Read An Anonymous Girl Online

Authors: Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen

An Anonymous Girl (10 page)

I looked into my parents’
red-rimmed, anguished eyes. And I let that moment pass.

I didn’t know the omission would continue to swell and gain in strength with every passing year.

I didn’t know that tiny bit of silence would deafen all of my relationships.

But now Dr. Shields knows.

I realize my fingers are playing with the stem of the empty glass and I pull them away as the server approaches. “Another glass
of wine, miss?” he asks.

I shake my head.

My next session is in two days.

I wonder if Dr. Shields will want to talk more about that event, or whether I’ve told her enough.

My hand freezes as I reach into my bag to retrieve my wallet.

Enough for what?

The thought I had a moment ago, that now Dr. Shields has information I’ve hidden from my family for fifteen years, is no
longer a comfort. Maybe Dr. Shields’s accomplishments and beauty have blinded me and dulled my self-protective instincts.

I’d almost forgotten that I was Subject 52 in an academic study. That I was being paid to share my innermost secrets.

What is she planning to do with all the private information I’ve given her? I was the one who signed a confidentiality agreement; she didn’t.

The
waiter comes back to the table and I unzip my wallet. Then I see the bright blue business card tucked between the folds of my bills.

I look at it for a few seconds, and slowly ease it out.

Breakfast All Day
it says on the front.

I remember waking up on Noah’s couch, a blanket tucked around me.

I turn the card over, feeling a sharp corner gently scrape my palm.

Taylor,
Noah
wrote in his blocky penmanship.

I skim over his words offering to cook me French toast.

That’s not why I’m staring at the card.

I suddenly know how I can learn more about Dr. Shields.

CHAPTER
FOURTEEN

Tuesday, December 4

The cherry notes of the Pinot Noir melt away the icy rawness of the commute home.

The seared beef tenderloin and grilled asparagus are removed from the Dean & DeLuca containers and arranged on a china plate, flanked by heavy silverware. Chopin’s piano chords fill the room. The single dish is carried to one end of the glossy oak rectangular
table.

Dinners used to look different here. They were cooked on a six-burner Viking stove and adorned with sprigs of fresh rosemary or leaves of basil from the herb garden in the window box.

The table also held two place settings.

The psychology journal is laid down; it is impossible to concentrate on the dense words tonight.

Across the table, an empty chair remains where my husband
Thomas once sat.

Everyone who met Thomas liked him.

He appeared on a night when the lights flickered, and then darkness swept in.

The last client of the day, a man named Hugh, had departed my office only a few minutes before. People come to therapy for different reasons, but his never became clear. Hugh was an odd one, with his sharp features and nomadic existence.

Despite his
wanderings, he fixated on things, he divulged early on.

Ending his sessions was difficult; he always wanted more.

Whenever he left, he lingered outside the door, his footsteps not beginning for a minute or two. His pungent scent could be detected in the waiting room even after he was gone, evidence of the time he’d spent there.

When the entire building went dark that night, even the
lights outside the windows, it seemed natural to assume Hugh was involved.

The worst of humanity comes out in the shadows.

And Hugh had just been told that his therapy needed to be terminated.

Sirens began to wail in the distance. The noises and lack of illumination created a disorienting atmosphere.

To exit the building, it was necessary to take the stairs. It was seven
P.M.
,
late enough that all of the other offices appeared closed.

Although residents lived in the building, their apartments were only on floors five and six.

The sole light in the stairwell came from the screen of my phone, the only sound the tapping of my shoes against the steps.

Then a second pair of footsteps, much heavier ones, began to descend from somewhere above.

Symptoms of terror
include a racing heart, light-headedness, and chest pain.

Breathing exercises can only help people through situations in which panic is not warranted.

Here, it was.

My presence would be announced by the glow of my phone. Running in complete darkness could lead to a fall. But these were necessary risks.

“Hello?” a man’s deep voice called.

It did not belong to Hugh.

“What’s
going on? It must be a blackout,” the man continued. “Are you okay?”

