I found out my girlfriend lived in the same building as Steven Grant Rogers, aka Captain America, on the day I moved in.
There's a story to how I ended up moving in with my girlfriend, but that story is long, involved and full of family drama, as is the story about why I hadn't moved in with her before then.
Short version of the first story is, my family sucks, I was living with a cousin who more or less threw me out because I didn't like his biohazard girlfriend stealing my stuff. (I am normally all about feminine solidarity but seriously this chick was genuinely evil and toxic and I mean that in both psychological and literal housekeeping terms, Jesus Christ I swear there are things growing in her old lunch containers).
I complained, she lost her shit, cousin insisted I either apologize or I had three days to get out, and like fuck I was going to apologize.
Why I was living with the jerk to start with is just . . . my family sucks, money sucks, that's all there is too it. Let's move on.
The reason I wasn't living with Chloe already is that about half her family sucks - well, half of both her families, like, half her mom's family and half her dad's family. And we didn't realize her great-aunt wasn't part of that half because frankly we were too chicken-shit to make a situation where we'd find out.
See, her great aunt owned this condo in Brooklyn, where Chloe was living. For once again let's-move-on reasons, we assumed that Chloe's great aunt would lose her shit if she knew Chloe was living with a girlfriend, especially one like, well, me. I mean, I kind of have more tattoos than most bikers, a lot of metal in different place, I don't shave and I have an arrest record from punching out an asshole in front of Planned Parenthood, basically. I used to have anger issues, I did some therapy, now I'd make sure that nobody could see me punch the fucker out. But I digress. The point is, not only am I a girlfriend, I'm also not a nice middle-class white or Chinese girl with perfect makeup and a Nice Family. As far as most of Chloe's family's concerned, even some of the less-sucky parts, I'm trash.
Anyway, so Chloe was telling her great aunt about my troubles with the usual "my friend" instead of "my girlfriend". And like for the record I have no problem with being "friend" for now, because vet school is fuckin' expensive, so some play-acting and denial in exchange for two years of basically free living in a nice place in New York that allows pets? Fuck yes, consider my principles sacrificed, did you want them grilled or just stuck up on a pole?
And then her great aunt, who is like this tiny little Southern white lady who still has freaking anti-macassars on all her antique couches and shit says in her tiny little voice, "Chloe, when are you going to stop being silly and just have your girlfriend move in with you? Not everyone in this family has their head shoved quite as far up their asses as your mother and your father."
For a bit then Chloe was worried her mom and dad would call and yell at her great-aunt about it, but apparently her great-aunt just laughed and laughed about that and said she could use the excitement so, you know, awesome?
So good news, in fact great news, I was moving in with Chloe. Awesome! Fantastic!
Also what I chose to see as good news and a reminder from the universe that I shouldn't get too attached to material things, I was moving in with basically a week's worth of clothes, my school stuff, my POS old laptop and a massive bank overdraft.
(Notice the lack of phone in there? Fucking toxic waste girl stole my phone. I just sort of chalked it up as a sacrifice to whatever gods made Chloe's great-aunt not suck.)
And, of course, Theophilus, my rabbit.
(Yeah, I got a rabbit. He's leash-trained, too.)
Point being, I had all of that in a couple duffle bags and Theo in his carrier, so moving in was not a big Thing: no truck no furniture, nothing like that. I packed up in the morning, wrote my cousin a note telling him just how big a piece of shit he was and how I hoped that bitch took him for all he was worth, and hopped a bus.
It was kind of soothing, really. Me and buses have a long history together, and I've been most places in the country on them, one time or another.
Chloe's building's off on a couple streets of buildings kinda like it, the kind that were built as pretty-nice apartments first back in, like, the 70s, and then got turned into condos and whether or not they're nice anymore pretty much varies from building to building. Hers is the biggest on the street, takes up lot in front and the one behind and has this kinda little courtyard-light-well thing in the back that the strata put a garden in. It's nice enough, and Chloe says the strata's pretty nice: it's mostly families and couples and a few older folks like her aunt before her aunt moved back to Atlanta. There's some flower bushes in the front. I've got no idea what kind, I know nothing about gardening.
