Authors: Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen
“What are you doing here?” Taylor asks.
“I need to talk to you.”
someone hushes us from a few desks away.
“Please, it’s important,” I whisper.
Maybe Taylor can
sense my desperation, because she nods. She shoves her laptop into her bag but leaves her books. We take the elevator down to the lobby with Mandy trailing behind us. When we reach the main doors, Taylor pauses. “What is it?”
Now that I’ve finally found her, I don’t know where to begin.
“So, remember when I was doing your makeup and you mentioned a questionnaire?”
She shrugs. “Sort
It’s been weeks since I took Taylors phone and listened to her voice mail. I try to recall what I knew back then.
“The one with the NYU professor about morality. It paid a lot of money. You were supposed to go the next morning . . .”
Taylor nods. “Yeah, that’s right. I was too tired, so I canceled.”
I take a deep breath.
“So . . . I ended up doing it.
Taylor’s eyes. She takes a step back.
Mandy makes a little sound in her throat: “Well, that’s weird,” she says.
“Yeah, anyway . . . I’m trying to find out a bit more about the professor.” I try to keep my voice steady as I look at Taylor.
“I don’t know her; a friend who’s a psych major took her class and told me about the study. C’mon, Mandy.”
“Wait, please!” My voice is shrill.
I soften my tone. “Could I talk to your friend?”
Taylor assesses me for a moment. I try to smile, but I know it probably looks unnatural.
“It’s complicated, and I don’t want to bore you with all the details,” I say. “But if you like, I can tell you the whole story—”
Taylor holds up a hand: “Just call Amy.”
I’m glad I remembered these girls hate to be bored. It was the right tack
She looks down at her phone, then recites the number as I tap it onto my own screen.
“Would you mind repeating that?” I ask. I’m pretty sure Mandy rolls her eyes, but Taylor gives me the digits again, this time more slowly.
“Thank you!” I call as they walk away.
Before they even turn the corner, I’ve dialed Amy.
She answers on the second ring.
“She was a great
teacher,” Amy says. “I had her last spring. A tough grader, but not unfair . . . She really worked you. I think only two people in the class got A’s and I wasn’t one of them.” She gives a little laugh. “What more can I tell you? She has an amazing wardrobe. I’d kill for her shoes.”
Amy is in a taxi, on her way to LaGuardia Airport to fly home for her grandmother’s ninetieth birthday celebration.
“Did you know about her study?” I ask.
“Sure,” Amy says. “I was in it.
She isn’t suspicious about my questions, probably because I implied Taylor and I are friends, too. “It’s a little weird, because she must have realized who I was when I signed up, but she didn’t call me by my name. It was something strange . . . what was it again?”
My breath catches in my lungs.
“Subject 16,” Amy finally says. My skin tingles.
“I remember the number because that’s my younger brother’s age,” she continues.
“What did she ask you?” I interject.
“Hang on a sec.” I hear her say something to the taxi driver, then the sound of rustling and a trunk slamming.
“Um, there was one about whether I’d ever lied on a medical form—you know, like, how much I drink, or
my weight, or how many sexual partners I’ve had. I remember that one because I’d just had a physical and I’d lied about all those things!”
She’s laughing again, but I frown.
“I’m at the airport. I gotta go,” Amy says.
“Did you ever meet with her in person for the study?” I blurt.
“Huh? No, it was just a bunch of questions on a computer,” Amy says.
The ambient noises are so
loud—people calling and chattering, a loudspeaker blaring an announcement about unattended bags—that I have trouble hearing her clearly. “Anyway, I need to check in; it’s total chaos here.”
I press on: “You never went to her office on Sixty-second Street? Did any of the subjects go there?”
“I don’t know, maybe some people did,” she says. “How cool would that be? I bet it’s totally chic.”
I have more questions, but I know I’m about to lose Amy.
“Could you do me a favor?” I say. “Could you think about it a little more and call me if you remember anything unusual?”
