Leslie Evelyn leads me into the kitchen, which is so huge it has two entrances—one from the dining room, one from the hall. I rotate slowly, dazzled by its pristine whiteness, its granite countertops, its breakfast nook by the window. It looks like something straight out of a cooking show. A kitchen designed to be as photogenic as possible.
“It’s massive,” I say, awed by its sheer size.
“It’s a throwback from when the Bartholomew first opened,” Leslie says. “While the building itself hasn’t changed much, the apartments themselves have been renovated quite a bit over the years. Some got bigger. Others smaller. This one used to be the kitchen and servants’ quarters for a much larger unit below. See?”
Leslie moves to a cupboard with a sliding door that’s tucked between the oven and the sink. When she lifts the door, I see a dark shaft and two tendrils of rope hanging from a pulley rig above.
“Is that a dumbwaiter?”
“Where does it go?”
“I have no idea, actually. It hasn’t been used for decades.” She lets the dumbwaiter door slam shut, suddenly back to interview mode. “Tell me about your family. Any next of kin?”
This one’s harder to answer, mainly because it’s worse than losing a job or being cheated on. Whatever I say could open the floodgates to more questions with even sadder responses. Especially if I hint at what happened.
“Orphan,” I say, hoping that single word will prevent any follow-ups from Leslie. It does, to an extent.
“No family at all?”
It’s almost the truth. My parents were the only children of only children. There are no aunts, uncles, or cousins. There’s only Jane.
“Since there’s no next of kin, who should we contact in case of an emergency?”
Two weeks ago, that would have been Andrew. Now it’s Chloe, I guess, although she’s not officially listed on any forms. I’m not even sure she can be.
“No one,” I say, realizing how pathetic that sounds. So I add a slightly hopeful caveat. “For now.”
Eager to change the subject, I peek through the door just off the kitchen. Leslie gets the hint and ushers me into another hallway, a smaller offshoot of the main one. It contains a guest bathroom she doesn’t even bother to show off, a closet, and—the big surprise—a spiral staircase.
“Oh my God. There’s a second floor?”
Leslie gives a happy nod, more amused than put off by my sounding like a kid on Christmas. “It’s a special feature exclusive to the two units on the twelfth floor. Go ahead. Take a look.”
I bound up the steps, following the corkscrew curve to a bedroom that’s even more picture-perfect than the kitchen. Here the floral wallpaper actually works with the room. It’s the lightest shade of blue. The color of a spring sky.
Like the dining room directly below, it’s located on a corner of the building. Because this is the top floor, the ceiling slants dramatically to a peak ending at the far wall. The massive bed’s been placed so that whoever is in it can gaze out the windows flanking the corner. And just outside those windows is the pièce de résistance—a gargoyle.
It sits on the corner ledge, its back legs bent, front claws gripping the top of the overhang. Its wings are spread so that the edge of one can be glimpsed through the north-facing window and the other through the one pointing east.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?” Leslie says, suddenly behind me. I hadn’t even noticed her come up the steps. I was too taken with the gargoyle, the room, the whole surreal idea that I could maybe, hopefully get paid to live here.
“Yes, beautiful,” I say, too awed by it all to do anything other than repeat her.
“And quite spacious,” she adds. “Even by the Bartholomew’s standards. Again, because of its original purpose. Once upon a time it housed several servants. They lived here, cooked downstairs, worked a few floors below.”
She points out everything I’ve failed to notice, such as a small sitting area to the left of the steps with cream-colored chairs and a glass coffee table. I cross the room on white carpet so plush I’m tempted to kick off my shoes and see how it feels on bare feet. The wall to the right bears two doors. One leads to the master bath. A quick look inside reveals double sinks, a shower encased in glass, and a claw-foot bathtub. Through the other door is a massive walk-in closet with a mirrored makeup table and enough shelves and racks to fill a clothing store. All of them are empty.
“This closet is bigger than my childhood bedroom,” I say. “Scratch that. It’s bigger than every bedroom I’ve ever had.”
Leslie, who’s been checking her hair in the vanity mirror, turns and says, “Since you’ve brought up living arrangements, what’s your current address?”
Another tricky topic.
I moved out the same day I found Andrew screwing his classmate. Not by choice, mind you. Andrew’s name was the only one on the lease. I had never added my own when I moved in. Which technically meant it was never my home to begin with, even though I had lived there for more than a year. For the past two weeks I’ve been crashing on Chloe’s couch in Jersey City.
“I’m between apartments,” I say, hoping the situation doesn’t sound as Dickensian as it truly is.