1. Escape First, Plan Later

Nat pressed the brake and double checked the address circled on the newspaper. One of the current residents of the house, Sam Hawke, had told him that he could move in whenever he wanted so long as he paid the month's rent. His mother had worried over the few requirements the current residents had – able to pay rent on time with a reliable income, be clean and a non-smoker – he had ignored her complaints and emailed Sam anyway, asking when was the soonest he could move in. He had gotten an almost immediate reply stating he could move in that night if he so chose. It had been tempting to pack everything in his truck that moment to leave but the three hour drive and his mother's loud objections had stalled that idea until the next morning when he could escape while she was at work and no longer able to say a word against it.

"You're twenty-two years old now, Nathaniel. It's about time you got a real job and stopped this little artsy phase you've got yourself in. Starving artists are starving for a reason, you know. You'll never make any money with this and dear you really should have roomed with Vladimir for one more year, wouldn't it be easier? I don't understand why you have to be so stubborn, you were halfway done with the medicine program…"

After that he forgot the words. The only change was his age.

Nat wondered if he should give his sisters his new address or not. He was definitely not giving it to his mother. He had been living with her for a week and already had had enough.

The driveway was short, ending beside the house with a tin awning able to shield two cars from the worst of the elements. The right side was taken by a gray Ford Taurus; the left side had been promised to him by Sam in the last email they had exchanged before he had thrown his last duffel bag into the back of the truck and taken off. The house itself stood two stories tall and was painted an icy blue, the windows accented with different color curtains. The lawn was neatly trimmed but remained unfurnished, only accented by the large trees growing sporadically on the front lawn with larger clumps in the back, giving an illusion of privacy despite the neighboring houses being only a few yards from the property line on either side.

He quickly checked the time – 12.34pm – and pulled into the drive, parking beside the Taurus and finally turning the old truck off. The drive had been long and he had driven faster than usual in an attempt to escape the ominous dark clouds moving in from the west.

While he should have known that Vlad would leave the apartment to get the job in the next city over, he had never really thought about the fact that he would need to find a place of his own until Vlad told him he was leaving. With nowhere else to go he went to his mother's – his sisters were otherwise occupied with jobs or conveniently out of the country – and the apartment hunt began. He did not need to hear his mother harp on it for another hour explaining exactly what she thought of the uselessness of his major, his unemployment, his lack of 'female company' – her term, not his – and any other issue she had with his character in general, which must have been quite a few because she could rant for hours. He stopped listening after he heard her tone change from chastising to outright nagging.

Ideally, he would have liked to have a place of his own but with the amount of money he could bring in every week – not much – and the amount of space he wanted, he was left with very few options. He would just have to deal with three roommates. From the little he knew of Sam, he figured he wouldn't have many problems. The guy had seemed pretty cool, if a little talkative, and if the other two were friends of his, he figured it wouldn't be hard to at least tolerate them.

Nat grabbed a bag and slung a duffel over his shoulder, kicking the door shut with his foot before he trudged over to the front door. He knocked twice and there was a loud thump and the sound of running footsteps, then the door swung open. A girl – or woman, really – leaned against the doorframe, studying him as he studied her. Must have been a girlfriend or friend of one of his new roommate's given how comfortable she seemed answering the door in a pair of track pants and an old The Who T-shirt. "Yeah?"

He pulled the strap of his duffel bag higher on his shoulder. "Hey, I talked to Sam yesterday-"

"You're Nat?" the girl interrupted, gray eyes widening as she took in his appearance again.

Nat nodded and stuffed his hands into the front of his hoodie.

She gave a short bark of laughter and pushed the door open wider, waving him into the house. "So what's Nat short for, Nathaniel?" She stepped back to allow him room and continued after he nodded. "I can't wait for Max to get back, she is going to love this! It's awesome that you came so quickly, rent is due in a few days and nobody can cough up enough for the extra share. Perfect timing! And just so you know, anything that's not in a bedroom is free game," she said, waving a hand to indicate the large screen TV, plush sofa and several chairs. Then, either ignoring or not noticing his confusion, she tugged him to the other side of the living room to a closed door across from the staircase, which she immediately threw open to reveal a fairly spacious bedroom with sunlight streaming in through the two windows on the far wall. "Here's your room. There's a closet right there and a bathroom next to it – with a shower – so you don't have to share. You can furnish the room however you want, just ask if you want help painting it. General rule is that if your door is closed you're left alone but if the door's open anyone can walk in, okay?"

Nat stared at her for a long moment and then shrugged, dropped his two bags against the wall and stuffed his hands in his pockets again. She was grinning at him again and he didn't know why but it was starting to scare him. She looked like she was about ready to explode and Nat wondered just what was so interesting about his arrival.

If it were at all possible, her grin stretched even wider and she held out her hand. "Well, Nat Bowen, welcome to 264 East Avenue."

At a loss, Nat hesitantly shook her hand – slightly reassured by her firm grip – and rubbed his neck with his free hand. "So, you live here?" he asked.

