Home, Sweet, Home

by KAM


The Showing

"Here we are." Theatrically, her desperation to sell the property motivating her dramatic action, Mrs. Johnson unlocked the door and pushed it open. Gesturing for the other woman to precede her, she waited for her client to enter and then went into the apartment herself. "I really think that you'll like this one."

After pausing to take a brief look around the hallway, Mary Ellen ventured into the apartment. "It is very nice." Turning, she watched as the realtor joined her inside the prospective home. "I'm surprised the owners want to move."

Mrs. Johnson hastily averted her eyes. "Yes, well, why don't I give you the grand tour?"

"All right." Curiosity and suspicions aroused by the woman's odd reaction, Mary Ellen kept a close eye on the realtor as they ventured into the spacious apartment.

"Just follow me, then." As she began to walk around the loft, Mrs. Johnson pointed out its various features. "This is a combination living/dining area with the kitchen located over here. Some people may consider the fact that there are no separating walls a drawback, but..."

"Oh, no. I really like the layout. It's so open and airy. Not to mention the amount of light coming in from the balcony doors."

"Yes, it is nice," Mrs. Johnson agreed. "Now, over here is a spare room located under the loft bedroom. It would make a nice office, den, another bedroom or just a storage room. It has a lot of different possibilities."

"It would be a perfect place for me to work." Laughing, Mary Ellen gestured towards the main area of the apartment. "If I try to grade papers out in the living room, the TV would prove to be too much of a distraction. I'd never get anything done."

"If you'll follow me." After making the request, Mrs. Johnson started walking down the short hallway. "Down here is the bathroom, plus off to the side is a linen closet."

Walking behind Mrs. Johnson, Mary Ellen nodded as the realtor pointed out the closet. When they finally entered the bathroom, she let out a small gasp. "Oh, I love that tub."

"It's great, isn't it?" Hand extended towards the claw-foot bathtub, Mrs. Johnson looked towards the other woman. "I have to tell you. Sometimes, especially after a particularly rough day, I've been tempted to buy this place myself just so that I can come in here and take a soak in that tub."

"I can imagine."

Backing out of the bathroom, Mrs. Johnson started back towards the living room. "Now if you'll come with me, I'll show you the bedroom."

After a final wistful look at the tub, Mary Ellen followed after Mrs. Johnson. "Do the owners have any young children?"

Continuing on to the stairs, Mrs. Johnson glanced over her shoulder. "No, not that I know of. Why do you ask?"

"I just thought that they might be moving because of their children. This apartment isn't the most child-friendly place after all."

"Will that be a problem for you?"

"Oh, no," Mary Ellen reassured. "I don't have any children and don't plan on it. Not for the foreseeable future, anyway. I'm just curious as to why they're letting this place go for such a low price."

"Yes, well, as I'm sure you know, there has been quite a few places on the market lately. As such, prices everywhere seem to be lower. Some, like this apartment, are even going for below-market cost."

Still suspicious, not satisfied with the realtor's reasoning, Mary Ellen's tone was doubtful when she replied. "I suppose so."

When they reached the top of the stairs, Mrs. Johnson announced, "Here is the bedroom. Very nice, isn't it?"

"Yes, it is. I really like all this open space and how it overlooks the main area below."

While Mary Ellen walked around the bedroom, Mrs. Johnson kept a close eye on her to try and gauge her reaction. "So have you come to a decision?"

Still somewhat suspicious because of the low price, Mary Ellen turned to look at Mrs. Johnson. "Before I decide anything, I want to know something."

"Yes?"

"An inspection will be a condition of the closing, won't it? And if so, who picks the inspector?"

"Yes, it is customary to have an inspection conducted prior to closing. Usually, the buyer chooses the inspector since they will be paying for the cost of the inspection."

"How does one go about selecting an inspector?"

"Normally, your bank, or whatever institution you go through to arrange financing, will suggest an inspector," Mrs. Johnson explained. "Typically, it's in your best interest to go with whoever they suggest. If for some reason you wish to select your own, I can provide you with a list of the city's qualified inspectors. The choice is yours."

"So let's say that we sign a contract today. Will I be covered in case the inspector discovers that something is wrong with the apartment?"

