College town economies present oddities to the newly arrived. One of the biggest is that rentals command as much, or more, per month as places to buy. At least the good rentals do – the ones within walking distance of campus, the ones in historic buildings, the ones with good plumbing that have not been trashed by college students. Or have been recently repaired from such poor treatment.
Franny’s apartment was one of the good rentals, she realized after living in the town for only a few weeks. That likely explained why her neighbors on her floor remained a bit aloof. They wanted to see if she would be a good renter, like them, or if she would be a flash in the pan, someone they had to tolerate until she moved on to a rental of her own level.
Next door, to the east, a girl (anyone younger than Franny seemed like a girl to her) whose petite presence reminded Franny of an elf princess in one of her favorite fantasy novels, was the first to break the ice. Or rather, she allowed Franny to break the ice. Franny was making dinner, using her local friend’s crock pot to heat some soup, when she heard strange noises on the landing. Rattling noises, and muffled swearing.
Either, Franny thought, either a burglar is trying to get into my neighbor’s apartment, or my neighbor has locked herself out. She tried to peer out the peephole in her door, but the hole had been installed for someone about four inches taller than Franny, so she could only view the ceiling or a very tall caller. Uncertainty paralyzed Franny. Having lived in the apartment just a few short weeks, she did not know what local etiquette would require. A call to nine one one, to report a potential break in? A call to the apartment manager to ask whether an emergency call was in order? Or just opening the door, poking one’s head out, to see where the truth of the situation lie?
Checking her big-city-shaped instinct to simply ignore the noise until someone else dealt with it, Franny determined to go to the other extreme – small-town friendliness. She stepped back from the peephole, took a deep breath, and opened her door.
“Hello?” Franny called softly. The girl next door turned, an expression of mixed relief and embarrassment on her rosy face.
“Oh. Hi,” the young woman said. “I, um. Well. I’ve locked myself out.”
“Can I call someone?” Franny asked. “Or do you need to use the bathroom? You can use mine.”
The young woman’s face reddened, and Franny regretted mentioning the bathroom. But, she thought, if the roles were reversed, and I was locked out and had to pee, I’d be too embarrassed to bring it up. Yet if my neighbor offered…
“No, thanks,” the woman said. “I’ll call my boyfriend, but, well, I do this all the time.” The sheepishness was about her repeated key losses, then, not about the bathroom.
“I have a butter knife. Sometimes that works,” Franny said, grabbing one from her still nearly-empty kitchen drawer, and heading over, making sure to leave her own door ajar. Each door had a deadbolt, which could only be locked from outside with the key. Safe enough. But they also had little button locks in the doorknobs, which could easily turn accidentally, leaving the tenant high and dry. If Franny’s neighbor had locked herself out like that, a butter knife might work to pop the little latch open.
And it did. The two of them giggled conspiratorially when the door opened. “Thanks. My name is Alison,” the elfin neighbor said.
“I’m Franny,” Franny grinned. “Maybe you should get a hide-a-key? I know I need one. These little doorknob buttons are wickedly easy to lock accidentally.”
“I’ve got a hide-a-key,” Alison said. “My boyfriend gave me one because I lock myself out so often. But I forgot to put the spare key back after the last time, and, well…”
“Say no more,” Franny grinned. “Boyfriends can be wickedly annoying when they are right about something more than once. Nothing shall be spoken of this from me!”
“Thanks,” Alison said. “Have a good night.” She slipped into her apartment and closed the door, leaving Franny on the landing, wondering if she’d made a new friend or if she’d alienated Alison by insulting her boyfriend.