Josh and Maisie live in apartment 4C. This is not a big deal. This is not a big deal, apart from the fact that the people that live next door in apartment 4B are weird. Like, really weird.
4B is a two-bedroom, so it makes sense that there are four people living in it. 4C is just a one-bedroom, picture-perfect even if the building is a little old and the electricity flickers on and off every now and again. It’s Josh and Maisie’s first apartment together, after being fully in love for six years starting when they met freshman year at Emerson College.
They’ve come back to Boston, because they love the city. It hasn’t changed much since they were in college, which is nice. It takes them a few days before they finally meet the next-door neighbors. Or at least, one of the next door neighbors. She looks like she’s barely a day over eighteen and she’s walking down the hall in front of them- she must have taken the stairs instead of the elevator, emerging into the hallway right before they did.
The apartment building doesn’t have the most reliable electricity, hence why it flickers sometimes. This is one of those times, on and off very briefly, and the girl walking in front of them flinches, looking around wildly. She flushes when she realizes she isn’t alone in the hallway.
“Oh, hello,” she says, clearly fighting to tamper down the redness in her face. “You must be the new neighbors.”
“Yeah,” Maisie says, a bit confused. “You alright?”
“Oh, I’m fine,” the girl laughs. “Just a little jumpy sometimes. I’m Nancy Wheeler, I live in 4B.”
“Maisie,” she introduces. “This is Josh. We’re in 4C- you probably knew that, though.”
“Yeah,” Nancy says, smiling brightly. Then, “Sorry if we slam our door a lot in the middle of the night, my roommates all work really weird shifts. And if you hear a guitar playing just let me know and I’ll yell at him to keep it down. You don’t share a wall with the boys, though, the couple in 4A hates us, I’m pretty sure.”
They’re standing outside their respective doors now. Nancy offers another smile.
“Nice to meet you,” she says, and she disappears inside the apartment. There’s a chorus of loud voices following the closing of the door, indistinguishable.
“College kids,” Josh says. “This will be fun.”
“Not living in the dorms?” Maisie asks. “She said her roommates work, maybe they’re not in college? She might live with a boyfriend, or something.”
“Who knows,” Josh laughs. “As long as the guitar doesn’t wake us up, I’m good.”
The guitar, thankfully, does not wake them up. What does wake them up the next morning- Saturday- is a pounding on the door.
They crawl out of bed, throwing on clothes from the previous day. They can’t blame whoever’s knocking, it’s well past ten in the morning. Josh glances through the peephole; there’s another girl standing there, this one also looking relatively young.
Josh opens the door, and she starts talking immediately.
“Hi,” she says. “I live next door, 4B, Steve made me bring over a casserole because he says it’s the neighborly thing to do, I helped make it so it might be a little burnt- sorry, I don’t know when to shut up sometimes. Here.” She thrusts a dish at them. Maisie takes it, smiling. “I’m Robin. Buckley. Robin Buckley. Nice to meet you.”
“You, too,” Maisie says. “Thank you, this smells delicious.”
“It’s nothing special, just a recipe from the newspaper,” Robin says quickly. “Um- Josh and Maisie, right? Nancy told me about you. Did we wake you up last night?”
“No,” Josh says, shaking his head and glances at Maise. She also shakes her head.
“That’s good, Steve got home at like three and I accidentally fell asleep on the couch, he scared the shit out of me- sorry, gotta watch my language- and I tried to hit him with a baseball bat.” She laughs as if this is the most normal thing in the world. “Well, I gotta go, nice meeting you!”
And with that, she disappears back into her apartment.
“A baseball bat?” Maisie asks.
“Let’s just- not question it,” Josh says, and Maisie nods.
They meet Steve and the other boy the next day in the elevator. They’ve just come back from a walk, and there are two men slightly ahead of them, arms full of grocery bags. One of them has longer hair and a bandana and is jumping around as he walks, and the other is carrying most of the bags.
“I’m just saying,” the one with longer hair says loudly. “That we really don’t have room.”
“Come on,” the other tries. “You know you want one.” He holds the door open for the other, even though he’s carrying the brunt of the load. He also holds the door open for Josh and Maisie, nodding to them.
“I do!” the first says, pressing the up button on the elevator. “But we already have four people and Henderson half the time, we don’t have room for a cat, too. Does the lease even allow cats?”