“Sure,” Amy says, but her voice is distracted and I wonder if she has even registered my request.
I hang up and feel something in my chest unclench.
My most important question has been answered, at least.
Dr. Shields is a pro; she’s not only a professor, she’s a well-respected one. She wouldn’t have this position if she were doing anything shady.
I’m not sure why I got so worked up. I’m hungry and tired, plus the stress I’ve been feeling about my family might be affecting me. My father’s final day of work was November 30; his buyout is four months’ salary. They’ll run out of money by the time
the Phillies have their first at bat of the season.
I’m exhausted by the time I turn the corner onto my street. My mind is whirling and my body feels simultaneously weighty and restless.
As I pass the Lounge, I look through the big glass windows. I can hear the faint strain of the music, and I see a group of guys playing pool.
I find myself looking for Noah.
I reach for Noah’s
card and pull it out. Before I think about it too much, I text him:
Hey, just walked by the Lounge and thought of you. Has that offer for breakfast expired?
He doesn’t respond immediately, so I keep walking.
I think about stopping by another bar. The Atlas is close by and it’s usually packed around this time, even on weeknights. I could go in alone, sit at the bar, order a drink, and see
what happens, like I’ve done before when the pressure gets to be too much and I need an escape.
Since I can’t afford a spa day and I don’t do drugs, this is the way I find a release. I don’t do it all that often, although the last time I had to tell my doctor how many sexual partners I’ve had, I lied about it, just as Amy did.
I draw closer to the Atlas. I can hear the pulse of music;
I can see the crush of bodies near the bar.
But then I picture sitting on the love seat in Dr. Shields’s office, describing my night to her. She knows I do this sometimes; I wrote about it on the computer questionnaire. But having to look at her and reveal the details about a hookup would be mortifying. I bet even before she was married, she never had a one-night stand; I can just tell.
Dr. Shields seems to see something special in me, even though I don’t often feel that way about myself.
So I keep walking.
I don’t want to disappoint her.
Wednesday, December 5
It’s easy to judge other people’s choices. The mother with a grocery cart full of Froot Loops and Double Stuf Oreos who yells at her child. The driver of an expensive convertible who cuts off a slower vehicle. The husband who cheats on his wife . . . and the wife who is considering taking him back.
But what if you knew the husband was making
every effort to reconcile? What if he swore it was a onetime lapse and that he would never be unfaithful again?
And what if you were the wife, and could not imagine a life without him?
The intellect does not reign supreme in matters of the heart.
Thomas captured mine in a hundred different ways. The inscription we chose for our wedding bands, the one that referenced our first meeting
during the blackout, came close to describing a feeling that is impossible to put into words:
You are my true light.
Since he moved out, his absence is everywhere in the town house: In the living room, where he splayed across the couch with the sports section scattered on the floor beside him. In the kitchen, where he always programmed the coffeemaker the night before so it would be ready
in the morning. In the bedroom, where his warm body took away the chill at night.
When a marriage is shattered by the ultimate betrayal, physical reactions result: Insomnia. Loss of appetite. The constant worry, as relentless as a pulsing heartbeat:
What drew him to her?
If the man you loved gave you reason to doubt him, could you ever trust him again?
This evening, Thomas blamed a
work emergency for the cancellation of dinner plans.
He is also a therapist, so it’s entirely possible a client could be suffering an acute panic attack or a recovering alcoholic could be having an uncontrollable urge to indulge in self-destructive behavior.
He cares deeply about his patients. Most even have access to his cell phone number.
But was his voice excessively flustered?
Doubt surrounds even the most banal of explanations.
This is the legacy of infidelity.
Many women might choose to take their worry to a friend for discussion. Others might accuse; provoke a confrontation. Neither of those courses is inappropriate.
But they may not unearth the truth.
Judgments might also be made about a wife who remained suspicious enough to spy on her husband
despite his assurances.
But only clinical evidence can determine if insecurity or instinct is driving the suspicion.
