"Someday," Jane often said between chapters. "Someday I'm going to live there."
"And I'll visit," I'd always pipe up.
Jane would then stroke my hair. "Visit? You'll be living there with me, Julie-girl."
None of those childhood fantasies came true, of course. They never do. Maybe for the Leslie Evelyns of the world, perhaps. But not for Jane. And definitely not for me. This elevator ride is as close as I'm going to get.
The elevator shaft is tucked into a nook of the staircase, which winds upward through the center of the building. I can see it through the elevator windows as we rise. Between each floor is ten steps, a landing, then ten more steps.
On one of the landings, an elderly man wheezes his way down the stairs with the help of an exhausted-looking woman in purple scrubs. She waits patiently, gripping the man's arm as he pauses to catch his breath. Although they pretend not to be paying attention as the elevator passes, I catch them taking a quick look just before the next floor blocks them from view.
"Residential units are located on eleven floors, starting with the second," Leslie says. "The ground floor contains staff offices and employee-only areas, plus our maintenance department. Storage facilities are in the basement. There are four units on each floor. Two in the front. Two in the back."
We pass another floor, the elevator slow but steady. On this level, a woman about Leslie's age waits for the return trip. Dressed in leggings, UGGs, and a bulky white sweater, she walks an impossibly tiny dog on a studded leash. She gives Leslie a polite wave while staring at me from behind oversize sunglasses. In that brief moment when we're face-to-face, I recognize the woman. She's an actress. At least, she used to be. It's been ten years since I last saw her on that soap opera I watched with my mother during summer break.
Leslie stops me with a raised hand. "We never discuss residents. It's one of the unspoken rules here. The Bartholomew prides itself on discretion. The people who live here want to feel comfortable within its walls."
"But celebrities do live here?"
"Not really," Leslie says. "Which is fine by us. The last thing we want are paparazzi waiting outside. Or, God forbid, something as awful as what happened at the Dakota. Our residents tend to be quietly wealthy. They like their privacy. A good many of them use dummy corporations to buy their apartments so their purchase doesn't become public record."
The elevator comes to a rattling stop at the top of the stairs, and Leslie says, "Here we are. Twelfth floor."
She yanks open the grate and steps out, her heels clicking on the floor's black-and-white subway tile.
The hallway walls are burgundy, with sconces placed at regular intervals. We pass two unmarked doors before the hall dead-ends at a wide wall that contains two more doors. Unlike the others, these are marked. 12A and 12B.
"I thought there were four units on each floor," I say.
"There are," Leslie says. "Except this one. The twelfth floor is special."
I glance back at the unmarked doors behind us. "Then what are those?"
"Storage areas. Access to the roof. Nothing exciting." She reaches into her attaché to retrieve a set of keys, which she uses to unlock 12A. "Here's where the real excitement is."
The door swings open, and Leslie steps aside, revealing a tiny and tasteful foyer. There's a coatrack, a gilded mirror, and a table containing a lamp, a vase, and a small bowl to hold keys. My gaze moves past the foyer, into the apartment proper, and to a window directly opposite the door. Outside is one of the most stunning views I've ever seen.
Central Park. Late fall.
Amber sun slanting across orange-gold leaves.
All of it from a bird's-eye view of one hundred fifty feet.
The window providing the view stretches from floor to ceiling in a formal sitting room on the other side of a hallway. I cross the hall on legs made wobbly by vertigo and head to the window, stopping when my nose is an inch from the glass. Straight ahead are Central Park Lake and the graceful span of Bow Bridge. Beyond them, in the distance, are snippets of Bethesda Terrace and the Loeb Boathouse. To the right is the Sheep Meadow, its expanse of green speckled with the forms of people basking in the autumn sun. Belvedere Castle sits to the left, backdropped by the stately gray stone of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
I take in the view, slightly breathless.