No, Josh and Maisie think at the same time, glancing at each other.
“No,” the second man admits. The elevator doors open. “But think about it- we name it Vecna.”
“That is the worst idea I have ever heard,” the first man says flatly. “What floor?”
“Four, please,” Maisie says, and both of their heads snap up to look at them.
“You’re the new neighbors!” the second man says. “We live in 4B, it’s nice to meet you. I’m Steve Harrington.”
“Eddie Munson,” the first man introduces, looking a tad bit wary.
“Nice to meet you, too,” Josh grunts.
“Thank you for the casserole,” Maisie says. “We haven’t finished it yet but it’s delicious, we’ll get the dish back to you soon.”
“I told you,” Steve says, turning to Eddie. “I told you it was good.”
“You put too many eggs in it,” Eddie insists. “Nothing needs that many eggs. Nothing.”
“But it was still good.”
“Yeah, it was still good.”
Josh and Maisie glance at each other. The two men are staring each other down.
“If you hear the guitar that’s him,” Steve says after a moment, turning back to them. “We can’t get him to shut up.”
“My baby is a work of art, thank you very much,” Eddie huffs. “She saved our lives, remember?”
“Sure,” Steve laughs. “Keep telling yourself that.”
“She was an integral part of that plan and you know it.”
“Ooh, integral, big word for you.”
“Shut the fuck up, Harrington.”
Josh and Maisie aren’t sure if Eddie is about to punch Steve in the face, but thankfully the elevator doors ding open.
“Nice meeting you,” Eddie says with a smile, as if he didn’t look like he was about to knock Steve’s lights out a second ago.
“You, too,” Josh and Maisie say in unison.
They first encounter all four roommates at once at a small housewarming party. They invite a few friends and family that live in the area and everyone on their floor, just to get to know them all. The kids from 4B show up with three cases of beer (are they even old enough to buy alcohol?) and another casserole, this one not containing any eggs.
Which is how they discover that Steve and Eddie are not the only ones with a very odd relationship for people that live together. Robin and Steve practically hang off each other’s shoulders the whole time they’re together. Eddie and Nancy keep muttering to each other, standing in one corner as long as the other two don’t pull them away. Steve slings an arm over Nancy’s shoulder, and Nancy slings one over Robin’s. Eddie skitters away from the physical contact and they pull him in. Eddie and Robin seem to communicate without speaking from across the room, both of them laughing at the same time in separate conversations.
“So, Nancy,” Maisie says at one point. She’s sitting on the new couch that just got delivered yesterday with the two sisters from 4F and Nancy herself, engrossed in conversation. “Are you in college?”
“Yes, I’m enrolled at Emerson,” Nancy says brightly. “I’m majoring in Journalism, I’m a freshman.”
“Oh, that’s wonderful!” Maisie says. “I went to Emerson, for marketing. Are your roommates enrolled, too?”
“They all work,” Nancy says, shaking her head. “College isn’t really any of their thing.”
“Oh, well, that’s alright,” Maisie says, because it is. People don’t need to go to college to succeed, of course they don’t. Throughout the rest of the party she and Josh learn that Steve bartends in downtown Boston, Robin works at a record shop and a radio station, and Eddie is doing an apprenticeship at a mechanic shop. It makes sense for all of them, though they aren’t quite sure why.
They see the kids from 4B several more times over the course of the next week; sometimes in the hallway, sometimes out and about. They continue to be odd- Maisie sees Steve and Robin holding hands on Wednesday and Josh insists that that can’t be possible, because he saw Steve and Nancy holding hands on Tuesday. They go out to a bar Friday night and Steve is bartending, smiling at them when they sit down, and later Maisie swears up and down she sees him wink at someone at the other end of the bar, and that person is Eddie.
Saturday there’s a pool party for the whole complex, with food paid for by the landlord. Josh and Maisie go, of course, they’ve used the pool nearly every day since they’ve moved in. It’s May, the weather’s been nice, of course they’ve been using the pool. The kids from 4B show up ten minutes after them.
They both do their damn best not to stare. All four of these kids are covered in scars. Steve and Eddie both look like they’ve got chunks taken out of their torso, and all four of them have a multitude of other scars decorating their bodies. They don’t seem to think anything is out of the ordinary, nor do any of the other neighbors.
