Today's Reading

I've seen it before in my mind's eye as I read 'Heart of a Dreamer'.

This is the exact view Ginny had from her apartment in the book. Meadow to the south. Castle to the north. Bow Bridge dead center—a bull's-eye for all her wildest dreams.

For a brief moment, it's my reality. In spite of all the shit I've gone through. Maybe even because of it. Being here has the feel of fate somehow intervening, even as I'm again struck by that all- consuming thought—'I do not belong here.'

"I'm sorry," I say as I pry myself away from the window. "I think there's been a huge misunderstanding."

There are many ways Leslie Evelyn and I could have gotten our wires crossed. The ad on Craigslist could have contained the wrong number. Or I might have made a mistake in dialing. When Leslie answered, the call was so brief that confusion was inevitable. I thought she was looking for an apartment sitter. She thought I was looking for an apartment. Now here we are, Leslie tilting her head to give me a confused look and me in awe of a view that, let's face it, was never intended to be seen by someone like me.

"You don't like the apartment?" Leslie says.

"I love it." I indulge in another quick peek out the window. I can't help myself. "But I'm not looking for an apartment. I mean, I am, but I could save every penny until I'm a hundred and I still wouldn't be able to afford this place."

"The apartment isn't available yet," Leslie says. "It just needs someone to occupy it for the next three months."

"There's no way someone would willingly pay me to live here. Even for three months."

"You're wrong there. That's exactly what we want."

Leslie gestures to a sofa in the center of the room. Upholstered in crimson velvet, it looks more expensive than my first car. I sit tentatively, afraid one careless motion could ruin the whole thing.

Leslie takes a seat in a matching easy chair opposite the sofa. Between us is a mahogany coffee table on which rests a potted orchid, its petals white and pristine.

Now that I'm no longer distracted by the view, I see how the entire sitting room is done up in reds and wood tones. It's comfortable, if a bit stuffy. Grandfather clock ticking away in the corner. Velvet curtains and wooden shutters at the windows. Brass telescope on a wooden tripod, aimed not at the heavens but at Central Park.

The wallpaper is a red floral pattern—an ornate expanse of petals spread open like fans and overlapping in elaborate combinations. At the ceiling are matching strips of crown molding, the plaster blossoming into curlicues at the corners.

"Here's the situation," Leslie says. "Another rule at the Bartholomew is that no unit can stay empty for more than a month. It's an old rule and, some would say, a strange one. But those of us who live here agree that an occupied building is a happy one. Some of the places around here? They're half-empty most of the time. Sure, people might own the apartments, but they're rarely in them. And it shows. Walk into some of them and you feel like you're in a museum. Or, worse, a church. Then there's security to think about. If word gets out that a place in the Bartholomew is going to be empty for a few months, there's no telling who might try to break in."

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.

...

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