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Lauren Weisberger

Chasing Harry Winston

© 2008

for mike, with love

panties is a vile word

When Leigh’s doorbell rang unexpectedly at nine on a Monday night, she did not think, Gee, I wonder who that could be. She thought, Shit. Go away. Were there people who actually welcomed unannounced visitors when they just stopped by to “say hello” or “check in”? Recluses, probably. Or those friendly Midwestern folks she’d seen depicted in Big Love but had never actually met-yes, they probably didn’t mind. But this! This was an affront. Monday nights were sacred and completely off-limits to the rest of the world, a time of No Human Contact when Leigh could veg out in sweats and watch episode after beautiful TiVo’d episode of Project Runway. It was her only time alone all week, and after some intensive training on her part, her friends, her family, and her boyfriend, Russell, finally abided by it.

The girls had stopped asking for Monday-night plans at the end of the nineties; Russell, who in the beginning of their relationship had openly balked, now quietly contained his resentment (and in football season relished having his own Monday nights free); her mother struggled through one night a week without picking up the phone to call, finally accepting after all these years that she wouldn’t hear from Leigh until Tuesday morning no matter how many times she hit Redial. Even Leigh’s publisher knew better than to assign her Monday-night reading…or, god forbid, knew not to log an interrupting phone call. Which is precisely why it was so incredible that her doorbell had just rung-incredible and panic-inducing.

Figuring it was her super, there to change the air-conditioning filter; or one of the delivery guys from Hot Enchiladas, leaving a menu; or, most likely of all, someone just confusing her door with one of her neighbors’, she hit Mute on the TV remote and did not move a muscle. She cocked her head to the side like a Labrador, straining for any confirmation that the intruder had left, but the only thing she heard was the dull, constant thudding from above. Suffering from what her old shrink called “noise sensitivity” and everyone else described as “fucking neurotic,” Leigh had, of course, thoroughly scoped out her upstairs neighbor before signing over her life savings: The apartment might have been the most perfect she’d seen in a year and a half of looking, but she hadn’t wanted to take any chances.

Leigh had asked Adriana for the scoop on the woman above her, in apartment 17D, but her friend had just pursed her pouty lips and shrugged. No matter that Adriana had lived in the building’s full-floor penthouse apartment from the day her parents had moved from Sao Paulo to New York nearly two decades before; she had completely embraced the New Yorker’s I-Promise-Not-to-Acknowledge-You-If-You-Extend-Me-the-Same-Courtesy attitude toward her neighbors and could offer Leigh no info on her neighbor. And so, on a blustery December Saturday right before Christmas, Leigh had slipped the building’s doorman twenty bucks, Bond-style, and waited in the lobby, pretending to read a manuscript. After Leigh spent three hours scanning the same anecdote, the doorman coughed loudly and looked at her over the top of his glasses with meaning. Glancing up, Leigh felt an immediate wave of relief. Before her, removing a QVC catalog from an unlocked mailbox, stood an overweight woman in a polka-dot housedress. Not a day younger than eighty, thought Leigh, and she breathed a sigh of relief; there would be no stilettos clacking against the hardwood floors, no late-night parties, no parade of visitors stomping around.

The very next day Leigh wrote a check for the down payment, and two months later she excitedly moved into her mint-condition one-bedroom dream apartment. It had a renovated kitchen, an oversized bathtub, and a more than decent northern view of the Empire State Building. It might have been one of the smallest units in the building-okay, the smallest-but it was still a dream, a beautiful, lucky dream in a building Leigh never thought she could afford, each and every obscenely priced square foot paid for with her own hard work and savings.

How could she possibly have predicted that the seemingly innocuous upstairs neighbor was a dedicated wearer of massive wooden orthopedic clogs? Still, Leigh berated herself regularly for thinking high heels were the only potential noise risk: it had been an amateur’s mistake. Before she’d spotted her neighbor wearing the offending shoes, Leigh had created an elaborate explanation for the relentless upstairs racket. She decided that the woman had to be Dutch (since everyone knew Dutch people wore clogs), and the matriarch of a huge, proudly Dutch family who received constant visits from countless children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, siblings, cousins, and general advice-seekers…all, most likely, Dutch clog-wearers. After spotting her neighbor wearing an air cast and feigning interest in the woman’s disgusting-sounding foot ailments including (but not limited to) plantar fasciitis, ingrown toenails, neuromas, and bunions, Leigh had clucked as sympathetically as she could manage and then raced upstairs to check her copy of the co-op rules. Sure enough, they dictated that owners were required to cover eighty percent of their hardwood floors with carpet-which she realized was an entirely moot point when the very next page revealed that her upstairs neighbor was president of the board.

Leigh had already endured nearly four months of round-the-clock clogging, something that might have been funny if it was happening to someone else. Her nerves were directly tied to the volume and frequency of the steady thump-thump-thump that segued into a thumpety-thump-thumpety-thump-thump pattern when Leigh’s heart began to pound right along with it. She tried to breathe slowly, but her exhales were short and raspy, punctuated by little guppy gasps. As she examined her pale complexion (which on good days she thought of as “ethereal” and all other times accepted as “sickly”) in the mirrored hallway closet door, a thin sheen of perspiration dampened her forehead.

It seemed to be happening more frequently, this sweating/breathing issue-and not just when she heard the wood-on-wood banging. Sometimes Leigh would awaken from a sleep so deep it almost hurt, only to find her heart racing and her sheets drenched. Last week in the middle of an otherwise completely relaxing shavasna-albeit one where the instructor felt compelled to play an a capella version of “Amazing Grace” over the speakers-a sharp pain shot through Leigh’s chest on each measured inhale. And just this morning as she watched the human tidal wave of commuters cram onto the N train-she forced herself to take the subway, but hated every second of it-Leigh’s throat constricted and her pulse inexplicably quickened. There seemed to be only two plausible explanations, and although she could be a bit of a hypochondriac, even Leigh didn’t think she was a likely candidate for a coronary: It was a panic attack, plain and simple.

In an ineffective attempt to dispel the panic, Leigh pressed her fingertips into her temples and stretched her neck from side to side, neither of which did a damn thing. It felt like her lungs could reach only ten percent capacity, and just as she considered who would find her body-and when-she heard a choked sobbing and yet another ring of her doorbell.

She tiptoed over to the door and looked through the peephole but saw only empty hallway. This was exactly how people ended up robbed and raped in New York City-getting duped by some criminal mastermind into opening their doors. I’m not falling for this, she thought as she stealthily dialed her doorman. Never mind that her building’s security rivaled the UN’s, or that in eight years of city living she didn’t personally know anyone who’d been so much as pickpocketed, or that the chances of a psychopathic murderer choosing her

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