“Oh,” one of the men from 4E says when Josh questions it. “Just ask them, they’ll tell you about it, they don’t keep it secret or anything.”
“Vicious animal attack,” Eddie says, nodding as if this is obvious. “Very dangerous. Very deadly. Almost died. A kid saved my life. Very weird day.”
“Oh, these ones are from getting beat up by Russian spies after we accidentally broke into their underground bunker,” Steve says, pointing to a couple. “And this one is when the older brother of one of my kids attacked me, I lost that fight. This one is from Nancy’s ex-boyfriend, but it’s cool, he’s our best friend now. I lost that fight, too. Oh, and these ones are from an animal attack.” He points at the two biggest ones, the ones that are nearly the same as Eddie’s. “They were the same animals that got Eddie. Different day, though.”
“Russians,” Robin says, and she doesn’t say anything else.
“It’s a long story,” Nancy says. “We grew up in a really weird small town.”
Josh and Maisie did not grow up in weird small towns- Josh is from Los Angeles, Maisie from New York City. They learn that the really weird small town the four really weird kids from 4B are from is a lot weirder than animal attacks and Russians (if that’s even true) over the course of the next few weeks.
“Do you have anything by Kate Bush?” Maisie asks when she’s in the record shop that Robin works at. Robin’s eyes widen, and she breaks into a grin.
“Have you heard Running Up That Hill?” she asks. “It saved one of Steve’s kids’ life from a mass murderer one time. I mean, she broke a bunch of bones and her eyesight isn’t great, but she’s alive.”
What the fuck.
“Hey, we accidentally got a package addressed to you,” Josh says after Eddie opens the door.
“Oh, sick, my new Dungeons and Dragons book,” Eddie says brightly, taking the package.
“Oh, I love Dungeons and Dragons!” Josh exclaims. “My mother thinks it’s some sort of cult, though.”
“Tell me about it,” Eddie says, barking out a laugh. “My high school basketball team formed a mob to hunt me down because they thought I was performing satanic rituals, I was in hiding for like a week.”
What the fuck.
“Oh, please, come in!” Nancy says when the toilet stops working in their apartment.
“Sorry,” Maisie says. “The landlord said it would be fixed by the end of the day but I really need to use the bathroom-” She stops short when she enters the apartment. There’s a baseball bat with nails driven through it sitting on the coffee table, right where anyone can see it. There are no less than four crowbars scattered around the place, as well as two hammers and a mallet. There’s a makeshift spear- an oar with a hunting knife tied to it- leaning against the wall. And she’s pretty sure there’s a sawed-off shotgun on top of the fridge.
“Sorry, we weren’t expecting guests,” Nancy says, laughing anxiously. “I would’ve cleaned up. The weapons are, um- well, you know. Trauma, and all that. It makes us feel safer.”
What the fuck.
“STEVE HARRINGTON LET ME IN!”
“Are you okay?” Josh asks. There’s a kid that’s probably about sixteen years old standing in front of apartment 4B. “Can I help you?”
“Yes!” the kid says loudly. “Thank God- I just need to get on your balcony and jump over to theirs, is that okay?”
“Um,” Josh says, and the kid doesn’t wait for an answer. He just strolls into 4C and out onto the balcony, moving with a slight limp.
“Thanks for this,” the kid says. “I’m Dustin Henderson, I’m one of Steve and Eddie’s kids and they promised me they would call once a week but they’re assholes and forgot so I drove all the way from fucking Indiana to make sure they’re alive because the amount of times that we’ve nearly died -”
And he quite literally jumps from 4C’s balcony and onto 4B’s.
What the fuck.
“Okay,” Josh says after he and Maisie finish sharing their revelations. There was a fair amount of screaming after Dustin Henderson broke in through 4B’s balcony, and they haven’t heard a peep since then. “Is every small rural town like this? Or just the one where they grew up?”
“They’re, like, twenty,” Maisie says. “How do they have children?”
“I don’t think they’re literally their kids, but- you said there was a shotgun?”
“Sawed-off, don’t forget that part.”
