Authors: Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen
Perhaps Dr. Shields kept her maiden name.
I remember a few things from our encounter at the bar:
Rides a motorcycle. Knows all the words to the Beatles song “Come Together.” Drinks draft IPA beer.
And then some details from our time in my apartment:
Likes dogs. In good shape. Scar on shoulder from surgery to repair a torn rotator
I think for a moment, then add:
The New York Times
at Ted’s Diner.
Goes to the gym. Wears glasses. Married to Dr. Shields.
I underline that last detail four times, too.
Late thirties? Occupation? Where does he live?
I know even less about Thomas than I do about Dr. Shields.
There are only two other people I’ve heard about who are connected to them. The first,
Ben, doesn’t want to talk to me any more than he already has.
The second can’t talk to me.
Subject 5. Who was she?
I peel myself off my bed and begin to pace the ten steps back and forth across my studio, trying to remember everything Thomas said in the Conservatory.
She was young and lonely. Lydia gave her gifts. She wasn’t close to her father. This is where she killed herself.
I hurry back to my bed and reach for my laptop again. The two-paragraph article in the
New York Post
I find by googling “West Village Conservatory” and “suicide” and “June” reveals that Thomas told the truth about one thing at least: A young woman died in the Conservatory. Her body was found later that same night by a couple out for a stroll in the moonlight. At first they thought she was sleeping.
The article also gives me her full name: Katherine April Voss.
I close my eyes and silently repeat it to myself.
She was only twenty-three, and she went by her middle name. The article holds few other details, aside from listing the lineage of her parents and much older step-siblings.
But it has given me enough to begin tracing the trajectory of her life, and where and how it intersected
with Dr. Shields’s.
I rub my forehead as I contemplate my next step. A dull throbbing has formed between my temples, maybe because I haven’t eaten much today, but my stomach is too knotted to tolerate food now.
As desperate as I am for information, I don’t want to reach out to April’s grieving parents yet. But there are other threads I can pursue. Like most twenty-somethings, April established
an active social media presence.
Within a minute, I find her Instagram account. It’s open for anyone to follow.
I pause before viewing the images, just as I did when I first began to investigate Dr. Shields online.
I have no idea what I’ll see. I feel as if I’m crossing a threshold from which I won’t be able to return.
I tap on her name. Tiny square photos fill my screen.
I enlarge the most recent one, the last photograph April ever posted, as I make the decision to work backward in time.
It is dated June 2. Six days before she died.
The sight of her smiling face makes me flinch, even though it looks like the kind of picture I might take with Lizzie, two girlfriends clinking margarita glasses and having a good time. It seems so ordinary, given what happened
less than a week later. The caption April wrote reads:
A dozen people commented, stuff like
I stare at April’s features. This is the girl behind the number assigned by Dr. Shields. She had long, straight dark hair and pale skin. She was thin; very thin. Her brown eyes appear too large and round for her narrow face.
I write down
on a fresh sheet of the notepad under April’s name.
I scroll through the photos one by one, scrutinizing each for clues to record: A background location. The name of a restaurant on a printed napkin. The people who make repeated appearances.
By the time I’ve reviewed the fifteenth picture, I know that April also wore silver hoop earrings and owned a black leather jacket. She loved cookies
and dogs, just like I do.
I return to the photo of April and Fab24. I know it’s not my imagination. April looks happy, genuinely happy. And then I spot it—the fringe of a taupe wrap on the chair behind her.
My head jerks up at the sound of footsteps in the hallway.
They seem to be heading toward my apartment.
I wait for a knock, but it doesn’t come.
Instead, there’s a rustling
I unfold my legs and ease off my bed. I creep across the floor, hoping the whisper of my socks against the wood isn’t audible.
My door contains a peephole. As I move to position my eye behind it, I’m gripped by the fear that all I’ll see is Dr. Shields’s piercing blue eye filling the other side of the thin glass.
I can’t do it. My breathing sounds so ragged I’m certain she can
hear it through the door.
My adrenaline surges as I press my ear to the door. Nothing.
If she’s there, I know she won’t leave until I do what she wants. I imagine she can see straight through into my apartment, just like she was able to watch me through the computer all those months ago. I have to look. I force myself to turn my head and bring my eye nearer to the peephole. My chest tightens
as I gaze through it.
No one is there.
The absence of anyone feels almost as jarring as a presence would be. I step back, gasping. Am I losing my mind? Dr. Shields and Thomas are at dinner together. I saw them. That much is true.
Leo’s high, staccato bark pulls me out of my thoughts. He’s staring at me with a quizzical expression.
“Shh,” I whisper to him.
I tiptoe over to the
window. I pull down the slat of a blind with my fingertips and peek out. My eyes scan the street: There are a few women getting into a taxi, and a man out walking his dog. Nothing appears amiss.
I ease out my fingers and scoop up Leo, bringing him to bed with me.
He’ll need a walk soon. I’ve never been afraid of taking him out at night. But now I don’t like the thought of descending the
stairs, with blind turns at every corner, and making my way down a street that, by then, may or may not be empty.
Dr. Shields knows exactly where I live. She’s been here before. She knew how to get to my family. Maybe she knows even more about me than I ever imagined.
Ben is right. I need to get my file.
I continue looking through April’s photos, enlarging one so I can make out the
lettering on a street name. Then I come to a picture taken in early May, of a guy asleep in bed with a floral comforter rumpled around his bare torso. A boyfriend? I wonder.
His face is mostly obscured because of the angle of the photo; I can just see a sliver of it.
My gaze roams over the nightstand next to him. It holds a few books—I jot down their titles—a bracelet, and a half-full
And one other thing. A pair of glasses.
My body is collapsing; it’s as though I’ve stepped off the precipice into thin air and now I can’t stop my plummet.
