Willa Masterson shifted her shopping bags from one hand to the other as she rode the elevator up to her sixtieth-floor apartment. The highest you can go in this building, she often thought to herself—but not today.
This afternoon, each additional second she spent ascending in the elevator’s cramped, square space fostered a growing sensation that she was starving. Not literally, of course—she had just eaten a divine spice-crusted salmon with a ginger yogurt sauce for lunch—but instead feeling like she was hungry for affection. For intimacy.
Frankly, Willa knew, she needed to get laid.
The elevator stopped and the doors swooshed open. She stepped out, head up, determined to give her boyfriend, Lance, her brightest, happiest smile when she entered the apartment. It might not lead to sex, but at least it would stop her brain from pickling itself in lust-filled thoughts.
The long, carpeted hallway stretched before her. Somewhere, she could hear raised voices and slamming doors. Probably someone getting work done by noisy contractors. It happened all the time in the building.
Thinking about how much she needed a good romp between the sheets wasn’t fair, she knew. Sex with Lance had never been melt-your-panties hot. It had never really even been that good. But it had, at one time, at least been existent. Sort of.
She clutched her bags, knowing she had countless female friends who longed for their husbands and partners to back off the bedroom antics a bit. Why couldn’t she be one of them? Lance had been so persistent and convincing early on in their relationship that she’d agreed to moving in together and combining their lives after a few weeks. She’d done it, had kept taking her birth control dutifully, even though that one critical, physical piece between them was…broken. Or soft and limp, depending on your take.
Not that it was just the sex. Willa swallowed, knowing that whatever was—or wasn’t—happening in the bedroom was actually a symptom of something else. Of she and Lance shopping too much and not talking enough perhaps. Of them traveling to exotic locations but never venturing beyond the hotel. Willa pictured the first edition book of poetry they’d bought for their coffee table, a lovely piece from the late 1800s with Moroccan leather and gilded pages. They’d spent thousands on the volume, but neither of them had ever read its contents.
Willa walked underneath the hallway’s sparkling chandelier thinking that she and Lance weren’t opening each other, either. A year into their relationship, and they were like that dusty book: untouched and unexplored. In mind and body both.
Perhaps it was time to acknowledge they weren’t museum pieces—that they both needed handling. Maybe even by other people.
The thought didn’t sting as much as bring her relief.
She exhaled and continued on—white crown molding above her and plush Berber carpet underneath her. The voices grew louder as Willa rounded the corner. She paused when she saw men in embroidered shirts swarming about. These weren’t contractors; they were too clean for that. And they weren’t police.
Had something happened to one of her neighbors? She wondered if Mrs. Faizon had finally passed away. The woman was at least a hundred.
Just then, a tall man with a buzz cut marched down the hallway toward her. He was carrying a finely framed work of art, and she was able to read the embroidering on his polo shirt.
Willa understood immediately that one of her wealthy neighbors had fallen on hard times. Her heart sank with compassion. Her corner of New York City might be wholly focused on status and wealth, and someone’s loss often meant another’s gain. But it never felt good to see people bumped out of the game entirely.
And then her eyes fell on the art, and her blood turned to ice.
The painting was hers: a sparse Andrew Wyeth watercolor she’d fallen in love with a few months ago. It had been hanging above the fireplace.
Dumbly, she cut through the cluster of repo men—one of them swept past with her jewelry box, another with an original Eames chair she’d purchased at an estate sale—and stumbled into the apartment.
Her heels echoed on the polished wood floor. Her Persian carpets had been rolled up and carried out. Straight in front of her, sitting with his head in his hands on the single couch that remained, was Lance. Standing next to him was a police officer.
“What is happening?” Willa asked. She’d meant to shout it, she’d meant for her indignation to be loud enough to bounce off the now-empty white walls and startle everyone, but she’d barely been able to whisper. Lance looked up. His dark eyes were bloodshot. His face was puffy, as if he’d been crying.
“I lost it,” he groaned. “I lost everything.”
Willa blinked. This wasn’t possible. Lance was an exceptional investor. They were so far in the black, he often said, that she could buy whatever she wanted every day for a hundred years and still not put a dent in their wealth.
“There’s been some mistake,” she replied. A distant part of her realized she was still holding on to her shopping bags. She set them down on the bare floor.
“I’m afraid not,” the police officer replied. He glanced through wire-rim glasses at the notebook resting in his thick hands. “Charges are being filed, and I need you to come down to the station.”
Fuzzy spots dimmed the edges of Willa’s vision. “Charges?” How was losing your own money a criminal offense?
“We’d like you to give a statement,” the officer said to Willa.
A statement about what? Dimly, she realized the officer’s uniform was the same rich navy blue as the crisp edges of their bathroom towels. She wondered if those had been taken away, too.
“If you’ll just come this way,” the officer said. When Lance stood, Willa saw his hands didn’t fall to his sides. He was handcuffed, for crying out loud.
Sudden fear made her jaw tremble. What had he done?
The officer led them to the freight elevator near the stairwell, where their things were being loaded. Cramped between her dining room chairs and a postmodern sculpture, Willa stared at Lance.
“What happened?” she asked him.
He only shook his head and repeated the same phrase he’d used in the apartment: “I lost it.”
Her fear switched to frustration, which in turn kindled sparks of anger. It sharpened her thoughts to a razor’s edge. She wanted to reach out and shake Lance, to insist he tell her everything, but the police officer was right there. Best to wait until the station, she reasoned. She wasn’t about to add to the mess he’d created by forcing Lance to explain everything right this second.
Instead, she tried to calm her ragged breathing and her churning insides.
Not ten minutes ago she thought she needed to get laid.
Now she understood she needed to figure out what had been going on in her life—what had really been going on, that is—while she’d been running around Manhattan thinking everything was fine.
The elevator doors opened in a matter of moments. The ride to the bottom, she thought numbly, always seemed so much faster than going up.