Today's Reading

SIX DAYS EARLIER

CHAPTER 1

The elevator resembles a birdcage. The tall, ornate kind—all thin bars and gilded exterior. I even think of birds as I step inside.

Exotic and bright and lush.

Everything I'm not.

But the woman next to me certainly fits the bill, with her blue Chanel suit, blond updo, perfectly manicured hands weighed down by several rings. She might be in her fifties. Maybe older. Botox has made her face tight and gleaming. Her voice is champagne bright and just as bubbly. She even has an elegant name—Leslie Evelyn.

Because this is technically a job interview, I also wear a suit. Black.

Not Chanel.

My shoes are from Payless. The brown hair brushing my shoulders is on the ragged side. Normally, I would have gone to Supercuts for a trim, but even that's now out of my price range.

I nod with feigned interest as Leslie Evelyn says, "The elevator is original, of course. As is the main staircase. Not much in the lobby has changed since this place opened in 1919. That's the great thing about these older buildings—they were built to last."

And, apparently, to force people to invade each other's personal space. Leslie and I stand shoulder to shoulder in the surprisingly small elevator car. But what it lacks in size it makes up for in style. There's red carpet on the floor and gold leaf on the ceiling. On three sides, oak- paneled walls rise to waist height, where they're replaced by a series of narrow windows.

The elevator car has two doors—one with wire-thin bars that closes by itself, plus a crisscross grate Leslie slides into place before tapping the button for the top floor. Then we're off, rising slowly but surely into one of Manhattan's most storied addresses.

Had I known the apartment was in this building, I never would have responded to the ad. I would have considered it a waste of time. I'm not a Leslie Evelyn, who carries a caramel-colored attaché case and looks so at ease in a place like this. I'm Jules Larsen, the product of a Pennsylvania coal town with less than five hundred dollars in my checking account.

I do not belong here.

But the ad didn't mention an address. It simply announced the need for an apartment sitter and provided a phone number to call if interested. I was. I did. Leslie Evelyn answered and gave me an interview time and an address. Lower seventies, Upper West Side. Yet I didn't truly know what I was getting myself into until I stood outside the building, triple-checking the address to make sure I was in the right place.

The Bartholomew.

Right behind the Dakota and the twin-spired San Remo as one of Manhattan's most recognizable apartment buildings. Part of that is due to its narrowness. Compared with those other legends of New York real estate, the Bartholomew is a mere wisp of a thing—a sliver of stone rising thirteen stories over Central Park West. In a neighborhood of behemoths, the Bartholomew stands out by being the opposite. It's small, intricate, memorable.

But the main reason for the building's fame are its gargoyles. The classic kind with bat wings and devil horns. They're everywhere, those stone beasts, from the pair that sit over the arched front door to the ones crouched on each corner of the slanted roof. More inhabit the building's facade, placed in short rows on every other floor. They sit on marble outcroppings, arms raised to ledges above, as if they alone are keeping the Bartholomew upright. It gives the building a Gothic, cathedral-like appearance that's inspired a similarly religious nickname—St. Bart's.

Over the years, the Bartholomew and its gargoyles have graced a thousand photographs. I've seen it on postcards, in ads, as a backdrop for fashion shoots. It's been in the movies. And on TV. And on the cover of a best-selling novel published in the eighties called 'Heart of a Dreamer', which is how I first learned about it. Jane had a copy and would often read it aloud to me as I lay sprawled across her twin bed.

The book tells the fanciful tale of a twenty-year-old orphan named Ginny who, through a twist of fate and the benevolence of a grandmother she never knew, finds herself living at the Bartholomew. Ginny navigates her posh new surroundings in a series of increasingly elaborate party dresses while juggling several suitors. It's fluff, to be sure, but the wonderful kind. The kind that makes a young girl dream of finding romance on Manhattan's teeming streets.

As Jane would read, I'd stare at the book's cover, which shows an across-the-street view of the Bartholomew. There were no buildings like that where we grew up. It was just row houses and storefronts with sooty windows, their glumness broken only by the occasional school or house of worship. Although we had never been there, Manhattan intrigued Jane and me. So did the idea of living in a place like the Bartholomew, which was worlds away from the tidy duplex we shared with our parents.

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