Maggie finished putting away the food, opened a can of pop, and then placed the laptop from her backpack on the dinette table. She plugged it in and opened the top. This would be a good place to work, she thought as she looked out the kitchen window next to the table. A far off sailboat floated in the haze of the distant horizon while a flock of seagulls flew down toward the beach. A little distracting, but she could handle it.
She took a sip from the cold can while replaying in her mind what the women at Lenny’s Grocery had said to her. They thought no one was living here; she whispered as she watched the laptop wake up. No one here? Of course there was. Mr. Zimmerman was here, and there was a car in the parking lot.
Then she heard an apartment door open. She quickly got up and tiptoed to the door’s peephole. She saw a woman with a headband and wearing a paisley print dress leave apartment 21B with a child at her side. There, proof she was not the only one in the building.
Having been unnerved by the women in the grocery store, she decided to prove them wrong and introduce herself to her new neighbor. She opened the door and walked into the hallway. She smiled and said, “Hi.”
The woman took the young girl’s hand and stopped at the top of the stairway. She looked at Maggie, seeming a bit surprised due to the fact she did not say anything for a moment while she studied Maggie’s face. “Hi, did you just move in?”
Maggie left her door open and walked toward the woman and child. “My name’s Maggie, I just moved in today. This sure seems like a nice place.”
“My name’s Debbie and this is my daughter Susie. It’s nice to meet you,” she said, extending her hand in greeting. “And yes, I agree, this is an excellent place to live.”
“Have you been living here long?” Maggie asked, releasing her hand from Debbie’s overly firm handshake.
“We’ve been here a long time. So has Bruce,” Debbie said, pointing toward apartment 20A. “He’s a cool head.”
Cool head? Maggie was not sure what that meant; must be a throwback saying from the 1960s. She smiled and nodded. Then she said, “I know Mr. Zimmerman is on the third floor, is there anyone else in the building?” Maggie needed to know the place was full of life and not dead empty.
“Downstairs is Ethel. She calls herself a seer. I think she uses that crystal ball as a ruse, I wouldn’t trust her. She keeps to herself; she’s out of her tree,” Debbie said, rolling her eyes. “Her apartment would be directly below yours. We don’t talk to her much though.”
Maggie felt better knowing she was not alone. She turned her attention to the girl standing next to Debbie. Her hair was long and scraggly; she wondered when it had last been brushed. Maggie held out her hand. “It’s nice to meet you too, Susie. How old are you?”
The girl looked up at Maggie through strands of dark hair, partially covering her face. She did not say anything.
“She’s ten, and she’s a little shy,” Debbie said. She cocked her head and asked, “So what do you do for a living?”
“I’m an author,” Maggie said. Even though she had been writing full-time for a couple years, it still felt strange to say it. Her old identity as a nurse was still hard to shake.
Debbie smiled a big, broad smile. “So, does that mean you’re home most of the time? You writers do spend your days typing away in seclusion, don’t you?”
Maggie could tell Debbie had something on her mind by the questions she was asking. “Yeah, I suppose.”
Debbie looked down at Susie, still holding her hand. “I work nights at the hospital and it is so hard finding someone who can watch Susie overnight. Would you mind helping out? My last babysitter just quit, and I need someone immediately,” she looked at Maggie’s bland expression. Maybe it was an expression of shock. “It would only be temporary . . . and I’ll pay you, don’t you worry about that.”
Maggie was totally regretting having come out into the hallway to introduce herself. It was not that she did not want to help, but she did not even know this woman. If she said no, everyone at Sandpiper Bluff would probably shun her. If she said yes, then who knows how long Debbie would have her babysitting. Maybe Susie will sleep most of the night, she was not a toddler, but it would still put a damper on her writing and the upcoming deadline for book four. “I can help a little while, but I do have a lot of work to do.”
Debbie hugged Maggie. Her blue eyeshadow and dark eyeliner made her look like a Barbie doll. “You don’t know how much this means to me. Bruce isn’t good with kids, so I haven’t asked him, besides, Susie doesn’t want him to babysit her. Someone like you, Maggie, can play with her and keep her company.”
What am I getting myself into? Maggie was so angry with herself for accepting the babysitting job. She should have thought of a white lie, but her mind did not work that way. Too late now, she was stuck. Maggie smiled.
“I work Friday night; can you begin then?” Debbie asked, pressing her pale pink lips together in anticipation.
Friday was two days away. Maggie had wanted to explore the area and meet her friend, Jessica, for a few drinks. Those plans would now have to be postponed. Besides, this Debbie did not even know Maggie; she could be a serial killer or child molester for all Debbie knew. Maggie was never good at saying no. “Sure, that would be fine, but you don’t even know me.”
“You look like the trustworthy type,” Debbie said, pulling little Susie toward the stairway. “I feel like I’ve known you forever.”
Maggie stood there, shocked at what had just occurred. Crazy people surrounded the home of her dreams.
As Maggie turned to walk back toward her apartment, the door to apartment 20A opened; a man slightly older than she stood in the doorway. His dark hair was combed into a high mound over his forehead, similar to the pompadour haircut of Elvis Presley and James Dean. “Hi, I heard you and Debbie talking, and I just wanted to introduce myself; I’m Bruce,” he said, opening his door wider. “Would you like to come in?”
Bruce was certainly pleasing to the eye, but she thought she had better get back inside her apartment before she committed to some other duty. “Hi, I’m Maggie, your new neighbor. And sorry, but I have lots of work I have to get started on . . . Deadlines and things.”
He smiled. “Well if you need anything, anything at all, I’m just next door.”
“Thank you, Bruce,” Maggie said, watching him close the door.
She walked back inside her apartment and locked the door. The people here seemed friendly, but a little odd. A fortuneteller in the building? Why would I have expected anything less? she thought.