Jenn climbed out of her dads Dodge Dakota feeling stiff. She looked at her surroundings and smiled. It was early summer, and her new life was starting. It was hard not to feel positive about the change. And hopefully the grad program wouldn’t be filled with a bunch of bumbling idiots like her undergrad had been.
Movement caught her eye and she spotted Rhea waving to her from the entrance to the complex.
“Hey kid! Hi auntie Kaitlyn, Uncle Rob!” Rhea said, grinning, as she approached the family.
“God don’t call me that Rhea.” Jenn groaned.
“Rhea, how have you been?” Her dad asked, laughing as he patted Jenn fondly on the head.
Jenn reached up to swat his hand away, then headed to the bed of the truck while her parents and Rhea caught up.
The past few months had been a blur. She came down over spring break with her parents to explain the situation to Rhea’s landlord and sign the appropriate forms. He had been surprisingly understanding about the whole situation. Even during her undergrad some of the teachers wouldn’t let her attend without a parent present, but Jack - her new landlord - had simply given them a surprised look, said “she’s barely seventeen and she’s already going to grad school? Damn. WAY smarter than me.” And gave her parents the paperwork to fill out.
When she got home, Jenn spent the following months preparing for finals, ordering her graduation regalia, and packing for her new start. She was eager to start her new life, and grateful to her favorite cousin for agreeing to room with her.
“Alright Jenny, should we start with the light stuff?” Rhea said, coming around to the back of the van.
Jen made a face. Rhea was the only one who called her Jenny. It was a sweet memento of the past, but she really didn’t want people to start calling her that here.
“Ugh don’t call me that either.”
“What do you want me to call you then?” Rhea rolled her eyes.
Jenn sighed. “These are the boxes with my clothes. Should be the lightest..”
“Great! Let’s get moving!” Rhea grabbed a box and led the way into Jenn’s new home.
When they walked in Jenn almost dropped her box on the floor in surprise. “Rhea this place is a pigsty!” She exclaimed.
“what do you mean? Everything is right where I need it!” Rhea replied, looking over her shoulder as she headed into Jenn’s new room.
“Rhea there’s crap everywhere!” She exclaimed, stepping over rags and paint supplies as she followed her cousin.
“Well, I’m an artist Jenn. I cleaned out my art room so you could be my roomie. You’ll have to live with the art corner.”
“Art corner? More like art building! It’s a disaster out there!”
“Alright, tell you what, after we get you moved in I’ll rearrange some things out there to your psychopathic specifications. Deal?”
“You realize if you don’t do it, I’ll just rearrange it myself right?”
“Wouldn’t have made the offer otherwise kid.”
“Don’t call me kid!” Jenn groaned as Rhea grinned at her tauntingly.
“This is gonna be so much fun!” Rhea squealed as she headed back out for more boxes.
Jenn hadn’t brought much stuff with her so they made quick work of moving her boxes into her new room. Her parents had ordered her a bedroom set in advance, which showed up right as they were getting the final boxes from the truck. After the delivery men left, Rhea, Jenn, and her parents went out for a late lunch. Then her parents said their goodbyes and headed back to Denver.
After her parents left, Jenn stood in her room and took in her new living space. She had her bed set up under the window, a night stand on either side, dresser by the closet and a small desk by the door. She smiled as she picked up the large framed poster of the Milky Way and hung it on the wall above her desk. Life was good. And then there was a knock on the apartment door.
Rhea had headed down to do a load of laundry after Jenn made her pick up all the rags by threatening to reorganize herself, so Jenn was alone in the apartment for the moment. She headed to the door and opened it, finding a young man in a police uniform standing before her.
“Oh hey, you must be the pipsqueak Rhea mentioned moving in with her.”
“Excuse me?” Jenn asked irritably.
“Listen, name’s John. I live a few doors down. Rhea said I could get some eggs off her? I made a bet with my partner I could bake better cookies than him and-“
“And what, you couldn’t be bothered to go to the store?”
“I’m sorry, I think we started off on the wrong foot.”
Jenn shut the door in his face and headed back to her room. She didn’t have time for hopeless dumbasses who couldn’t even go to the store on their own.