His manner was soothing and kind. He stayed by my side for the next hour, during the trek from Midtown to the West Village, until we reached my residence.

In every lifetime, there are pivot points that shape and eventually cement one’s path.

Thomas Cooper’s materialization was one of these seismic moments.

A week
after the blackout, we went to dinner.

Six months later, we were married.

Everyone who met Thomas liked him.

But loving him was something reserved only for me.

CHAPTER
FIFTEEN

Tuesday, December 4

I have less than forty-eight hours to locate Taylor.

She is my sole fragile link to Dr. Shields. If I can track her down before my next session on Thursday at five
P.M.
, I won’t be going into it blind.

After I leave the French restaurant, I find Taylor’s contact info in my phone and text her:
Hi Taylor, It’s Jess from BeautyBuzz. Can you
call me asap?

When I get home, I grab my laptop and try to glean more information about Dr. Shields. But my search yields only academic papers, reviews of the book she authored, her four-line NYU biography, and a website for her private practice. The website is sleek and elegant, like her office but, also like that space, it doesn’t contain a single real clue about the woman it represents.

I finally fall asleep after midnight, my phone by my side.

Wednesday, December 5

When I wake up at six
A.M.
, my eyes heavy from my restless night, Taylor still hasn’t responded. I’m not really surprised; she probably thinks it’s bizarre that some makeup artist is trying to reach her.

Thirty-five hours left,
I think.

Even though I want to skip my back-to-back appointments and
continue to try to get answers, I have to go to work. Not only do I need the money, but BeautyBuzz has a policy that makeup artists must give a full day’s notice before canceling scheduled jobs. Three strikes in three months and you’re eliminated from their roster. Since I called in sick a few weeks ago, I already have one.

I feel like I’m on autopilot as I smooth foundation, blend shadows,
and line lips. I ask about clients’ jobs, husbands, and kids, but I keep thinking about Dr. Shields. Especially about how little I know of her personally, and contrasting that with the deep secrets I’ve shared with her.

I’m persistently aware of my phone tucked inside my bag. The second I leave each appointment, I snatch it up and check the screen. But even though I leave Taylor another message,
this one via voice mail at around noon, there is no response.

At seven
P.M.
I splurge on a taxi home, which burns through the tips from my last few jobs but gets me there faster. I drop my case just inside the door, hustle Leo up and down the street and throw him a few treats, then hurry back out.

I head directly to Taylor’s apartment a couple dozen blocks away at a pace just short of
a run. When I get there, it’s nearly eight
P.M.
I lean a hand against the glass case containing the lobby directory, panting, and search the listed names.

I press the buzzer for T. Straub, then wait to hear her voice over the intercom. I try to slow my breathing, then smooth a hand over my hair.

I press my finger against the little black circle again, this time for a full five seconds.

Come on,
I think.

I step back, looking up at the building, and wonder what I should do next. I can’t just wait around, hoping Taylor will return. How long can I continue jabbing at her buzzer on the off chance she is napping or listening to music on her headphones?

Assistance arrives in the form of a sweaty guy dressed in an Adidas tracksuit, who taps in the front door code. He’s busy
staring at his phone and doesn’t even notice me as I catch the door before it closes and sneak in behind him.

I take the stairs to the sixth floor. I find Taylor’s apartment midway down the hall and rap my knuckles against the door so firmly they sting.

No answer.

I press my ear against the flimsy wood, listening for any sounds that would indicate she is inside—the blaring of a television
or the drone of a hair dryer. But there is only silence.

Nausea grips my stomach. I fear Dr. Shields knows me so well that when I see her I won’t be able to camouflage my worries. I’m desperate to ask her questions:
Why are you giving me all this money? What are you doing with the information I give you?

But I can’t. I’ve been telling myselt it’s so I don’t risk losing the income. But
the truth is, maybe it’s more that I don’t want to risk losing Dr. Shields.

