“What kind of doctor are you?”
I glance at his hands as he attends to my arm. They’re definitely surgeon hands, with long, elegant fingers that move with steady grace. When he removes them, I see that the cut looks less severe now that it’s been cleaned. Just a two-inch gash that’s quickly covered with a rectangle of gauze and sealed in place with medical tape.
“That should do it for now,” Dr. Nick says as he peels the latex gloves from his hands. “The bleeding’s stopped, but it’s a good idea to keep the bandage on until morning. When was your last tetanus shot?”
I shrug. I have no idea.
“You might want to get one. Just to be on the safe side. When was your last checkup?”
“Um, last year,” I say, when in truth it’s another thing I can’t remember. My approach to health care is not seeing a doctor unless I absolutely need to. Even when I had a job, the idea of regular checkups and preventive visits seemed like a waste of money. “Maybe two years ago.”
“Then I’d like to check your vitals, if you’ll let me.”
“Should I be worried?”
“Not at all. This is just precautionary. The heart can sometimes beat erratically after a fall or loss of blood. I just want to make sure that everything’s okay.” Dr. Nick digs a stethoscope out of the medical bag and presses it to my chest, just below the collarbone. “Take a deep breath.”
I do and get a whiff of his cologne in the process. It has hints of sandalwood and citrus and something else. Something bitter. Anise, I think. It has a similarly sharp tang.
“Good,” Dr. Nick says as he moves the stethoscope an inch, and I take another deep inhalation. “You have a very interesting name, Jules. Is that short for something? A nickname?”
“No nickname. Most people think it’s short for Julia or Julianne, but Jules is my given name. My father used to say that when I was born, my mother took one look into my eyes and said they sparkled like jewels.”
Dr. Nick peers into my eyes. It lasts only a second, but it’s still long enough to make my pulse quicken. I wonder if he can hear it, especially when he says, “For the record, your mother was right.”
I will myself not to blush, although I suspect it’s happening anyway. A noticeable warmth spreads across my cheeks.
“And Nick is short for Nicholas?”
“Guilty as charged,” he says while wrapping a blood pressure cuff around my upper right arm.
“How long have you lived at the Bartholomew?”
“I suspect what you really want to know is how someone my age can afford an apartment in this building.”
He’s right, of course. That’s exactly what I want to know. I blush again, this time for being so easily read.
“I’m sorry,” I say. “It’s none of my business.”
“It’s fine. I’d be curious, too, if our roles were reversed. The answer—to all your questions—is that I’ve lived here my whole life. This apartment has been in my family for decades. I inherited it after my parents died five years ago. They were both killed in a car accident while visiting Europe.”
“I’m sorry,” I say again, wishing I had just kept quiet.
“Thank you. Losing them both so suddenly was hard. And I sometimes feel guilty knowing that if they hadn’t died, I’d be living in some Brooklyn walk-up right now, and not in one of the most famous buildings on the planet. In some ways, I feel like I’m also an apartment sitter. Just watching this place until my parents come home.”
Dr. Nick finishes taking my blood pressure and says, “One twenty over eighty. Perfect. You seem to be in excellent health, Jules.”
“Thanks again, Doc—” I stop myself before I can finish the word. “Nick. I appreciate it.”
“It was no problem at all. Not to mention the neighborly thing to do.”
He leads me back into the hall, where I get turned around by the opposite layout of the one in 12A. Instead of making a right, I go left, accidentally taking a few steps toward a door at the end of the hallway. It’s wider than the others, locked in place with a deadbolt. After a quick spin, I’m back on track, following Nick to the front door.
“I’m sorry for being nosy earlier,” I tell him once we’re in the foyer. “I didn’t mean to bring up bad memories.”
“There’s no need to apologize. I have plenty of good memories that balance out the bad. Besides, my story isn’t uncommon. I think every family has at least one big tragedy.”
He’s wrong there.
Mine has two.
My phone buzzes as I leave Nick’s apartment. It’s an email from Chloe, which I give a cursory glance while unlocking the door to 12A. The subject line prompts an annoyed sigh.
There’s no message. Just a link to a website that, when I click on it, brings me to an article with a headline that’s ominously blunt.
THE CURSE OF THE BARTHOLOMEW
Rather than read the article, I shove the phone back into my pocket and push into 12A, where I toss my keys into the bowl on the foyer table. Only, my aim is off and the keys end up hitting the edge of the table before clattering onto a heating vent in the foyer floor. An antique grate covers the vent—all cast-iron curlicues with gaps between them wide enough for the keys to tumble right through.