Hence that simple ad buried among all the other Help Wanteds. I had wondered why it was so vague.
“So you’re looking for a guard?”
“We’re looking for a resident,” Leslie says. “Another person to breathe life into the building. Take this place, for example. The owner recently passed away. She was a widow. Had no children of her own. Just some greedy nieces and nephews in London currently fighting over who should get the place. Until that gets resolved, this apartment will sit vacant. With only two units on this floor, think how empty it will feel.”
“Why don’t the nieces and nephews just sublet?”
“That’s not allowed here. For the same reasons I mentioned earlier. There’s nothing stopping someone from subletting a place and then doing God-knows-what to it.”
I nod, suddenly understanding. “By paying someone to stay here, you’re making sure they don’t do anything to the apartment.”
“Exactly,” Leslie says. “Think of it as an insurance policy. One that pays quite nicely, I might add. In the case of 12A, the family of the late owner is offering four thousand dollars a month.”
My hands, which until now had been placed primly on my lap, drop to my sides.
Four grand a month.
To live here.
The pay is so staggering that it feels like the crimson sofa beneath me has dropped away, leaving me hovering a foot above the floor.
I try to gather my thoughts, struggling to do the very basic math. That’s twelve thousand dollars for three months. More than enough to tide me over while I put my life back together.
“I assume you’re interested,” Leslie says.
Every so often, life offers you a reset button. When it does, you need to press it as hard as you can.
Jane said that to me once. Back in our reading-on-her-bed days, when I was too young to understand what she meant.
Now I do.
“I’m very interested,” I say.
Leslie smiles, her teeth bright behind peachy pink lips. “Then let’s get on with the interview, shall we?”
Rather than remain in the sitting room, Leslie conducts the rest of the interview during a tour of the apartment. Each room brings a new question, just like in a game of Clue. All that’s missing are a billiard room and a ballroom.
First stop is the study, located to the right of the sitting room. It’s very masculine. All dark greens and whiskey-colored woods. The wallpaper pattern is the same as in the sitting room, only here it’s a bright emerald.
“What’s your current employment situation?” Leslie asks.
I could—and likely should—tell her that this time two weeks ago I was an administrative assistant at one of the nation’s biggest financial firms. It wasn’t much—just a step above being an unpaid intern. Lots of photocopying and coffee fetching and dodging the mood swings of the middle managers I worked for. But it paid the bills and provided me with health insurance. Until I was let go along with 10 percent of the office staff. Restructuring. I assume my boss thought that sounded nicer than large layoffs. Either way, the result was the same—unemployment for me, a likely raise for him.
“I’m currently between jobs,” I say.
Leslie reacts with the slightest of nods. I don’t know if that’s a good sign or a bad one. Yet the questions continue as we return to the main hall on our way to the other side of the apartment.
“Do you smoke?”
“An occasional glass of wine with dinner.”
Except for two weeks ago, when Chloe took me out to drown my sorrows in margaritas. I had five in alarmingly quick succession and ended the night puking in an alley. Another thing Leslie doesn’t need to know.
The hallway makes a sudden turn to the left. Rather than follow it, Leslie steers me to the right, into a formal dining room so lovely it makes me gasp. The hardwood floors have been polished to a mirror shine. A chandelier hangs over a long table that can easily seat twelve. This time the busy floral wallpaper is light yellow. The room is situated on the corner of the building, offering dueling views out the windows. Central Park on one side, the edge of the building next door on the other.
I circle the table, running a finger along the wood as Leslie says, “What’s your relationship status? While we don’t exactly frown on having couples or even families serve as apartment sitters, we prefer people who are unattached. It makes things easier from a legal standpoint.”
“I’m single,” I say, trying hard to keep bitterness from seeping into my voice.
Left out is how on the same day I lost my job, I returned home early to the apartment I shared with my boyfriend, Andrew. At night, he worked as a janitor in the building where my office was located. During the day, he was a part-time student at Pace University majoring in finance and, apparently, fucking one of his classmates while I was at work.
That’s what they were doing when I walked in with my sad little box of things hastily cleared from my cubicle. They hadn’t even made it to the bedroom. I found them on the secondhand sofa, Andrew with his jeans around his ankles and his side piece’s legs spread wide.
I’d be sad about the whole thing if I wasn’t still so angry. And hurt. And blaming myself for settling for someone like Andrew. I knew he was unhappy with his job and that he wanted more out of life. What I didn’t know was that he also wanted more than just me.