My hand trembles as I enlarge the photo.
The glasses are tortoiseshell.
I zoom in on the sleeping man, the one April presumably photographed in her bed.
It’s not possible. I want to grab Leo and run, but
to where? My parents would never understand. Lizzie already left town for the holidays. And Noah . . . I barely know him. I can’t involve him in this.
I thrust away my computer, but I can’t stop seeing the straight line of his nose, and the hair falling over his forehead.
The man in the photo is Thomas.
Wednesday, December 19
You looked so scared when you left my town house tonight, Jessica. Don’t you know no harm will befall you?
You are needed too much.
The scheduled dinner with my husband reveals no new information. Thomas easily parries when faced with questions about his day and his plans for the rest of the week. He responds with queries of his own,
filling any potential silences with remarks about his delicious pasta Bolognese, and the roasted brussels sprouts he ordered for us to share.
Thomas is an excellent squash player. He is adept at anticipating the angles of his opponent’s serve; he quickly maneuvers around the court.
But even the most accomplished athletes tire under sustained pressure. That’s when mistakes occur.
the plates are cleared and a delicious apple tarte tatin served for dessert, Thomas playfully inquires whether there is anything special Santa should place under the tree this year.
“It’s always hard to know what to get the woman who has everything,” he says.
Thomas has proven to be a nimble opponent, but now an unexpected opportunity presents itself.
“There is something,” he is told.
“What about those delicate silver stacking rings?”
The sudden rigidity in Thomas’s body is palpable.
“Have you seen the ones I’m talking about?”
He casts his eyes down at his plate, feigning a sudden interest in the crumbs of his dessert.
“Oh, maybe, I think I know what you mean,” he says.
“What do you think of them?” he is asked. “Do you think they’re .
. . pretty?”
Thomas raises his eyes. He reaches out to touch my hand, lifting it in the air, as if considering how it would appear so adorned.
He shakes his head. His gaze is intent. “They’re not special enough.”
The check is delivered and Thomas glides past the moment.
He is rebuffed at the door of the town house. This is a bit personal to admit, Jessica, but you have to agree
we’ve moved beyond the acquaintance stage by now. Physical intimacies with Thomas have not been reestablished since the betrayal of last September. Our marriage is still on shaky ground; they will not be resumed tonight.
Thomas accepts the gentle rejection gracefully. Too gracefully?
His sexual appetite has always been strong. The current enforced marital abstinence will stoke his libido,
increasing his urge to succumb to temptation again.
After the door is closed behind Thomas, and the newly installed deadbolt secured behind him, the town house is returned to its usual order. Normally, these chores would have been completed after your departure, but time didn’t allow on this busy day.
The newspaper is gathered from the coffee table and tucked in the recycling bin. The
dishwasher is emptied. Then the study is surveyed. The faintest scent of oranges perfumes the room. The bowl containing them is picked up and brought to the kitchen. The oranges are dropped into the trash can.
Citrus fruits have never held much appeal.
After the lights are extinguished on the main level and the stairs climbed, a lilac-colored silk nightgown and matching robe are selected.
Night serum is dotted around the eyes with the gentle touch of my ring
finger, then a rich moisturizing cream is applied. Aging, though inevitable, can be managed gracefully with the proper arsenal.
When the evening’s rituals are complete and a glass of water brought to the nightstand, one task remains. The ecru file containing the name
on the tab is lifted from the center
of the desk in the small study adjoining the bedroom. It is opened.
The photographs of your parents and Becky are scanned again. In less than twenty-four hours, they will be aboard a plane heading hundreds of miles away. Will their absence feel more pronounced as the gulf between you grows?
Then, a Montblanc fountain pen, a cherished gift from my father, is lifted to a fresh page of the
yellow legal pad containing meticulous notes. The new entry is dated Wednesday, December 19, and details of my dinner with Thomas are recorded. Special attention is paid to capturing his reaction to the suggestion that silver stacking rings would be a welcome gift.
Your folder is closed and centered on the desk once again, atop a second folder belonging to another subject. They are no longer
being kept with the others. They were brought home a few days ago, after the new lock was installed on the front door.
The name on the tab of the folder beneath yours is
KATHERINE APRIL VOSS
Thursday, December 20
I need to stick as close to the truth as possible when I see Dr. Shields.
Not just because I’m not aware of how much she knows. I also don’t know what she’s capable of.
I barely slept last night; every time the building’s old floorboards creaked, or someone climbed the stairs and walked past my apartment, I froze, listening for the scrape
of a key in my lock.
It isn’t possible that Dr. Shields or Thomas could have obtained a key to my place, I tried to reassure myself. Still, at around two
, I dragged my nightstand over to block the door and took my can of Mace out of my purse and tucked it under my pillow, within easy reach.
When Dr. Shields sent a text at seven this morning summoning me to her town house after work,
I immediately responded
It was pointless to resist, and more important, I didn’t want to agitate her.
If I can’t get out of this trap by pulling away, maybe I need to lean into it, I thought.
I came up with my plan in the shower this morning as I stood under the spray of hot water that couldn’t seem to warm me. I have no idea how she will react to what I’m going to tell her. But
I can’t continue like this.
I arrive at her town house at seven-thirty, following a busy day of work. All of my clients were festive, prepping for holiday parties and, in the case of my last appointment of the day, a young woman anticipating a proposal from her boyfriend.
I barely saw their faces as I did their makeup. Instead, visions of Thomas in April’s bed collided in my mind with
my thoughts of what I would say to Dr. Shields after she closed the door of her town house behind us.
She lets me in instantly, almost as if she were hovering in the hallway, waiting for the sound of the doorbell. Or maybe she watched me approach from an upstairs window.