Meeting Mary Ellen's eyes, Mrs. Johnson was sincere in both her tone and expression. "Ms. Moriarty, first let me assure you, I really do not expect anything to turn up during the inspection. This apartment is in excellent condition. However, on the off chance that something is discovered, when you sign the contract you can stipulate whatever terms you feel are necessary to deal with any potential problems."

"For instance, that the seller would be responsible for any major repairs?"

"Yes. We can go back to my office and discuss all of this, if you'd like."

"I'd like that."

After taking a final look around the apartment, Mary Ellen followed Mrs. Johnson outside.



The Closing

"Hello, Ms. Moriarty." Standing up, Mrs. Johnson extended her hand. Please come in."

"Hi." Accepting the outstretched hand, Mary Ellen gave it a brief shake and then nodded towards the man and woman already seated in the office. "I hope I'm not late."

"Not at all. You're right on time. Mr. and Mrs. O'Brien just arrived a little bit early. Have a seat." When Mary Ellen sat down, Mrs. Johnson pulled out some paperwork. "Well, now that we're all here, let's get started."

Thirty minutes later, papers signed and check distributed, Mary Ellen held a set of keys in her hand. Chuckling, she hesitantly looked toward the couple seated next to her. "You know, when I found out what you were asking for the apartment, I was sure there was something wrong with the place. But the inspection didn't turn up anything. In fact, the papers show it to be in excellent condition."

"We just decided that we'd be happier somewhere else." Exchanging a look with his wife, Mr. O'Brien was quick to reassure, "But the apartment itself is in great shape."

"Happier somewhere else?"

When her husband didn't answer, Mrs. O'Brien spoke up. "In a house. You know, just to have more privacy and space. Neighbors further away. No specific reason, really. Both of us agreed that we needed something..." trailing off, she weakly finished, "different."

Straightening up in his seat, Mr. O'Brien looked towards Mary Ellen. "Yes, something different."

"Okay," Mary Ellen slowly replied. "I guess if we're finished, then I should be leaving. After all, I've got some moving in to do."

"Goodbye, then. And thanks."

"Yes, thanks," Mrs. O'Brien added. Then, voice lowered, she muttered, "And good luck."

Seeing Mrs. O'Brien speak, but not having heard the softly murmured words, Mary Ellen looked towards the woman. "What was that?"

"Nothing," Mrs. Johnson and Mr. O'Brien responded simultaneously.

When Mary Ellen looked at them oddly, Mrs. Johnson chuckled nervously. "It was nice doing business with you, Ms. Moriarty. I'm sure you'll be very happy in your new apartment."

"Yeah, right," Mrs. O'Brien scoffed under her breath.

Ignoring the comment, Mrs. Johnson said, "If I can be of any further assistance, please let me know."

"She'll be calling you by the end of the first day," Mrs. O'Brien mumbled.

"Excuse me, is there a problem here?"

"No, nothing," Mr. O'Brien quickly answered. "You have to excuse my wife. She hasn't been feeling well lately. That's part of the reason why we're moving."

"Oh, I see. Well, I hope you start feeling better soon, Mrs. O'Brien." Standing up, Mary Ellen shook hands with Mrs. Johnson and Mr. O'Brien. "Goodbye." After a final wary glance towards Mrs. O'Brien, she left the office.

Waiting until after Mary Ellen had left the office, Mr. O'Brien turned to his wife. "What is the matter with you?" Are you trying to blow this deal? You're the one that couldn't wait to get out of there."

"I just feel a little bit guilty is all. I mean, that poor woman..."

"Is going to be the one dealing with them from now on," Mr. O'Brien finished. "Or do I need to remind you of that incident last month? I sure as hell haven't forgotten it."

"Like I could forget something like that?" Mrs. O'Brien sarcastically asked. "Those forensics people were crawling all over the place for two hours." Shrugging her shoulders, she looked over at her husband. "But other than stuff like that, it was a good place to live."

"You only liked it because that cop always seemed to be running around half-naked," Mr. O'Brien remarked. "You'd think the guy didn't own any shirts. I mean, how hard is it to put on a robe or something before you get the newspaper in the morning?" Noticing his wife's smile and the vacant expression in her eyes, Mr. O'Brien grew even more aggravated. "You're thinking about him right now, aren't you?"

"Not exactly."

"Oh, no, don't tell me you're thinking about the other one? He's almost as bad as the cop. That hair flying around all over the place, that bounce, the guy's like a hyped up puppy or something. No way one person should have all that energy. Always coming and going all the time. I don't know which of them is worse."