In this case, facts can be easily enough obtained. All that is required is a twenty-five-minute taxi ride uptown, to the office space he shares with three other clinicians on Riverside Drive.
It is now 6:07
If his Ducati is not parked out front, the facts will
not support the excuse.
The symptoms of anxiety typically include perspiration, a spike in blood pressure, and physical restlessness.
But not for everyone. A rare few present the opposite symptoms: There is a physical quieting, an enhanced mental focus, and a chilling of the extremities.
The cabdriver is asked to increase the temperature by a few degrees.
From a block away, it
is impossible to determine if the motorcycle is present. A FreshDirect truck clogs the narrow street, impeding the taxi’s progress.
It is swifter to exit the taxi and proceed on foot.
A flood of relief accompanies the realization that the office is occupied: Light blazes through the slats of the blinds on the ground floor. His motorcycle is parked outside in its usual spot.
is exactly where he said he would be.
Doubt is banished, for now.
It is unnecessary to proceed any further. He is busy. And it is better if he doesn’t know about this visit.
From a block away in the other direction, a woman approaches. She wears a long, swinging camel-colored coat and jeans.
She stops in front of Thomas’s building. During business hours, a security guard requires
guests to sign in. But the guard leaves at six
At this time of night, visitors must press a buzzer to be admitted.
The woman is perhaps in her early thirties. Objectively attractive, even from a distance. She does not display any outward symptoms of a crisis; to the contrary, her affect is carefree.
She is not the same woman who tempted Thomas to stray from our marriage; that woman
will never be a threat again.
The woman in the swinging coat disappears inside Thomas’s building. A few moments later the blinds that were slightly ajar snap shut.
Perhaps the glare of the street lamp was in her eyes.
Or perhaps there is another reason.
If a guy cheats once, he’s probably going to do it again.
You were the one who issued that warning, Jessica.
would push through the door to get a closer look. Others might choose to wait to see how long the woman remained inside, and if the parties in question emerged from the building together. A few might assume defeat and walk away.
Those are typical responses.
There are other, far more subtle courses of action.
Watching and waiting for the right moment is an essential component of a long-term
strategy. It would be impulsive to swoop in and engage in a conflict before certainty is obtained.
And sometimes a warning shot, a decisive show of strength, can circumvent the need for a battle at all.
Thursday, December 6
My clients’ skin often reveals something about their lives.
When the sixty-something woman opens her door, I notice the clues: Many smile lines; far fewer from frowning. Her pale complexion is dotted with freckles and sunspots, and her blue eyes are bright.
She introduces herself as Shirley Graham, then takes my coat and wrap, which
I’ve brought so I can return it to Dr. Shields, and hangs them in her tiny hall closet.
I follow her into her galley kitchen, set down my makeup case, and gently flex and straighten my hand to ease the tightness. It’s 3:55
, and Mrs. Graham is my last appointment of the day. Right after I finish here, I’m going to see Dr. Shields.
I’ve vowed to finally ask her why she needs information
about my personal life. It’s such a reasonable question. I don’t know why I haven’t felt able to bring it up before.
Before we start, would you mind if I asked a question?
That’s how I’m going to phrase it, I’ve decided.
“Would you like some tea?” Mrs. Graham offers.
“Oh, no, I’m fine, but thanks,” I say.
Mrs. Graham looks disappointed. “It’s no trouble. I always have tea at four.”
Dr. Shields’s office is a half hour away, assuming there’s no subway delay, and I’m due there at five-thirty. I hesitate. “You know what? Tea sounds great.”
While Mrs. Graham pries the lid off a blue tin of Royal Dansk butter cookies and arranges them on a little china plate, I scout out the best lighting in the apartment.
“What’s the big event tonight?” I ask as I step onto the living
room’s frayed rug and move aside a gauzy, lace-topped curtain covering the sole window. But the brick wall of a neighboring apartment blots out the sun.