Authors: Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen
“Jessica,” she says by way of greeting.
Just that. Just my name.
Then she locks the door behind me and takes
I stand beside her while she hangs it in the closet. She steps back and nearly bumps into me.
“Sorry,” I say. She needs to remember this moment. I’m planting a seed for my cover story.
“Would you care for a Perrier?” Dr. Shields asks, leading the way toward the kitchen. “Or perhaps a glass of wine?”
I hesitate, then say, “Whatever you’re having would be lovely.” I make
sure my tone carries gratitude.
“I just opened a bottle of Chablis, Dr. Shields says. “Or would you prefer Sancerre?”
As if I’d know the difference between varieties of grapes.
“Chablis is fine,” I say, but I’m not going to have more than a few sips. My mind needs to be sharp.
She fills two crystal glasses with slim stems and hands me one. My eyes dart around the room. I haven’t
seen any evidence that Thomas is on the premises, but after the way they acted last night, I need to be sure he isn’t within earshot.
I take a small swallow of wine and then plunge right in, keeping my voice low. “I have to tell you something.”
She turns to regard me. I know she can sense my nervousness; it feels like it’s radiating off me. At least I don’t have to pretend to manufacture
She gestures to a stool and takes the one next to me. We’re swiveled to face each other and we’re sitting much closer than we usually do. I twist my body an extra few inches so that I have a clear view of the room. Now no one can sneak up on me.
The faintest blue-violet shadows form crescent shapes under Dr. Shields’s eyes. She probably hasn’t been sleeping well, either.
is it, Jessica? I hope by now you know you can tell me anything.”
She picks up her wineglass and then I see it:
hand is shaking almost imperceptibly. It is the first time I’ve witnessed a vulnerability.
“I haven’t been completely honest with you,” I say.
I see her throat move as she swallows. But she doesn’t rush in. She waits me out.
“The man from the diner . . .” I say. Something
changes in her eyes; they narrow the slightest bit. I’m very careful with my words as I continue. “When he wrote back to my text, he actually said he wanted to meet me. He asked me to give him a day and time.”
Dr. Shields’s gaze remains fixed on me. She isn’t moving.
I have the fleeting thought that she’s turned to glass, sculpted from the same Murano material as the falcon she said was
a gift for her husband. For Thomas.
“But I haven’t replied,” I continue.
This time I wait her out. I drag my eyes away from hers under the pretext of needing a sip of wine.
“Why is that?” Dr. Shields finally asks.
“I think Thomas is your husband,” I whisper. My heart is clattering so loudly I’m sure she can hear it.
She draws in a sharp inhalation of breath.
murmurs. “What led you to this assumption?”
I have no idea if I’m traveling down the right path now. I’m hop-scotching through a minefield, but I don’t know how much she knows, so I have to give her a piece of the truth.
“When I showed up at Ted’s Diner, I realized I’d seen the man before,” I say. This is the tricky part; I fight back a feeling of light-headedness. “I recalled passing
him on my way into the museum, when the crowd was gathered around the woman who was hit by the taxi. I only noticed him because I was looking at everyone there to try to figure out if they were part of the test. I’m sure he didn’t see me, though.”
Dr. Shields doesn’t respond. She’s expressionless. I have no idea how she feels about what I’m saying.
“When I told you about the man I spoke
to in front of the photographs, it confused me that you thought he had sandy hair. I didn’t even connect your question to the guy in front of the museum. But then I saw him—Thomas—again at the diner.”
Dr. Shields finally opens her mouth to speak. “And those simple things led you to this conclusion?”
I shake my head. The next part sounded good when I rehearsed it earlier today. But now
I have no idea if it will convince her. “The jackets in your coat closet . . . . They’re all so big. They clearly belong to a man who’s tall and broad, not like the guy in the photo in your dining room. I noticed them last time I was here and I double-checked again tonight.”
“You are quite the detective, aren’t you, Jessica?” Her fingers caress the stem of her wineglass. She raises it to her
lips and takes a sip. Then: “Did you figure this all out on your own?”
“Sort of,” I say. I can’t tell if she believes me, so I continue with the story I’d planned: “Lizzie was just talking about how she had to order an extra costume for an understudy in a play who was much bigger than the original actor. That’s what made me think of it.”
Dr. Shields abruptly leans forward and I flinch.
I make sure I hold her gaze.
After a moment, she gets up off her stool without a word. She reaches for the wine bottle on the counter and walks back to the refrigerator. When she opens the door, I glimpse only a row of Perrier water and a carton of eggs. I’ve never seen a fridge so bare.
“Speaking of Lizzie, I’m going to meet her right after this for a drink,” I continue. “Do you know
any place nearby that’s good? I told her I’d text her when we finish.”
That’s another of my safeguards, along with the Mace I’ve put in my purse and my clear view of my surroundings.