The girl laughed. "Sorry, didn't I tell you? I'm Sam."

Nat settled back against the futon and kicked off his sneakers, satisfied with the day's work. His most important things had been unpacked, leaving his new room cluttered, just how he liked it. As far as he could tell, no one would come in and rearrange things in the guise of "cleaning" while he lived here so long as he kept the door shut. He could live with a talkative girl so long as no one messed with his studio.

For once he was glad that his mother had decided he needed some decorations in his room and packed curtains, allowing him further privacy and a dark green barrier against the morning sun that was bound to come streaming through his window.

He frowned at the empty walls, deciding that later he would find some pieces that he deemed worthy to put up. He had packed several boxes of push pins and figured he would have to buy more at some point.

There was a knock and Sam poked her head through the door, strawberry blonde hair spilling over her shoulder as she smiled at him. "Hey, Nat. All set for today?"

"Yeah, I think so." Nat brushed wayward hair from his brow and tilted his head back against the cushion.

"Want a beer?" Sam held up a bottle of Guinness and laughed when she saw him immediately brighten.

Nat pushed a bag off the futon and accepted the beer from Sam as she sat down beside him. The first sip of Guinness tasted of ambrosia and Nat smiled, taking a longer swig. Sam took a sip of hers and motioned toward the easel set up in the far corner of the room, a blank canvas already set on the bar. "Is that your concentration? Painting?"

"No, mostly pencils," Nat said. "I just have a painting class this semester."

"I can hardly paint walls, never mind on a canvas." Sam sighed and leaned back against the futon, stretching her legs out and crossing them at the ankles. "Sorry I mislead you in the emails, I really thought you were a chick, y'know?"

"Thanks," Nat said sarcastically, grinning around the lip of the Guinness bottle when Sam had the grace to look embarrassed. "Nah, I get that a lot."

"So why are you called Nat, anyway? You'd think with the name Nathaniel you'd be called Nathan or Nate."

Nat lipped the bottle for a moment before answering. "My sister couldn't say my name so I was Nat." He shrugged. "It just stuck." Now the only person that called him Nathaniel was his mother.

"Aww, that's so cute!"

Nat blinked, not seeing how it could be considered cute, chalked it up to her being female and promptly forgot about it.

"Well, all three of us kinda run into the same problem. If people just hear our names they automatically think we're guys." Sam grinned. "I mean, it's not really uncommon for a Samantha to be called Sam or a Maxine to be called Max, but a Charlotte being called Charlie is kinda strange."

"Charlie?" Nat tried to figure out how that nickname had come to place and realized it must have been replacing 'otte' with 'ie' to get Charlie.

"Yeah, she's the baby of our group, doesn't turn twenty-one until next month but she's a sweetheart." Sam paused and bit her lip. "Umm, you're not upset that you're gonna live with three girls, are you? I mean, I should have mentioned it but I wasn't thinking and if you want to find another place that's totally cool and we'll all understand, really-"

"It's cool," Nat interrupted, waving a hand to cut her off. So long as none of them were like his mother, he figured he could survive.

She must have been more worried than he had thought because she looked relieved, but still hesitant to accept it. "Are you sure? I mean it might be a little weird for you being the only guy-"

"Sam, seriously, it's cool." He smiled and shrugged. "I've got two sisters and a mother; I think I'll be fine."

Sam didn't appear to be convinced but looked hopeful nonetheless. "Still… Oh, just a little warning about Max, she's kind of-"

"Sam!" The door slammed and a muffled curse sounded from the living room followed by the steady click of heels on wood floors.

Sam winced. "Speak of the devil," then louder, "I'm over here, Max!"

Nat looked on in mild interest as a curvaceous woman stopped short in the doorway, dark brown eyes stripping him completely before full lips pulled into a flirtatious smile. "So. Who's the beefcake?"

"Beefcake?" Nat mumbled around the lip of his Guinness while Sam rolled her eyes and said, "Max, meet our new tenant, Nat. Nat, this is Max. She's shameless."

Sculpted brows rose in appreciation as Max looked him over again and Nat tried not to squirm under her scrutiny. He would have objected to being compared to uncooked food but decided against saying anything at all. "Well, cutie. Welcome to our home. For you, my door is always open." She winked and sauntered into the kitchen with an exaggerated swing to her hips.

Sam rubbed the bridge of her nose. "Sorry, should have warned you earlier. But you should probably keep your door closed at night unless you want her crawling in bed with you."

Nat must have looked alarmed because she laughed.

"God, Sam, you make it sound like I'm going to eat the guy," Max complained from the kitchen.

"No, you'll just suck out his soul through his cock."

A mumbled "bitch" sounded from near the fridge and Sam snickered as Nat made a mental note to add a lock to his door the next day.

AN: This story is mostly an experiment of mine and I'm rather attached to it. Updates should be pretty frequent (for me) so roughly every Thursday or Friday. Unless I'm feeling generous. Or something.

I'm a review whore, so let me know what you think. Even if you hate it. I'll try my best to answer questions, if you have any, at the end of every chapter.