The common areas are all kinda old-looking, but kept up. It's probably easily the nicest place I've lived in my life.
Anyway, there's me and my suitcase showing up at Chloe's building: walk up to the front steps and I hit her buzzer and I get . . .
You might think this would've upset me, but actually I started to laugh, because it just meant my girl stayed up too late studying again, even though I totally told her to go to bed at ten, and she totally slept through her alarm. Which was probably still playing. If I buzzed a couple more times, though, Fidget would start licking her face and she'd wake up and let me in.
That's when I heard the sad little mew. And I looked over the side of the steps and saw this orange tabby-cat.
It looked like, what, about six months old maybe? And kinda small, and it was hunched up in the slightly wet flowers and, well, mud. It was definitely not a happy cat. And since it looked so sad and pathetic, I hit the buzzer again and then stepped down off the stairs.
I figured I'd just scoop it up to wait with me until Chloe let us in and Chloe could figure out who it belonged to or if it needed fostering or if hey, it was hers (Chloe's bad about that - there's a reason she's got as many pets as she's got already).
About fifteen seconds later I was yanking my hand back with some really impressive claw marks and sucking on them, while the kitten pressed itself into a corner and hissed at me. I swore, looked at the scratches and licked some of the blood off, and looked at the cat. And I wasn't mad or anything: scared cat's a scared cat. But it still hurt, and it definitely made things complicated.
Then behind me a kid's voice is like, "Hey, what's up?"
I turn around to see this kid: pre-teen girl, maybe early teens and just pretty flat, in sweat-shorts that were a little too big for her and a long-sleeved shirt, some cheap over-the-head headphones and an old portable CD-player with her hair in a messy bun, and a sweaty face. Like she's definitely been out running. She looks at my hand, goes ouch, and then stops paying any attention to me at all and gets full on high-pitched teenage girl voice going, "Omigod, Abrikoska, what the fuck are you doing out here?" and she's scooping up the kitten and getting mud all over her shirt.
Firstly, she had a great high-pitched teenage girl voice and the "fuck" in the middle sounded really weird and out of place. Secondly, the kitten did not scratch her.
Actually, the kitten started rubbing its face all over her neck and purring like a fucking motorboat and making sad mews, doing that animal thing where they press their bodies against yours like they can get inside and hide there. Definitely a highly strung cat.
I licked my scratched hand one more time and said, "Guessing that's your cat?"
"No," she said, distractedly, checking the kitten over and frowning like she was really worried about something. "My friend's." Then she looks at me and demands, "Who're you?"
And I gotta say she didn't sound like a teenager anymore, she sounded like a freaking cop or something. My eyebrows kind of went up. "Paula," I said. "I'm Chloe's girlfriend."
"Oh," she said, not like she totally believed me but like she was willing to accept this for the time being. "I'm Mercedes, I live on the second floor. Chloe not home?"
I shrugged. "She's probably asleep. I was just gonna buzz until Fidget woke her up, but I got distracted by the little monster here."
"Yeah, she's blind," the kid told me. She looked a little less suspicious, maybe cuz I knew Fidget's name. She was digging in her training bra for something. "Hang on, I'll probably have to go to Chloe's anyway."
She put her phone to her ear and held it there for a little while and then looked annoyed. She hung it up and said, "Oh my god the phone is not going to eat you take it off silent already," at the screen and then thumbed through and hit another icon. "My friend has phone issues," she explained to me, and I was like, "I kinda got that."
I think I was more sympathetic than she was. I hate the fucking phone.
Anyway, this time she got the face of "oh good someone answered!" and said, "Hi, it's Mercedes - is there anyone at your place? Or did you, like, vacate for the bedbug guys?"
Right, I forgot to mention: of course some idiot managed to get bedbugs in one of the condos, like, on the other end of the L of the building so the whole place had to be checked. Which was another thing that was gonna wake Chloe up.
"Right, I kinda thought so, because I'm outside the front door and I'm kinda holding Abrikoska," the girl kept going into the phone. "Yeah. That's what I figured. Chloe's home still, so I'm gonna ask her to take her till you get back? Nah, she's fine, just wet and muddy and sad and making new friends by which I mean totally clawing up Chloe's girlfriend's hand. No problem. I mean, she wasn't going anywhere, she was just sitting up by the door. Okay. De nada."