By the time Rhea returned from the laundry room, Jenn has managed to put all of her belongings away neatly. Her room was spotless, her bed was made, and the boxes had all been broken down and folded, ready to be taken to the dumpster.
“Damn you work fast. Hey, I forgot to tell you, our neighbor John is supposed to come by for eggs today.”
“You mean the dumbass cop?”
“Oh no. Jenn, what did you do?”
“Told him to run his own damn errands.”
“God, you’re never going to make friends with that attitude!” Rhea exclaimed, grabbing the eggs and leaving the apartment again.
“Whatever,” Jenn muttered to the empty apartment. “I don’t need any damn friends.” Then she proceeded to reorganize the living room into a more professional and generally organized space.
She examined the room in all its glory. There were paintbrushes laid out on a napkin next to a cup of dirty paint water, on a table next to the easel. Rhea has papers and notes scattered all over the table, along with some books about painting techniques. The floor was no longer covered in dirty rags and tissues, but there was a bucket with jars of paint haphazardly thrown in, and dirty dishes left on every surface. She rolled up her sleeves and got to work.
Jenn made quick work of it, and had the entire living room cleaned before Rhea returned twenty minutes later. She was working on the kitchen when she heard the door slam.
“Took you long enough! God how long does it take to drop off some eggs.”
“Well I had to apologize for your attitude Jenn-oh my god what have you done?” Rhea exclaimed, sounding frazzled.
“What do you mean?” Jenn asked, poking her head out of the kitchen.
“My stuff! You’ve completely rearranged everything!”
“I cleaned Rhea. That hardly counts as rearranging. What’s your problem, I thought you’d appreciate it.” Jenn replied, rolling her eyes.
“Appreciate… Jenn! I had that stuff out for a reason! I knew just where everything was! Now I have to search for it!”
“God! You act like the world is ending.” Jenn smirked.
“This isn’t funny Jenn! I have a project due on Monday!”
“It’s summer. What project do you have due during the summer?”
“My professor asked me for weekly updates. God Jenn! Do you even know what I went through to get this place set up for you?! I cleaned, and I painted, and let’s not even talk about that damned paint store employee I had to deal with!”
Jenn stared at her older cousin, feeling a twinge if homesickness set in. She needed to get out of here. “God. Whatever, I need to do some laundry.” She huffed, grabbing a bag of clothes and storming out of the apartment.
As Jenn made her way down to the laundry room she began angrily wiping away the few tears that managed to sneak out. Rhea was the closest thing Jenn ever had to a friend. Her classmates had always called her weird and rude. The one person she thought was her friend in high school had tried to humiliate her in front of her class, and when confronted simply replied with “you drive everyone away Jenn. No one will ever like you.”
Except her cousin Rhea. Rhea always had time for her, always entertained her crazy ideas and trusted her theories. And now she was going to drive Rhea away too. Why are you like this Jenn? She thought bitterly to herself as she reached the laundry room and began angrily shoving her bag of clothes into the washer. She didn’t actually need to wash her clothes, just needed an escape.
“Oh hey! New kid on the block.” Jenn heard a familiar voice from behind her and froze. She quickly reached up to wipe a few stray tears from her face. What she didn’t need is the idiot neighbor seeing her crying.
“Look,” he said uncomfortably from behind her. “I feel like we got off on the wrong foot. Can we try again? My name is John. John Shepphard.”
Jenn sighed, pushed herself away from the washer and turned to meet his eyes. They were kind, hazel, and hopeful. Like a puppy who just wanted everyone to love him.
“Jennifer Hailey.” She replied as she reluctantly grasped his outstretched hand.
The corners of his eyes creased as he smiled down at her. “It’s a pleasure to meet you Jennifer. Your cousin has told me a lot about you.”
“Sure she has.” Jenn said flatly, resisting the urge to roll her eyes.
“Oh yeah, Rhea has been super excited about you moving in!” The cop replied eagerly, finally setting his laundry basket down at a washer next to hers.
Jenn turned away, feeling a wave of discomfort, and refocused on methodically placing her clothes into the washer. “Excited, huh?” She replied, silently kicking herself for her attitude.
