This? This was not Eliot’s fault.
In any way, shape, or form. But, blaming his six year old was a couple shades of unfair.
So, he blamed the neighbors. Which he felt was honestly the best choice, all things considered. This was completely their fault.
Eliot didn’t really ... know about the neighbors. The new ones anyway. Everyone else on his floor? Them he knew—and damn well too, considering his normal lack of social graces. But the new ones in the apartment across from his? News to him. That apartment had been empty ever since that old hippie Mr. Quint had moved out—some retirement plan in India or something. Nice enough man. A few too many screws loose though.
Either way, that had been...six? Seven? Seven months ago. That the apartment had actually stayed empty that long was a bit of a surprise, if Eliot stopped to think about it. But, he hadn’t. So coming up the stairs—the elevator was a crapshoot most days, let alone in the fall with the temperatures going every which way, so it was just easier to go up a couple flights of stairs occasionally—to see moving boxes piled just outside the door was unexpected.
Molly running ahead of him was less so. He couldn’t quite catch her before she was out of his reach and bolting down the hall—she was too curious for her own good, half the time.
“Come on now, leave ‘em alone.” It’s half a complaint at best—he’s not sure his new neighbors are even in the apartment right now, since the open door shows a slice of an as-yet empty living room, but no people.
And then a head of blonde hair pokes out one side of the door and nearly gives him a heart attack.
“Hi.” The woman’s not even looking at Eliot. Her big bright eyes are trained right on Molly, who’s looking up at her with all the curious suspicion a six-year-old can muster. It’s quite a lot. Eliot’s been on the receiving end of that look more time than he cares to count.
The woman raises an eyebrow when Molly doesn’t visibly react to the greeting, but doesn’t seem too put out, grinning a crooked, but no less genuine smile instead, stepping out from behind the wall and crouching down to Molly’s height. “I’m Parker. What’s your name?”
“...Parker’s a funny name.” Eliot couldn’t help the snort if he tried. Which he didn’t. Instead, he stepped forward to scoop Molly up, settling her on his hip, which she handled both without complaint and without breaking eye contact with Parker, who stood up to follow, giving him his first actual look at the woman. All lean lines and narrow features, straight blonde hair pulled up into a tight tail, eyes curiously skittering over them in a way that had Eliot wondering how much energy it was taking for her to hold still.
“That’s not really nice, Botasky.” Hey, if his kid didn’t want to give out her name to a stranger, he wasn’t going to make her. Pointing out that it might come off as rude couldn’t hurt though, if only to avoid yet another angry person questioning his parenting skills. Molly breaking eye contact with Parker long enough to shoot him a thoroughly unimpressed look told him she saw right through it too. “Yeah, well, it’s not.” He shrugged, glancing at the woman, who, rather than looking offended, honestly just looked...amused? Maybe? She was a little stiff about it though, so maybe Eliot was reading her wrong. “I’m Eliot. We’re right across from you it looks like.” He offered out a hand to shake, which the woman took after a moment’s hesitation.
He couldn’t find it in himself to be too offended though—she looked startled for a moment, not disgruntled or anything. Everyone had their quirks and all that.
“...’m Molly,” Molly muttered, more into Eliot’s hair than to Parker. Parker didn’t seem to mind though, if the big grin was anything to go by.
“Well, nice to meet ya Moll-”
“Hey, babe, who’s at the door?” A man slid—literally, mind you, socked feet across hardwood and everything—into view, ending up more or less leaning against the door frame after a truly impressive save from what would’ve been a fall on his ass. He’s as much lean lines as his partner, but with a solidness behind his frame that makes him look just this side of gangly with the mismatch. He wears it well though, with a soft smile and an energy Eliot can trace as his hands refuse to stop moving. They’re an interesting pair, standing there together.
“Eliot. And Molly. They’re across from us,” Parker explains, while Eliot offers over a hand to the man as well when it looks like Molly’s not going to say hi again.
“Ah, cool, nice to meet you, man. I’m Alec. Everyone calls me Hardison though,” Hardison took his hand without a second’s pause, his firm grip a heck of a lot more sure than Parker’s had been. “And nice to meet you too, Molly,” he added, when Molly risked turning just enough to peek over. He shoved his hands in his pockets, rewarding the look with a big smile, just as bright as Parker’s had been. Out of the corners of his eyes, he could see Molly offering a small smile in return.
Eliot was about to say something—an offer of help, given the boxes strewn about the hallway—when Molly tugged on his hair. Nothing alarming, but definitely to get his attention. So, he smiled as apologetically as he could manage. “Well, nice to meet y’all. Sure we’ll see you around, but if you’ll excuse us, munchkin needs a nap.” He could feel Molly rolling her eyes at him, but whatever. Whether it was at the idea of a nap or him calling her munchkin, he had no idea, but he knew she’d be telling him all about it later.
Hardison blinked then did...some kind of motion with his hands that Eliot was going to take as ‘go on’. “Sure, sure, yeah, ‘course, don’t let us keep you. And if we get too loud with the moving and hauling, just let us know, we’ll try to keep it down for a bit.”