Then she hung up, put the phone back into her bra and boosted the kitten up to her shoulder to be a cat-scarf. "Okay," she said again, "I'll let you in, I'm going to Chloe's anyway."
"Vacate for the bug people?" I asked, just kind of making conversation. It got me another hard look but she shrugged.
"Nah," she said. "Something else going on." She looked worried, but she unlocked the front door with the kitten held up against her shoulder and said, "This way."
Chloe answered the door with Fidget and Marvel bouncing up and down behind her barking and her hair all cute and messy and her glasses on and a very, very bleary expression. "Shit," she said, "sorry hon, I didn't hear my alarm or the buzzer wait why do you have Apricat?"
Chloe does this thing where she forgets to separate two sentences. A lot. I think it's cute.
"Because the stupid bug-check people let her out," the kid said, carefully handing the cat over. Kitten didn't freak out at Chloe either. Blind cats are pretty wary about people they don't know the smell or voice of, in my experience, which meant the cat knew Chloe. Obviously.
"Oh wow," Chloe said, her eyes going all wide, "that's so not gonna go over well."
"Yeah, well," Mercedes said, "Steve says they'll be home by this evening, remember to watch out for your left arm, I gotta go get ready for school, nice to meet you." She waved at me and then darted down the hall.
"Hi baby," Chloe said, shifting the kitten to her free arm and reaching out to pull me close for a kiss. "Sorry I am wakeup fail, come on in, I'll make coffee."
My first order of business was to get Theophilus out of the carrier. Fidget, Marvel and Chloe's cats are totally used to Theo and he's totally used to them - we always meant to move in together, so I started bringing him over when he was just a kit - so he was just happy to get to bounce around everywhere. He was in a currently clean pet-diaper and I'd figure out where to put his litter later. I stuck my suitcase in Chloe's room, got my face licked by the dogs, was totally ignored by the cats and got coffee and some ointment for the scratch.
The orange tabby, who I wasn't sure whether it was called Abrikoska or Apricat at that point, sort of bee-lined for a bunch of shelves, jumped up to the top of them, and stayed there.
"What's with the left-arm thing?" I asked, when we both had coffee and Chloe was pulling together some eggs and toast.
"Oh," she said, and yawned. "James, Apricat's human, has a prosthetic. She climbs up people's left arms with her claws out and then gets all freaked out when they, you know, freak out. Actually a lot freaks her out which is not surprising - Mercedes, that's the girl who let you in, her friend found the kittens after something killed the mom and I think they'd been on their own for at least a few hours and a raven got one of them so they're all a bit nervy and then Apricat can't see either, so if James isn't around she's like the most nervous cat ever."
"Didn't the girl use another name?" I asked, because I like to know these things. Okay I like to know everything, but confusing names is definitely a thing I don't like doing.
"Oh, her real name is Abrikoska," said Chloe, waving the fork she was using to whisk the eggs up. "I think James' first language is Russian, which is funny because 'James' doesn't sound Russian to me but maybe he changed it, I dunno. Doesn't have an accent. Anyway it's Russian for 'little apricot' or something except it's a pun," (seriously my girl isn't good at sentences) "because 'koshka' is Russian for girl-cat or something because James was just gonna call her 'cat' except Steve - his roommate I think they might be boyfriends but it's really hard to tell and this really hot woman visits sometimes - anyway Steve said no, so then James named her that and I realized there could be a pun on 'apricot' with 'apri-cat' last time she came down for a checkup."
Then she had to stop for a breath before she could go on. She poured the eggs into the pan and shrugged.
"I think James has, like, PTSD or something?" She waved the spatula at me like she meant to indicate something-like-that-whatever and pushed her glasses back up her nose with her wrist. "He kind of hates talking to strangers or something so it's like he'd really rather come ask me stuff instead of going to a vet, and like I can't actually charge for vet stuff but I'm up to doing basic kitten checkups, so he buys me groceries sometimes.