"Funny, I was thinking that I don't know which of them is better."

"I am so glad to be out of that place," Mr. O'Brien growled in response, irritated by the smug smile on his wife's face. "Let's go home. Our nice, new home where the closest neighbors are half a mile away."

Following her husband out of the office, Mrs. O'Brien wondered, "Do you think Ms. Moriarty would mind if I stopped by for a visit sometime? Just to make sure she's getting settled in okay, of course."



Day 1-Moving In

"Hold the elevator, please." Arriving at the elevator slightly out of breath, attempting to maintain her hold on the large box she was carrying, Mary Ellen gasped out, "Thanks." Entering the elevator, she let out a soft groan as she bent over to sit the box down.

"Hello."

Straightening up, Mary Ellen turned towards the friendly-looking, elderly lady who had held the elevator for her. "Oh, hi."

"Moving in or just delivering something?"

"Moving in."

"Well, then, nice to meet you, neighbor. I'm Dawn Henderson and I live on the second floor."

Shaking the woman's hand, Mary Ellen gave her a warm smile. "Mary Ellen Moriarty and I'm on the third floor."

"The third floor. Did you say the third floor?"

"Yes."

Holding a hand up to her cheek, Mrs. Henderson stared at Mary Ellen in shock. "Oh, my."

"Is something wrong?"

"No, dear," Mrs. Henderson answered as the elevator door opened. "Well, this is my stop. It was nice meeting you."

"Nice meeting you, too. I look forward to getting to know you."

After nodding in response, Mrs. Henderson turned away and left the elevator. "Somehow, I don't think you'll be around long enough."

Having heard the softly spoken words, Mary Ellen reached out a hand and stopped the closing door. "Excuse me, Mrs. Henderson, did you say something?"

Turning to look at her new neighbor, Mrs. Henderson had a seemingly innocent look on her face. "Nothing, dear."

Shaking her head, Mary Ellen watched as Mrs. Henderson began walking down the hallway. Just as the doors shut, she thought she heard the beginnings of a prayer.

"Okay, that was slightly weird."

When the elevator door opened again, Mary Ellen bent down to pick up her box. Grunting slightly, she lifted it and then stepped out of the elevator. Arriving at her new home, she leaned the box against the wall and held onto it with one hand while fishing her keys out of her pocket with the other. After finally managing to open the door, she walked inside and dumped the box on the floor.

Looking around the still empty-looking apartment, she let out an exasperated sigh. "I really wish those movers would get here."

Deciding to leave the door unlocked this time; she headed back down to her car for another load. After leaving her new apartment, she looked toward the door across from hers for a moment. "I wonder where my neighbors are?"

Shrugging her shoulders, she continued on to the elevator.
 


* * *
 


Making her fourth trip to the elevator, Mary Ellen was considering taking a brief break to call the movers who had yet to show up with the rest of her belongings. "I'll have to use my cell phone. The phone in the apartment isn't hooked up yet."

Caught up in her thoughts, she was startled when a hand shot forward to block the closing elevator door. While she merely stood there staring, her mouth gaping, a tall, muscled, imposing man with piercing ice blue eyes entered the elevator. It took a moment for her addled brain to register the man's irritated, "A little help here, please."

"Oh, sorry," she squeaked as she reached over and pushed the button to open the door. Embarrassed, she looked at the floor as the man entered the elevator.

When the door shut, the man stood near the front of the elevator and just stared straight ahead. "Would you mind hitting three for me?"

"Sure." After hitting the three button again, she risked a glance over at the other occupant of the elevator. Her eyes widened as she took in the man standing beside her; a man who just happened to have someone slung over his shoulder. "Is everything all right?"

"Fine," the man tersely replied as he continued to stare straight ahead.

"Hey, who's that?" the person hanging over the man's shoulder asked.

Bemused, Mary Ellen watched as the person braced one hand on the man's leg and pushed long, curly hair out of the way with the other. Her smile widened when ocean blue eyes locked with hers.

"Hi," the upside-down man greeted. "I'm Jim and that's Blair." Brow furrowed in thought, the man paused for a second. "Wait a minute. That's not right. Oh, yeah, he's Sandburg and I'm Ellison. Huh, what?"

Stifling a giggle, Mary Ellen watched on as the other man shifted his load and turned towards her slightly.