I lift my fist and thump a few more times, until the next-door neighbor sticks out her head and glares at me.

“Sorry,” I say meekly and she shuts her door again.

I try to think of what to do next. I’ve got twenty-one hours left. But tomorrow, like today, is full of clients; I won’t be able to come back before
my appointment with Dr. Shields. I dig into my bag and pull out the copy of
Vogue
I am carrying around and tear out a piece of the glossy paper. I locate a pen and scribble:
Taylor, It’s Jess again, from BeautyBuzz. Please call me. It’s urgent.

I’m about to stick it under her door when I think back to the messy apartment with the SkinnyPop popcorn and clothes lying about. Taylor might not
even notice the scrap of paper. And even if she did, she probably still won’t contact me. It’s not like she has made any effort to return my call or text.

I turn to look at the door of the neighbor I just disturbed. I take a few steps to the side and hesitantly knock on it. The woman who answers is clutching a yellow highlighter. A smear of it bisects her chin. She is visibly unhappy.

“Sorry, I’m looking for Taylor or, uh . . .” I reach back in my memory for her roommate’s name and find it. “Or Mandy.”

The neighbor blinks at me. A strange premonition sweeps over me: She is going to say she doesn’t know who they are, that no girls by those names have ever lived next door.

“Who?” she begins.

My heart stutters.

Then her frown clears.

“Oh, yeah . . . I don’t
know, finals are coming up, maybe they’re at the library. Although with those two, it’s more likely they’re at some party.”

She closes her door while I’m still standing there.

I wait until the feeling of light-headedness has passed, then head to the stairwell. I stand outside the building in the darkness, trying to think of my next move.

A girl with long straight hair passes me. Even
though I instantly know she isn’t Taylor, I still turn to look at her as she shrugs a blue backpack higher up onto her shoulders and continues down the sidewalk.

I stare at the heavy-looking bag.
Finals are coming up,
the neighbor had said. Her impression of Taylor and Mandy meshed with mine: that these two don’t take school all that seriously.

It’s hard to picture the jaded young woman
with the enviable bone structure who was tapping away at her Instagram feed now bent over a stack of textbooks.

But aren’t the most lackadaisical students sometimes the ones who have to cram the hardest before exams?

I spin around in a circle to orient myself, then head toward the NYU library.

The stacks are like a maze laid out for a laboratory rat. I begin at one corner, winding
my way through the narrow passageways, hoping at every turn that I’ll stumble upon Taylor reaching for a book on a high shelf, or sitting at one of the desks near the outer walls. I finish scouring the first three floors, then I make my way to the fourth.

Frenetic energy propels me forward, even though it’s almost nine
P.M.
and I haven’t eaten anything since a turkey sandwich I gobbled between
my early-afternoon clients. There are far fewer people on this floor, though the towers of books are just as high. Whispered conversations filtered through to me on the first three levels, but now the only sounds I hear are my own footsteps.

I’m deep into the center of the stacks when I abruptly turn a corner and almost walk into a guy and girl passionately kissing. They don’t break apart
as I step around them.

Then I hear a familiar voice, stretched out into a whine: “Tay, let’s take a break. I need a chai latte.”

Relief courses through me and I have to restrain myself from sprinting in the direction of Mandy’s voice.

I find them in a corner of the room. Mandy is leaning against the edge of a desk piled high with books and a laptop, and Taylor is sitting in the chair.
Both girls have their hair piled up in artfully messy buns and are wearing Juicy Couture sweats.

“Taylor!”

Her name comes out almost as a gasp.

She and Mandy both turn to look at me. Mandy’s nose wrinkles. Taylor wears a blank expression.

“Can I help you?” Taylor asks.

She has no idea who I am.

I draw closer. “It’s me, Jess.”

“Jess?” Mandy echoes.

“The makeup artist,”
I say. “From BeautyBuzz.”

Taylor looks me up and down. I’m still in my work outfit, but my shirt has become untucked and I can feel the errant strands that have escaped from my low twist sticking to my neck.

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