“Yeah! She’s spent the last few weeks reorganizing the whole apartment so your room would be ready. Even painted it! You should have seen it before, that room was a disaster! Well, then she got her schedule off by a week… she realized last week you were coming this week and she thought she’d had another week… so that really threw her off her game… hey, are you okay?”
Jenn has started crying again. She couldn’t help it, and that made her cry harder because she’d always felt crying in front of people was a sign of weakness. Now here she was crying in front of some complete stranger.
“I’m sorry, did I say something wrong again?” John looked genuinely concerned. “I kind of have this problem sometimes.. my mom always called it foot in mouth syndrome.”
Jenn turned around and leaned against the washer, sliding down until she sat on the floor with her knees by her face. She then began furiously trying to wipe the tears away. John mimicked her and they sat side by side for a moment until Jenn was able to pull herself together a bit.
“Do you want to talk about it?” John asked after some time, gesturing broadly in front of him.
Jenn looked at him and forced a small smile. “Why are you being so nice to me?”
“Well for one, Rhea told me you could kill me with your brain.” He teased. “Although I believe her exact words were ‘my cousin is a kid genius, so don’t mess with her.’ Followed up with a threatening stare.”
Jenn couldn’t help herself, she giggled. She giggled. Okay, so maybe this idiot wasn’t so bad after all.
“So are we gonna talk about it, or are we just gonna sit here and stare at our laundry baskets all day? Because I’m good with either. Any excuse to ship laundry day..”
“Rhea and I got into a fight.” Jenn sighed. “We’ve never fought before. In fact, I think she’s the only person I’ve never fought with. She’s the only person who doesn’t hate me.”
“Hey now, I’m sure no one hates you.” John said, nudging her knee with his elbow.
She stared at him for a second, then smiled slightly and shook her head. “I’m not sure if you noticed earlier, but I don’t exactly do well with people. Rhea’s always understood that, but I don’t think she was ready for my… quirks.”
“Such as?” He inquired, raising his eyebrows.
“I just-I like a clean house. I need order and…”
He laughed then. She looked at him in surprise to see him trying to control his laughter. Finally through his tears, he looked at her and managed to say “I’m sorry kid, but Rhea is the definition of chaos.”
She began laughing too then, pleased Rhea had friends who understood her so well, and also enjoying the infectious laughter of John Shepphard.
“Look Jenn-is it alright if I call you Jenn?” He watched her nod before continuing. “If I were you, I would start small… work your way up to the big stuff. And maybe apologize?”
She opened her mouth to protest but stopped when he raised his hands defensively.
“Now I’m not saying you did anything wrong!” He began, “I just mean, sometimes being the bigger person is the best way to move past something. Just apologize for moving things without her to approve it, and ask if maybe you can work something out together.”
“Thanks John. That’s actually a big help.”
“Hey, it’s what I do.” He said, grinning mischievously.
Jenn made her way back into the apartment with her laundry and stopped in her tracks. The apartment was spotless. Rhea must have cleaned the entire time she was gone.
“Just don’t look in my room.” Rhea said, coming out of the kitchen with a towel draped over her shoulder.
“You cleaned!” Jenn replied in shock.
“Very observant.” Rhea shot back sarcastically. “Look, I’m sorry. I know how you are with messes. I’ll try to be better in the future, just maybe ask before you mess with my painting supplies next time?”
Jenn grinned, dropped her laundry bag, and ran to hug her favorite cousin. “I’m sorry too. And I promise I’ll ask in the future. But about this setup…” she pulled back to look Rhea in the eyes. “Are you sure about that wall of record sleeves?”
“Hey! don’t test your luck kid.”
“Ugh don’t call me kid!”
“Then you’ll have to suffer with Jenny.” Rhea winked and returned to the kitchen.
“Oh by the way,” jenn said, picking up her abandoned laundry. “You’re right. John isn’t that bad.”
Rhea turned to stare at Jenn in shock as she slipped into her room and slammed the door, smiling.
“Yeah,” she sighed to her empty room. “This was definitely the right choice.”