"I'm Detective Jim Ellison and this guy here is my partner, Blair Sandburg."

"Oh, yeah, that's it!" Twisting around, Blair looked up at Mary Ellen. "What he said."

Not able to contain it any longer, Mary Ellen began laughing. Seeing the grim expression on the detective's face, she sobered immediately. "I'm sorry." After a moment of uncomfortable silence, she added, "By the way, I'm Mary Ellen Moriarty and I'm moving into the building today."

"Where to?" Blair asked, conversing in a normal tone despite his upside-down position over Jim's shoulder.

"The third floor."

"Really? The O'Briens' old place?"

"Yes."

"Well, howdy, neighbor," Blair greeted. "We're neighbors. You and us, I mean, not Jim and me 'cause we live together. Jim and me live together, that is. You're our new neighbor and we're your new neighbors."

"It's nice to meet you."

"You, too." Whispering, he asked, "Did you know that Jim is a cop?"

"Yes, I did."

"See, Jim," Blair directed toward his silent partner, "didn't I tell you that you scream 'cop'? I was right, wasn't I?"

Jaw clenched, Jim grated out, "She knows that I'm a cop because I introduced myself as Detective Ellison, Einstein."

"Detective Ellison Einstein? But that's not your name, Jim." Looking towards Mary Ellen, he added, "That's not his name, you know."

"I know. His name is Jim and you're Blair Sandburg?"

"Whoa. How did you know that? Are you psychic? Gee, Jim, she's psychic."

"No." Mary Ellen shook her head in protest. "I'm not, really. I'm a teacher. I just moved to Cascade and I teach Language Arts over at Cascade High. Or at least I will be when school starts next week."

"Me, too."

"You teach at Cascade High?"

"Nope."

"Then what..."

"He's a TA over at Rainier University," Jim interrupted. "He just meant that he is a teacher, too."

"Oh." After a few more seconds of silence, Mary Ellen hazarded a glance at Jim. "This elevator sure is slow, isn't it?"

"Painfully so." Shifting his hold on Blair, Jim didn't spare the woman another look.

"Hey, Jim, where are you?"

"I'm here, Sandburg?"

"Where?"

When Blair started to squirm, Jim hastily tightened his hold on his partner. "If you don't stop it, I'm gonna drop you."

"Drop me? Whaddaya mean?"

"Do me a favor, Sandburg," Jim pleaded, "don't say another word until we're in the loft."

"Okay."

Not able to contain her curiosity any longer, Mary Ellen decided to risk asking a question. "Pardon me, but if you don't mind my asking, what exactly happened? What's wrong with Mr. Sandburg?"

"How long have you got?"

"What?"

"Nothing." Before answering, Jim let out a weary sigh. "He just had a little accident today during a case and he's not exactly in any condition to walk right now."

"Jim," Blair spoke up, his voice shaky, "I'm really not feeling too good right now. I think I'm gonna..."

"Don't even think about it, Sandburg."

"Oh, man," Blair moaned.

"Hurry," Jim urged the slow elevator.

"What's wrong?" Mary Ellen asked.

"Sorry," Blair muttered right before he started retching.

"Shit," Jim cursed as he felt the sudden wet warmth against the back of his
legs.

"Not exactly," Mary Ellen observed.

"Funny," Jim sarcastically remarked. "Maybe you should be a comedienne instead of a teacher."

Before Mary Ellen could respond, the elevator ground to a halt and the door
opened.

Grimacing at the squishing noise his shoes made, Jim exited the elevator.

"Please don't be mad." Mumbling almost incoherently, Blair kept apologizing over and over. "I'm really sorry. I'm so sorry. Oh, boy, am I sorry."

"Shut up, Sandburg, before I throw up."

"Excuse me," Mary Ellen called out as she left the elevator.

Irritated, Jim turned to look at her. "What?"

"Shouldn't someone do something about the elevator? Call the building manger or something and have it cleaned?"

"Yeah, why don't you do that," Jim replied as he carried Blair into the loft and slammed the door shut behind them.

Wrinkling her nose as she glanced into the elevator, Mary Ellen hefted her box higher and walked to her apartment. "Welcome to the building, Mary Ellen." Shaking her head, she went into her new home.