Now it’s Eliot’s turn to blink. But, the offer seemed genuine, so he just nodded, smiled, and headed back to his own apartment, easily shifting Molly enough to get his keys out to unlock the door.
He feels Molly let go long enough to wave behind them, and the giggle he’s pretty sure comes from Parker confirms it.
Not a total disaster of a first meeting at least.
It’s not that Molly is... shy . She just has opinions. Very, very strict opinions. About people. All people. As of last week, she only liked five-and-a-half people even. And that would be Josie, her kindergarten teacher; Randy, the neighbor kid; Randy’s mom, Ms. Trent; Toby, Eliot’s boss; and Trevor, the other neighbor kid. Eliot was the half, depending on how the day went.
No, wait, six-and-a-half. He’s pretty sure she thinks Amy hung the moon. He’d have to see if she wanted to babysit again anytime soon.
Point was. It had taken two months for Molly to march up to Toby and properly introduce herself—which Toby, bless him, had taken as seriously as she had, crouching down to her level despite his knees, and formally introducing himself in return, again. She’d been absolutely delighted.
So. It could take Molly a little while to decide to talk to people. That she seemed willing to do so with the neighbors within ten minutes of meeting them was a win that Eliot was going to take without complaint.
Hardison and Parker were...well. Hard to miss, yet, also, apparently, almost impossible to find. After that first meeting, Eliot didn’t see them for another week and a half. Not that he was actively looking for them. But they were a close bunch, up on the fourth floor. Eliot babysat Randy as much as Ms. Trent babysat Molly (...maybe more on his end. But, hey, good for her, getting out of the house. Just because he didn’t have any plans didn’t mean the other single parent on the floor shouldn’t).
If someone was knocking at his door, it was either Trevor (hauling Randy along) escaping from his very nice but very busy parents, or Amy, coming to steal half of whatever it was he and Molly had baked recently before disappearing back into her apartment to study. Dr. Laroque ( Diana, please ) may not have been a pediatrician, but when he’d moved in, the floor already knew to go to her for minor worries with the kids.
(And, she was the only one not too look at him with big, worried eyes when he’d come tromping in with a wide-eyed Molly on his hip without warning. So, points to her. He tried to make sure he cooked an easy-to-reheat meal for her once a week, given her hectic shifts at the hospital.)
Point was. Even if everyone rarely actively saw each other, and most of them didn’t know anyone on the floors below them, they still all kind of looked out for each other. Informally. They were all kind of shut-ins, if Eliot thought about it. Except for the kids of course.
So, quick conversations in the hallways, groggy waves at the mailboxes as someone came in and out, kids knocking on all the doors, occasional food deliveries and baked bribes...the usual. But the new neighbors were nowhere to be seen in all of that.
At least up until he came up the stairs Monday morning after his run—as much a part of his routine as dropping off Molly at school at nine, going into work at noon, picking Molly up again from the afterschool daycare at six, making dinner at seven, tucking her in at eight-thirty, most days—and found Amy chatting with Parker.
He offered a wave to the women, and a small smile—Amy looked good, which meant that final she’d been stressing over last week had probably gone well. He’d ask her when she next came by to filch the cookies he knew Molly wanted to make this weekend—intending to head right past them.
A hand caught his sleeve on his way past, and he felt himself tense, just the slightest. Breathe. Smile. Turn and gently pull away—Parker’s hand dropped, but the sharp look she gave him let him know she hadn’t missed that at all. Rather than raising a fuss, she just rolled her shoulder, arms crossing over her chest. “Sorry. About Molly.”
“...Huh?” Parker hadn’t even seen Molly in a week and a half. And, to his knowledge, she’d been on her best behavior for the last week. Discounting telling Trevor he could go fu...well. He knows exactly where she learned that, so he couldn’t really get mad at her, and seeing her get that mad over the boy cheating at whatever game they were playing probably shouldn’t have made him laugh, but whatever.
Parker raises an eyebrow at him, expression telling him it should be obvious but he just. Couldn’t pull up anything to justify her sudden apology. Her shoulders went stiff, her fingers curling in her shirt sleeves slightly as she visibly worked through something. “...It looked like she was...uncomfortable? Meeting us?” is the explanation he gets a couple moments later.
“That’s just Molly. Her and strangers don’t...mix.” He offered after a beat, still kind of just blinking. Not too many people noticed Molly’s reticence, or, if they did, tended to just blame it on her being rude. Which, she wasn’t . Not really. He had to admit though, he was kind of touched. “Just ask Amy. First time they met, Molly told her she could call her M and that was it.”
Parker blinked and glanced back at Amy, who was already nodding and grinning. “Took her a week to come knock on my door, tell me ‘You’re cool. My name’s Molly.’ and run off again. It was pretty cute.” Amy offered, grinning slightly when Parker snorted.
“See? Don’t worry about it. She likes you just fine if you already got her name.” He paused, already half-turned to head to his apartment to mumble, “...Thanks, though.” Parker shoots him a look then, a little too... knowing for his liking, before giving him a bright grin and turning back to pick up whatever her and Amy had been talking about.
Well. He’d had weirder conversations.