doors cautiously. She eyed the book in Kelsey's hands and the fury in her eyes. "So what's his name?"
"Then why did I waste the effort of throwing your book off the balcony?!"
Kelsey glared at her. "Hence the 'traitorous bitch,' label attached to the previous command. What were you thinking? Who does that?!"
"It seemed like a good idea at the time," Natalie sulked. "I should have known you were too much of a coward to see it through."
Open-mouthed, Kelsey threw her bedraggled book down on the coffee table. "I was embarrassed! You threw my book off the balcony so you could hit on some guy!"
"Actually, it was so you could hit on some guy, and you still didn't take advantage." She sighed and shook her head. "Oh, well, we'll just have to get his name next time. In the meantime, I think I'll call him 'Hercules.'"
Kelsey wasn't sure which insane statement to address – the one where Natalie thought there would be a next time or the one where she'd nicknamed Kelsey's new neighbor. "There won't be a next time," she said, deciding to clarify that first. "And why Hercules?"
"He kind of looks like the Disney movie version, doesn't he?"
"No. Funny how he's not animated, isn't it?"
Natalie just laughed and flopped against the couch. "You have no imagination, Kel."Dropping down next to her, Kelsey picked up the remote. "Don't you ever do that again."
Natalie's responding smile scared her. "Don't worry. I'll think of something much more creative next time."
And that's what Kelsey was afraid of. Note to self, she thought. Natalie is banned from the balcony.
But knowing her, she'd still find a way.
In case anyone was wondering: no, I haven't abandoned Desenchantee. As it turns out, I haven't had a lot of time to write, and so when I've been able to, I've been working on the millions of shorts that keep hitting me, because it takes less concentration and because Quinn and Morgan aren't talking to me anyway. Hopefully once this semester is over, things will go back to normal and I'll have two jobs instead of four.
The good news is that a large part of this is already written, which means (relatively) quick updates, albeit short ones. I'm writing this in the style of OCH -- that is, one scene per post. Sort of.
Enjoy. Oh, and thanks to Lord Iron-Balls for telling me to shut up and post. ;)