Day 2-Unpacking

The next morning, Mary Ellen had just started the laborious process of unpacking when a knock sounded. "Just a minute," she called out as she walked over to the door. Looking out of the peephole, it took her a second to recognize the man standing outside. Grinning, she opened the door. "Good morning, Mr. Sandburg."

"Please, just call me Blair." Nervously, Blair began shuffling his feet. "I, um... Look, I just wanted to apologize for yesterday. I really don't remember all that much, but Jim was kind enough to relate every embarrassing detail to me. So, um...I just want to say sorry, especially since it was your first day in the building. I hope you don't think that it's like that all of the time 'cause it isn't. Well, not really. I mean, sometimes...occasionally...things happen because of Jim's job. But it isn't like that all of the time."

"That's a relief." Smiling, Mary Ellen let out a small chuckle in the hopes of easing Blair's obvious discomfort. "Hey, I just made some coffee. Would you like to come in for a cup? Give me the scoop on all our mutual neighbors?"

"Yeah, that would be..."

Blair was interrupted when Jim came up behind him. "No can do, Sandburg. Simon just called. We've got a body downtown. Let's go." Almost as an afterthought, Jim turned to look at Mary Ellen. "Good morning, Ms. Moriarty."

"Good-" Mary Ellen started to reply, but Jim just turned and walked off. "-morning," she called out to his retreating form.

"Sorry. Talk to you later." Giving Mary Ellen a wave, Blair turned to follow after Jim.

"Sure." Shaking her head, unsure what to think of her new neighbors, Mary Ellen went back inside to continue unpacking.
 

* * *
 

Several hours later, Mary Ellen had just finished putting up the last of her dishes when she heard a commotion out in the hallway. Cautious, she took a look out of the peephole before opening the door. "What in the hell?"

Looking up from his position on the floor, desperately trying to disentangle himself from Jim, Blair smiled at his new neighbor. "Hey, Mary Ellen, how's the unpacking going? Getting settled in okay?"

Still trying to comprehend the scene in front of her, Mary Ellen simply nodded in response.

"That's great." Finally managed to separate himself from Jim, Blair stood up. "Um...I guess you're wondering what's going on, huh?"

"Yeah."

"Well, you see, Jim just had..."

"Had a little accident today during a case and he's not exactly in any condition to walk right now?"

"Yeah. How'd you know?"

"Lucky guess."

"That's spooky."

"Huh?"

"The way you said that just now." Grinning, Blair gestured to his semi-conscious partner. "You sounded just like Jim. It took me a year to get the tone just right. But, of course, it's nowhere near as effective as when Jim does it."

"Um, Blair?"

"Yeah?"

"Shouldn't you be doing something for Jim?"

"Huh? Oh, yeah." Bending down, Blair grunted as he strained to help Jim to his feet. "Oh, man, this is much easier when I'm the one semi-conscious and totally uncoordinated." Still complaining, Blair struggled to get them both upright. "Man, Jim, you're getting heavier and I know that it isn't all muscle. You've got to start going easy on the Wonderburger and buttermilk donuts."

"Blair?"

"Yeah?"

"Do you need some help?"

Still bent over, Blair looked up at Mary Ellen. "Whoa, major case of déjà vu there." Shaking his head, he said, "What? Oh, help. Sure. But I hope you lift weights or something 'cause he isn't exactly a lightweight, ya know."

"I think that I can manage."

"If you say so. Just remember...bend your knees. Otherwise, you'll end up with a terrible back strain. Trust me on this one. I know what I'm talking about."

Between the two of them, they eventually managed to get Jim upright and into the apartment.

Once inside, Blair started towards his bedroom. "Let's just put him in my room. It's the one down here."

"Nice room," Mary Ellen remarked as they put Jim on Blair's bed. "You have a lot of interesting things in here."

"Thanks."

"So, what do you teach?" Seeing Blair's puzzled expression, Mary Ellen explained, "Jim, he said that you were a TA at Rainier. I was just wondering what you taught."

"Oh, um, Anthropology."

"How did an anthropologist end up working and living with a policeman?"

"Long story. Condensed version, I'm doing my diss on closed societies and I'm riding with Jim while I study the police department. The whole thin blue line thing and all of that. And as for why I'm living here, my last place blew up...while Jim and I were in it. So Jim kinda let me move in here."

"Now I know what everyone meant," Mary Ellen muttered.

"What?"