"Actually," she corrected herself, and she handed me the plate, "I wasn't even gonna ask for anything because hey whatever, good neighbours, but then the groceries showed up. So. And with, like, dog-food and cat litter and stuff. Which is slightly creepy that he knew what kinds to get because he's only been here the twice but, you know, whatever. Some people are just observant." Chloe waved her hand. "I think he has to be like ex-Special Forces or something. His startle reflex is intense, and his prosthetic is super advanced and you know there's that whole partner-thing Stark Industries is doing with the VA? So I figure it's got to be that."
Then she licked the butter off the knife because sometimes my baby has no manners. "Also Naunty Grace says hi, she hopes you settle in okay, and that you didn't set fire to your cousin's house or at least aren't gonna get caught."
She calls her grandmother Nana, so her great-aunt ended up being Naunty. Yeah I dunno.
"How did we not know your great-aunt was so great?" I asked, kind of rhetorically, because I knew exactly how. Then I stopped Fidget from stealing my toast. Mostly Chloe's dogs are pretty well-trained, but Fidget will steal anything off your plate she can get. She's the worst.
I chose to continue to look at having no stuff as a good thing. For instance, it meant I was unpacked pretty much by the time the bedbug guys came in and we had to lock all the animals in the bathroom - except for Theophilus, who sat on my shoulder, and the apricot-cat, who refused to come down off the shelf where she had not moved from since she came in - so they could bring their little beagle in and sniff around and tell us we didn't have bedbugs yet, they were going to basically cook the offending condo to death (apparently this is a new bedbug thing that actually, you know, reliably works) and then come back to check up in a month or so.
Then Chloe got a call from the vet clinic offering her an extra receptionist-shift and she flew out the door with a kiss and a couple instructions at me and a reminder that the mysterious Steve would be around to get the apricot cat later.
So I had a really long bath in a clean bathroom that I didn't have to fucking scrub first, and that was heaven, seriously. Then I set up Theophilus' litter box up in a corner in the spare bedroom, surrounded by this tacky prickly stuff that he just jumps over but the cats super-hate so it doesn't end up smelling wrong, and locked him in there for a while for him to get used to it.
By the it was about three o'clock and I got my first visitor, which was the kid from the morning. "Hi," she said, coming in like she was totally comfortable here, "I was just coming home and I wanted to make sure Abrikoska's okay."
"Well, either she is," I said, and I made sure I was smiling so it was a joke, "or she died up there."
Except that the apricot-cat was already freaking leaping down the shelves and I got to see what everyone meant about left arms, because she jumped from the bookshelf to the end table and then launched herself at Mercedes' left arm.
Mercedes just had enough time to brace herself and she was wearing a coat, so it was okay. The kitten crawled up her coat and onto her shoulder and head-butted her face.
"Some of us have like skin and stuff there, you know," the kid said, petting the cat. The kitten chirruped at her and I couldn't help smiling. They were really kinda cute.
"Cat seems to like you a lot, for not-your-cat," I pointed out and she shrugged, cat notwithstanding.
"I totally conned her human into taking her," she said in this totally self-satisfied tone of voice. "She likes me."
She scritched the cat a bit more, then put her down and said good-bye a little less fast than this morning, and left. For her part, the orange tabby kitten went right back up on the bookshelf like the floor was lava.
My second visitor I got around six-thirty, with my hair-dye in; I figured it would be the mysterious Steve so I shouted, "Just a second," wrapped my dye-towel (that's, like, the towel already spattered with so many dye-colours who cares) and went to the door, got Fidget and Marvel out of the way, opened it and through unbelievable self-control I totally did not say "Holy raging fuckballs Batman you're Captain America" out loud.
I sure as shit thought it. And it probably showed in my face. I mean I tried to not show it in my face, but holy raging fuckballs, Batman, he was Captain America.
I just said, "Hi!" and probably looked like Theophilus caught in a bright light.
Now, I'm not into guys, and I'm not gonna be cute and say even Captain America did anything to that because he didn't, but the guy does have a very aesthetically pleasing smile. "Hi," he said. "I'm Steve - hopefully Chloe mentioned I'd be coming by to pick up -"
And that's when the apricot-cat finished leaping down off the bookshelf and trotted over, meowing at great length and made a leap for his shoulder, but he caught her. "This," he finished, letting the cat up onto his shoulder without having her claw her way up there.