When June hits, all of a sudden there’s an influx of children coming to and from apartment 4B. Most of them appear to be around Dustin’s age, four boys and two girls, although there’s another girl that looks like she’s about twelve. There are also two other young adults that stay for a few days and make the whole hallway smell like weed, and three much older adults that show up halfway through the month and immediately yell something along the lines of “You live like this?”
They encounter the kids a couple times, mostly when they politely knock on the door to ask them to keep it down.
“Oh, shit,” one of the girls with wild red hair says after she opens the door. “We’ve been playing D&D and we get carried away a lot.”
“Sorry,” the other girl, the one with short, slicked-back hair says seriously. “We are talking about memories.”
Maisie is able to peer above her head into the apartment; there are still a wide variety of weapons everywhere. The kids are all sprawled on top of each other and the four young adults that actually live in the apartment, limbs tangled together.
“It’s okay,” Maisie says. “We don’t mind. Just wanted to make sure everything was okay.”
In July, a strange family knocks on 4C’s door. Josh opens it warily, and the man on the other side grins. There’s a woman and a teenage boy standing behind him, looking apprehensive.
“Ah!” the man says. “We have the wrong apartment.” He has a very thick Russian accent. In the kitchen, Josh sees Maisie with a hand on one of the bread knives. “We are looking for Hopper’s friends.”
Josh glances back. Maisie shakes her head, confused.
“Antonov!” a voice down the hall calls, and the Russian man turns and breaks into an even wider grin.
“Harrington!” he yells back. “Apologies, sir. Wrong apartment.”
“Come on in, we’re 4B, not 4C,” Steve says. He waves to Josh and Maisie, as if having a Russian family on their doorstep is a completely normal thing to happen. “Hey Yulia, Mikhail.”
The teenager waves. The woman smiles.
“Apologies again,” she says to Josh, also with a thick Russian accent.
“What the fuck was that?” Josh asks after he closes the door.
The Russian family stays for a few days- Maisie catches Robin in the hallway, who explains that they’re friends of a friend who were visiting Boston for a little vacation.
“And they’re- Russian?” Maisie asks, understandably apprehensive.
“Yeah,” Robin says. “They saved our- well, he’s not really our dad, but he’s kind of like our dad. Dmitri saved our dad’s life when he was in a Russian prison, it’s kind of a long story.”
“Oh,” Maisie says, nodding. Yes. Perfectly normal thing to happen.
Around the middle of August, a group of armed robbers break into the apartment building. Josh and Maisie can hear gunshots from the floor below, huddled in their bathroom with kitchen knives and a dresser in front of the main door. The noises get louder as the robbers make their way up to the fourth floor.
“Shit,” Maisie says. “Shit, shit, shit. Should we try to get out from the balcony?”
“There’s no way they can get in,” Josh says, shaking his head. There’s a pounding on the door a few doors down; probably 4A.
“Get out in the hallway!” a man’s voice yells. “Everyone! Right now, or we’ll fucking kill you!”
“We should not go in the hallway,” Maisie hisses, just as there’s a huge pounding on their door.
“Shit, fuck, shit,” Josh says. He puts the knife down and grabs Maisie’s hand, dragging her out just as the door slams off its hinges and into the dresser. “We’re coming, don’t shoot!”
“We don’t want to kill anyone!” another voice yells. Josh and Maisie keep their hands above their heads as they join the rest of the floor in the hallway- except for 4B, whose door is still closed. They glance at each other, both clearly thinking of the sawed-off shotgun and variety of other makeshift weapons.
There are three armed men outside of 4B’s door. All of their guns are pointed at it, as if they’re going to shoot the second the door opens.
“Nance!” someone yells inside the apartment.
“Munson, grab the- yeah, get ready-”
“Wheeler, are you sure?”
“What do you want?” Nancy’s voice yells through the door. “She’s not here!”
“We’re not here for her!” one of the men yells back, and Josh and Maisie exchange a look. “We’re here for you!”
“Yeah, right!” Robin’s voice calls.
And then there’s a very loud gunshot that goes through the door and into one of the robbers’ chests.
He goes flying back and hits the wall, and several people scream, Josh and Maisie included. The door to 4B bursts open, revealing not Steve, not Eddie, but- Nancy. Tiny Nancy Wheeler, holding the sawed-off shotgun with practiced ease and a very determined look on her face.