"Nothing." Wanting to get away from the two strange men, Mary Ellen started backing towards the door. "I really should be going now."

"Wait. Can I offer you something to drink? I'd really like to get a chance to know you better. We could sit down and talk."

"I don't..." Mary Ellen halted as a noise sounded in Blair's bedroom.

"Sandburg?"

When Mary Ellen and Blair turned towards the room, Jim came stumbling out. Racing over to grab a hold of Jim, Blair barely managed to keep the disoriented man from falling. "Easy, Jim. What are you doing up?"

"Weird colors," Jim mumbled. "Besides, I missed you. Where'd you go to, anyway? I thought you left me."

"I was just out here talking to Mary Ellen. I'm not going anywhere, Jim."

Peering at Mary Ellen, Jim warned Blair. "Don't you even think about going out with her until I run a background check."

"Jim!"

"I'm not going to chase your ass all over Cascade again," Jim stated. "Aw, hell, who am I kidding. Of course, I would. You're my best friend. I love you, Blair."

Rolling his eyes, Blair emitted a chuckle. "I love you, too, Jim. Now let's get you to bed."

"Not that I'm not flattered and all that, Chief, but I don't swing that way."

"What? Jim, you... Never mind, I just want to forget this day ever happened." Steering Jim back into his room, Blair paused to glance over at their new neighbor. "Mary Ellen, I..."

"I really think that I should be going now," Mary Ellen interrupted. "Look, I think that you two are probably pretty nice guys. Really, I do. But... This is just a little bit weird. Besides, I've still got a lot of unpacking to do. I really should go get busy."

"Good night," Blair called out as Mary Ellen hurried out of the apartment.

"What's her problem?"

"I don't know. But I am getting so tired of seeing that expression on everyone's faces. Why is it that all of our neighbors always end up looking at us like that?"

Collapsing on Blair's bed, Jim grabbed a pillow and began to snuggle it. "Like what?"

Bending down, Blair pulled the covers up over Jim. "Like we're...like we're...weird or something. I don't know. I don't think there's anything weird about us. We're just a couple of ordinary, perfectly normal guys."

"Um...Sandburg..."

"What?"

"I really don't feel so good. I think that I'm going to..."

Lunging for the trashcan, Blair barely made it back to Jim in time. "Yeah, just a couple of ordinary guys."



Day 3-Settling In

Mind preoccupied with thoughts of her new neighbors, Mary Ellen had spent most of the night unpacking the majority of her belongings. Now, late the next afternoon, she stood in the living room trying to decide on the best placement for her pictures when she was once again startled by a commotion out in the hallway. "Not again," she moaned. "I'm starting to figure out why the O'Briens sold me this place so cheap."

Foregoing the peephole, she threw open the door and yelled, "What in the hell is it now?"

"Oh, my."

Giving the other woman a sheepish look, Mary Ellen then gave what she hoped was a reassuring smile. "Oh, I'm so sorry, Mrs. Henderson. I thought that you were someone else."

"I take it you've met the boys?"

"The boys?"

"Detective Ellison and that adorable Blair. They're nice boys."

"Yeah, right."

"Well, nice if you don't live across the hall from them," Mrs. Henderson said. "I just wanted to see how you were getting settled in. Any problems?"

"You mean besides almost getting vomited on and nearly straining my back carrying one semi-conscious policeman to bed? Other than that, no, no problems at all."

"Now, dear," Mrs. Henderson started to reply before a noise down the hall drew her as well as Mary Ellen's attention. "Oh, my goodness!" Mrs. Henderson exclaimed when she saw Jim and Blair limping their way down the hallway. "What happened?"

Looking towards Blair, Jim ordered, "You handle it."

Nodding, Blair turned a brilliant smile towards Mary Ellen and Mrs. Henderson. "Hi. How are you?"

"We're fine, Blair," Mrs. Henderson answered. "But how are you and Detective Ellison?"

"Nothing a hot shower won't cure." Shooting a quick glance towards Jim and then to Mary Ellen, Blair hastily added, "Separately, of course."

"Why, of course, Blair. Why would we think otherwise?"

"No reason."

"Mrs. Henderson, Ms. Moriarty." Jim acknowledged the two women's presence.

"Hello, Detective Ellison," Mrs. Henderson said. "Nice day, isn't it?"

"If you say so."

"Jim!"