"Well," I said, like a total dope, "there she is." Also holy fuck you're Captain America and you live upstairs, is what I was thinking. "I'm Paula, Chloe's girlfriend," was my next contribution to the stupid-conversation-pile.
"Chloe mentioned you were moving in," he said, as the kitten settled herself and also made more complaining noises.
"Um, yeah," I said, like a moron, "me and Theophilus - uh, that's my bunny."
"Well," he said, and it wasn't even like he was mocking me, because the smile was genuine, "welcome to the building. Hopefully this is the last time you get an extra cat without warning."
"She was fine," I said, "she just hid on top of the shelves all day. Hope nobody worried too much."
He looked kind of over-done play-acting thoughtful for a moment and then said, "Well, nobody's gonna die," and smiled to show it was a joke, "so I think we'll take it. Thanks a lot. Good luck getting settled in."
I said something stupid as a variation on "good-bye," closed the door and stuffed my fist in my mouth.
I did not call Chloe at work, which I think indicates just amazing self-control on my part. I finished dyeing my hair, made rice and lentils for supper and put some in the fridge for her and then coaxed my ancient laptop into life so I could look up who I wanted to sell my soul to for cell service and a free phone, and when I was done that, I started looking for people who might be willing to validate my existence in a capitalist economy by giving me money for my labour.
And that's always depressing so I dug out some of the JD Chloe had in her cupboard to keep me company while I watched NCIS reruns and contemplated the endless rounds of job applications.
The dogs saw Chloe out the window so they were already bouncing and whining at the door when she came in. I gave her a few seconds to pet their heads and shoo them away before she came around the corner and I was like, "Baby do you not know that fucking Captain America lives upstairs?"
That got me Chloe's best totally baffled frown and scrunched up nose especially since I clearly totally derailed whatever she was thinking about when she came in.
She eventually said, "What? No. Steve? No, babe, there's more than one blond guy named - "
And okay to be fair that is true: there's definitely more than one blond guy in New York named "Steve," even more than one built guy in New York named "Steve", hell there's probably even some poor fuck who's blond and built and named Steve Rogers because it's not like either of those is a super rare name among white people in New York let alone the rest of the world. So that's fair to say. Just, in this case, completely wrong.
So I interrupt her with my best stare so I can say, "Uh uh. Chloe. Look at my face right now: Captain America fucking lives upstairs. Apparently with an orange cat."
Chloe spent probably the next fifteen minutes with her "what? no! wait - what?" face on, as she sort of wandered around feeding the animals and changing out of work clothes and getting her food out of the fridge so she could put it in the microwave. She came and sat down on the couch next to me with her food, turned to look right at me and demanded, "Seriously?"
When I nodded, she turned back and stared in front of her for a second. "My mind is blown," she said. "Turn something on I need to eat and process this."
Which, okay, I figured that was fair, so I found some X-Files reruns and she ate her supper.
Unsurprisingly - at least if you know my girlfriend - that night was at least an hour of run-on and collided sentences about how weird it is when your upstairs neighbour turns out to be Captain America. I picked up a lot from it, including that the kid who could pick up the orange tabby kitten was totally aware of who her neighbours were, and that Captain America's apparently been living here for almost two years now, and all kinds of stuff.
I was brushing my teeth when she came to the bathroom door with her eyes like two huge Os. "Oh my god," she said. "Oh my fucking god Paula. Paula a really hot chick comes to visit upstairs a lot. Paula she has red hair, oh my god Paula, the Black Widow's in my building on, like, a regular fucking basis."
I blinked at her. Then I spat out all the toothpaste foam and rinsed my mouth and by then I figured, okay, she's probably right. So all I had to say was, "Crazy."
Chloe was still in the doorway with O-eyes, one hand on each side of the doorjamb. And she was like, "Paula. Paula you are not allowed to leave me for the Black Widow."
And okay yes I have had a crush on her since I knew she existed but seriously. I sighed, and I took her hands off the doorjamb and put them together between hers. "Baby," I said. "You need more sleep." And I kissed her forehead.
Then we went to bed.
I didn't figure out that the Winter Soldier lived upstairs until a couple months later.