“I don’t think so,” she says, turning the gun on the next robber who, at this point, Josh and Maisie are starting to think aren’t robbers after all. The one she’s not pointing the shotgun at shoots, and it goes straight into what appears to be a trash can lid with nails driven through it, just like the wooden bat. Eddie’s on the other end, slamming it into the robber’s face as Nancy shoots again. Robin appears with a crowbar in one hand and a hammer in the other, Steve just behind her with the bat gripped in both hands. He’s swinging at the nearest robber, Robin doing the same, and within seconds the whole group of eight robbers is down on the ground, dead or very nearly close to it.
The kids don’t even look out of breath.
“Sorry,” Nancy yells apologetically. “You guys can go back to your rooms, we’ll handle the clean-up!”
“Call Owens,” Steve is instructing, and Robin nods and rushes back into the apartment, completely ignoring the blood splattering her clothes.
“I liked this vest,” Eddie grumbles, trying to get some of the blood off. Steve rolls his eyes.
The government shows up approximately twenty minutes later, instructing everyone to remain in their rooms. They interview everyone on the fourth floor- they’re not the police and they’re not the FBI, but they’re definitely the government. After Josh and Maisie tell them everything that happened, including the kids taking down all eight robbers, the government agents nod.
“We’re going to need you to sign this,” one of the agents says, sliding them what looks like an NDA. “It just says you’re not going to tell anyone about this.”
“Why?” Maisie asks. “They’re just robbers, right? Right?”
The two agents exchange a look.
“Oh my God,” Josh says. “They’re mercenaries?”
“I think that it’s best that you sign the agreement,” the other agent says.
They sign the agreement. The next day, after their door has been fixed, the four kids from 4B show up with an apology casserole.
“We weren’t expecting them to track us down,” Steve says, as if hired mercenaries attempting to kill them is no big deal. “We’re just glad no one else got hurt.” Because no one did- there were shots fired, but not into anyone. It’s just one black eye on Steve and a bandage around Eddie’s hand. The girls are both fine.
“Oh,” Maisie says. “Um. It was a little scary, but no big deal.”
“Well, if you need anything, let us know,” Robin says, once again as if she’s not nineteen years old and proficient in makeshift weaponry. “I know a great karate place if you want to learn self-defense.”
“Not everyone gets immediately traumatized by things, Buckley,” Eddie says, sarcastically but good-natured. “That’s just us.”
“Well, we’ve been through some traumatizing shit!” Robin counters, the two of them bickering back to their door. Steve and Nancy remain as Josh takes the casserole.
“Sorry again,” Nancy says, cringing. “Um. Yeah. Really sorry.”
By the end of the summer, Josh and Maisie are so completely used to the weird things about the kids in apartment 4B that they don’t even blink an eye when they walk out onto their balcony and see Steve and Eddie next door, very passionately making out.
“Shit!” Eddie yells, and Steve whirls around. They’re both panicked and red in the face. “Shit, shit, shit- sorry-”
“It’s fine,” Maisie says without missing a beat. “Don’t worry about it.”
Clearly embarrassed, they both nod and disappear back into the apartment.
“Are they-” Josh starts.
“ Clearly ,” Maisie emphasizes, and Josh nods. No homophobia from either of them, they don’t give a shit. The kids might think they do, though, considering Nancy and Robin show up with another apology casserole.
“Sorry you walked in on our best friends making out,” Robin says sheepishly.
“It’s no big deal,” Josh says casually. Then, “Are you two…?”
“No,” Nancy says.
“Yes,” Robin says at the same time. They glance at each other.
“Yes,” they chorus.
“And that’s alright, too,” Maisie says firmly, Josh nodding in agreement. The two girls beam at them.
“Thanks,” Nancy says. “You know, for putting up with us. I know we’re kind of a lot.”
“A lot,” Robin says, eyes wide and nodding.
“It’s alright,” Maisie says, because she feels fondness for these kids, somehow, someway. They’re weird, sure, weird as all hell. But they’re very nice, and they make very good casseroles.
“You know,” Josh says as they eat the casserole that night. He’s pretty sure it's a twice-baked potato casserole, and it’s delicious. “They’re not bad neighbors.”
“Not at all,” Maisie agrees. “Not at all.”