"I'm really not in the mood right now, okay, Chief?" Then, without another word, he went into the loft.

"Um..." Blair nervously said, "I should be going in, too."

"But, Blair, what happened?"

"I know," Mary Ellen spoke up. "Another little accident, right?"

"Something like that."

"Are you okay?" Mrs. Henderson inquired.

Hearing the concern in her voice, Blair paused on his way into the loft. "We're fine. Just a little banged up."

"Sandburg," Jim yelled from inside the loft, "get in here and check out my butt! Feels like there's a chunk missing."

"I told you we should have gone to the emergency room!" Blair yelled back as he went into the loft.

Just as the door was closing, Mrs. Henderson and Mary Ellen heard Jim reply, "No way am I going to let some stranger take a look at my ass. After all, shit like that is what I keep you around for."

After the door closed, Mary Ellen and Mrs. Henderson turned to stare at one
another.

"Welcome to the building." Smiling, the older woman began to walk away. Seconds later, the sound of her laughter echoed down the hallway.



One Week Later-Settled In

Returning from a trip to the grocery store, Mary Ellen was surprised to see Mrs. Johnson standing outside her apartment. "Mrs. Johnson, so nice to see you. What brings you here?"

Clearing her throat, Mrs. Johnson said, "Well...um...I just wanted to see how everything was going. All moved in okay? No problems?"

"Everything is just great," Mary Ellen replied, amused by the shocked expression on Mrs. Johnson's face.

"I...It is?"

"Of course. Why wouldn't it be?" Mary Ellen inquired. "Were you expecting there to be a problem?"

"Why...uh...no, of course not."

"Uh-huh," Mary Ellen said. "Well, would you like to come in? Have a cup of coffee?"

"Ye..."

"My neighbors should be here any minute," Mary Ellen interrupted.

Paling, Mrs. Johnson asked, "Your neighbors?"

"Yeah, Jim Ellison and Blair Sandburg. You are familiar with them, aren't you?"

"I may have heard them mentioned a time or two."

"So, would you like to come in?"

Hearing the elevator door opened, Mrs. Johnson looked over to see Jim and Blair headed down the hallway. "Oh, no, I must be going." Then she rushed past Jim and Blair and raced towards the stairs.

"What did you do now, Mary Ellen?" Blair chided with a smile. "Drive away
another poor, unsuspecting neighbor?"

"No, that your job, guys," Mary Ellen teased. "Actually, that was my realtor."

"So she's the one that conned you into buying this place, huh?" Jim asked as he and Blair reached Mary Ellen.

"Yeah. For some strange reason, she thought I might be having a few problems getting settled in."

"Well, that is strange," Blair replied.

"Very odd, indeed," Jim agreed.

"Isn't it?" Mary Ellen asked. "So, how about coming in for some coffee?"

"Sounds good," Blair said while Jim replied, "Okay."

After opening the door, Mary Ellen took a step back to let the two men enter the apartment.

Heading over to the large bookcase, Blair began to study its contents. "Hey, Mary Ellen, you'll never guess what happened today. You see, Jim-" "Wait a minute," Jim interrupted. "You're the one who got us into that whole mess."

"Me? I don't think so. It was your fault." Blair turned away from the books and faced Jim. "I can't believe the trouble that you get into sometimes."

"There's only one trouble magnet around here and it isn't me, Sandburg. And you still owe me a new pair of shoes. Not to mention jeans."

"Yeah, well, you owe me a new pillow."

"What are you talking about?"

"You don't remember?"

"Remember what?"

"What happened last week."

"What happened last week?"

"Yep."

"That's not what I... Oh, for crying out loud, just tell me what happened?"

"Well, last week when we were in my bed-"

"Your bed? I've never been in your bed, Sandburg."

"Yeah, you have. I can't believe you don't remember. I'll never forget it. Especially when you-"

Glancing over at Mary Ellen, Jim held up a hand. "Maybe we better discuss this later."

"Why? It's not like Mary Ellen doesn't already know about it. After all, she was there. But, then again, she did leave before things started to get interesting." Looking towards Mary Ellen, Blair shared an amused grin with their new neighbor.

Shaking her head, Mary Ellen walked over to the kitchen. As she made the coffee, she smiled, listening as her new neighbors continued to bicker. Hell, she thought, after dealing with teenagers all day, these two are no problem at all.

The End