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Leslie nudges me gently toward the door. “Go on, sweetie. I’ll check on you tomorrow.”

“Wait, you’re leaving?”

“I need to go. I was in the middle of something when I heard that ruckus in the lobby,” Leslie says as she hurries to the waiting elevator and descends out of sight.

I turn back to Dr. Nick, who says, “Don’t be nervous. I don’t bite.”

Maybe not, but the situation makes me uncomfortable all the same. Handsome doctor rich enough to live at the Bartholomew. Eligible girl paid to live right next door. In the movies, they’d banter, sparks would fly, a happy ending would ensue.

But this isn’t a movie. Or even Heart of a Dreamer. It’s cold reality.

I’ve been on this earth twenty-five years. Long enough to know who I am. An office worker. A girl you might notice at the copier or in the elevator but probably don’t.

I’m a girl who read on her lunch break, back when I had a lunch break.

A girl people pass on the street without a second glance.

A girl who has had sex with only three different guys, yet still feels guilty about it because my parents were high school sweethearts who had never been intimate with anyone else.

A girl who has been abandoned more times than I can count.

A girl who catches the attention of the handsome doctor next door only because I’ve cut myself and am now bleeding on his doorstep. It’s the blood that ultimately convinces me to enter Dr. Nick’s apartment with an awkward, apologetic smile plastered on my face.

“I’m really sorry about all this, Dr. Nick.”

“Don’t be,” he says. “Leslie was right to bring you here. And please, call me Nick. Now, let’s get that arm looked at.”

The apartment is almost a mirror image of 12A. The décor is different, of course, but the layout is the same, only flipped. The sitting room is straight ahead, but the study is to the left and the hallway leads to the right. I follow him past a dining room situated on the corner just like the one in 12A. His is more masculine, though. Navy walls. Spiky chandelier that looks like modern art. The table here is round and surrounded by red chairs.

“Although this place has a lot of rooms, I’m afraid an examining room isn’t one of them,” Dr. Nick says over his shoulder. “This will have to suffice.”

He guides me into the kitchen and gestures for me to sit on a stool by the counter. “I’ll be right back,” he says before disappearing down the hall.

I have a look around in his absence. Our kitchens are roughly the same size and of similar layout, although Dr. Nick’s has an earthier vibe. Pale brown tile and countertops the color of sand. The only splash of brightness comes from a painting that hangs over the sink. It depicts a snake with its mouth clamped down on its tail, its long body curled into a perfect figure eight.

I approach the painting, curious. It looks old, the surface spiderwebbed with a hundred tiny cracks. But the paint itself remains vibrant, the colors bold and eye-catching. The scales on the snake’s back are scarlet. Its belly is seasick green. The one visible eye is a deep shade of yellow. There’s no pupil. Just a blank teardrop shape that reminds me of a lit match.

Dr. Nick returns with a first-aid kit and a medical bag.

“Ah, you’ve noticed my ouroboros,” he says. “I picked it up during my travels abroad. Do you like it?”

That would be a definite no. The colors are too garish. The subject matter too grim. It reminds me of a Mexican restaurant Andrew once took me to themed around Día de los Muertos—the Day of the Dead. It had waiters with painted faces and brightly decorated skulls staring from the ceiling. I spent the meal shifting with discomfort.

I do the same once I return to the stool, the snake watching me with his blazing eye. Bright and unblinking, it seems to be daring me to look away. I don’t.

“What’s its meaning?”

“It’s supposed to represent the cyclical nature of the universe,” Dr. Nick says. “Birth, life, death, rebirth.”

“The circle of life,” I say.

Nick gives a quick nod. “Exactly.”

I stare at the snake’s eye one second longer as Dr. Nick washes and dries his hands, slips on latex gloves, and gently peels the handkerchief from the wound.

“What happened here?” he says, adding, “Wait, don’t tell me. Knife fight in Central Park.”

“Just two women colliding in spectacular fashion and a broken jar of spaghetti sauce. I’m sure it happens here all the time.”

I hold still as he cleans the wound with peroxide, trying not to flinch at the sudden, cold bite of pain. Dr. Nick notices and does his best to distract me with small talk.

“Tell me, Jules, how do you like living in the Bartholomew?”

“How do you know I live here?”

“I assumed that if Leslie brought you to see me then you must be a tenant,” he says. “Am I wrong?”

“Partially. I’m a—” I search for the term Leslie had used earlier. “Temporary tenant. Right next door, in fact.”

“Ah, so you’re the lucky apartment sitter who snagged 12A. You just move in?”


“Then let me officially welcome you to the building,” he says. “I hope my medical expertise will make up for the lack of a casserole.”