“Shall we return to –” Synthesized piano music, Giselle Wesstover’s ringtone, fractured the rhythm of her polished presentation.

“I’ll just go out on the balcony again,” Julianne murmured, grateful for the opportunity to escape the agent whose condescending tone was wearying, albeit amusing. “Please don’t worry about me. Take all the time you need.”

She quickened her pace and turned the corner into the living room before the other woman could object. Palming the antique key dangling from her bracelet to steady herself, she resisted the urge to look back, feeling certain that if she did she would see an expression of barely veiled distaste on Ms. Wesstover’s face.

Julianne had not responded with enthusiasm to the agent’s sales script, carefully crafted to flatter the hopes of certain clients and flatten the desires of others. No doubt that script had been practiced successfully upon a legion of prospective buyers, but it failed to move Julianne and just now Wesstover’s veneer of control was showing signs of strain.

Julianne rarely felt at ease with sales associates, especially not with those who worked so hard to sell something with such obvious virtues. The condos here in Paragon Towers were understandably considered the height of elegant interior style. For instance, the living room, with its much-vaunted sunken floor swathed in lush cream carpet and its soaring vaulted ceiling, was breathtaking.

She supposed she could understand Wesstover’s adding more and more force to her pitch, but regardless of her level of interest in the unit, Julianne never made major investments rashly. She was not an impulse buyer.

The most luxuriant features of the unit, to Julianne’s mind, were the floor-to-ceiling bifold doors forming two perpendicular walls and opening onto a wraparound balcony. On this winter morning those doors showcased an enchanting fog-shrouded cityscape.

Stepping onto the balcony she closed her eyes and breathed in deeply, feeling the fog and the hush settle around her shoulders like an heirloom shawl. When she opened her eyes she noted a neon sign reading ‘B-A-L-L’, promoting the renowned Ballard Partners architectural firm. The neon light blinked through drifting patches of fog.

Turning to lean against the glass balcony railing, Julianne craned her neck to scan the facade above her. Somewhere lost in the fog would be the building’s roof, shelter for the infinity pool requisite for such structures. Her eye traced the pattern of texture the balconies presented against the sooty tones of the tower’s granite walls.

In her peripheral vision she saw Giselle Wesstover teetering across that cream carpet on her Louboutin stilettos.

“Now then, isn’t this view the pinnacle?” Wesstover purred, edging next to Julianne and facing away from the building.

“If we were standing by the pool – but this is definitely a paragon.” Julianne watched the agent’s reflection in the doors and saw her shoulders stiffen briefly. The other woman leaned forward to peer down toward the street.

“It’s so wonderful up here. They’re like ants down there on the street. Nothings, really. You could drop champagne from here and they would be none the wiser.”

“Really? Do you really think so?” Julianne turned away from studying the woman’s reflection to look directly at her.

“Of course! That is what the exclusive price tag guarantees.”

“Well, I suppose all those zeroes behind the figure in front do add up to a great deal,” Julianne murmured.

“That is why Mr. Conwell courts buyers like you, people who understand.”

Julianne stared off into the fog. Soon she realized she would do well in that moment to channel her father’s posture. Although she recognized the utility of this posture for him, she resented it, and avoided resorting to the tactic herself. Just now, however, such a posture was likely the only tactic Wesstover would understand.

She called upon her yoga practice and focused on slowly filling her body with breath, elongating her spine, acknowledging every part of herself.

“Ms. Wesstover,” she began, nodding toward the digital clock beaming from the face of a high rise office building across the avenue, “I see I need to be going now.”

Surprise then relief sparked in the agent’s eyes. “Oh, well, if you are sure you do not want to see more—”

“No, I simply can’t. I stopped here between commitments–”

“–the holidays. Of course.”

“Yes, of course, the demands of the holidays.” Julianne followed the agent back across that expanse of lush cream carpet to the door.

“Well, I must thank you for accepting Mr. Conwell’s invitation to view one of his exclusive offerings. You can see why his condominium units are coveted properties and, please remember, if you give me advance notice I can —”

“No, no. Don’t worry about that. I was in the area for an interview and guest appearance and I thought, ‘No time like the present, now, is there?'” Julianne extended her hand to the agent. “Thank you for escorting me through. I imagine these properties are golden opportunities for you.”

Long after Giselle Wesstover closed that condominium door between them; long after the tattoo of her footsteps in suede booties faded from the marble-clad lobby; long after she waved the complimentary Paragon Towers key fob in farewell to the security guard who kept watch under the gaze of a life-sized cardboard cutout of Conwell the magnate, Julianne could not erase from her mind the agent’s smile, brittle and wreathed with a ruby brilliance resembling red patent leather.

Though this is the second sketch from my book-in-progress, the action here precedes that of the first sketch. Just to be clear.

Barbara Butler McCoy, c. 2020, text and photo