Dr. Shields closes the refrigerator door. But she doesn’t come back around the counter to sit with me.
“Oh, is Lizzie still in town?” Dr. Shields asks.
I almost gasp. Lizzie left yesterday, but how
can Dr. Shields know that? If she got to my parents, maybe she got to Lizzie, too.
I can’t even remember if I’ve told her anything about Lizzie’s holiday plans. Dr. Shields took notes of all of our conversations. I never did.
I start to babble: “Yeah, she was thinking about going earlier but some stuff came up, so she’s here for another couple days.”
I force myself to stop speaking.
Dr. Shields remains across the counter from me. She’s studying me. It’s like she’s pinning me down with her gaze.
There are four other rooms behind me, including the powder room. Because Dr. Shields has repositioned herself across the kitchen, I can no longer look at her and keep watch on the doorways.
Instead, all I can see are the hard, gleaming surfaces of her kitchen: gray marble counters,
stainless-steel appliances, and the metal spiral of the corkscrew she has left by the sink.
“I am glad you were honest with me, Jessica,” Dr. Shields says. “And now I am going to do the same. You are right: Thomas is my husband. The man in the photograph was my mentor when I was in graduate school.”
I exhale the breath I didn’t realize I was holding. At last there’s one piece of information
that aligns with what Thomas and Dr. Shields have both told me, and with my instincts.
“We’ve been married for seven years,” she continues. “We used to work in the same building. That’s how we met. He’s also a psychiatrist.”
“Oh,” I say, hoping that one word will encourage Dr. Shields.
“You must be wondering why I’ve been pushing you toward him,” she says.
Now I’m the one to remain
silent. I don’t want to say anything that could set her off.
“He cheated on me,” Dr. Shields says. I think I catch the sheen of tears in her eyes, but then the glimmer is gone, and I don’t know if it was just a trick of the light. “Only once. But the details of that betrayal made it particularly painful. And he promised he would never do it again. I want to believe him.”
Dr. Shields is
so precise and careful with her words; it feels like she’s finally telling me the truth.
I wonder if she saw that intimate photo of Thomas in April’s bed, with the floral comforter exposing his bare shoulders. How painful that must have been.
How much worse things would be for her if she knew what I’d done.
I’m desperate to hear more. Still, I know I can’t let down my guard around
her even for a second.
“Of all the questions I’ve asked you, we never covered this one,” Dr. Shields continues. “Have you ever truly been in love, Jessica?”
I don’t know if there’s a right answer. “I don’t think so,” I finally say.
“You would know,” she responds. “The joy—the sense of completeness it can offer a person—is directly proportional to the amount of anguish one experiences
when that love is withdrawn.”
It’s the first time she has ever appeared soft and swept up in emotion.
I need to make her believe I’m on her side. I had no idea Thomas was her husband when I took him back to my apartment. Still, if she learns about it, well, I have no idea what she’d do to me.
My mind flashes back again to Subject 5, splayed out on a bench in the gardens on the last
night of her life. Surely the police investigated her death before it was ruled a suicide. But was she truly alone when she died?
“I’m so sorry,” I say. My voice trembles a little, but I hope she thinks it’s from compassion instead of fear. “What can I do to help?”
Dr. Shields’s lips curve up in an empty smile. “That is why I picked you,” she says. “You remind me a bit of . . . well, of
I can’t help it; I whip my head around to check behind me. The front door is maybe twenty yards away, but the lock appears complicated.
“What is wrong, Jessica?”
I reluctantly twist my body back around. “Nothing, I just thought I heard a noise.” I pick up my wineglass. Instead of taking a drink, I simply hold it. It may be heavy enough to use as a weapon.
“We are completely
alone,” she says. “Do not worry.”
She finally comes back from behind the counter and reclaims her seat next to me. Her knee brushes mine as she arranges herself on the stool. I suppress a flinch.
“The young woman Thomas cheated with . . .” The words want to remain locked away, but I have to ask. “You said she reminded you of me?”
Dr. Shields reaches out and touches my arm with her
thin fingers. The blue veins on the tops of her hands stand out sharply against her skin.
“There was a similar essence,” she says. When she smiles, I see it: A few more tiny, sharp lines around her eyes appear, like the cracks in the glass are spreading. “She had dark hair, and she was full of life.”
Her hand is still holding my forearm. Her grip feels imperceptibly tighter. Full of life,
I think. What a strange way to describe a young woman who took her own.
I wait for her next words and wonder if she’s going to say April’s name, or if she’ll refer to her as a study subject.
She looks at me. Her eyes sharpen again. And it’s as if the woman I saw just moments ago—the softer one, who was clearly yearning for her husband—has slipped behind a mask. Her words are devoid of
emotion again now. She sounds like a professor, lecturing on an abstract subject.
“Although the woman Thomas betrayed me with wasn’t as young as you, she was about ten years older. Closer to my age.”
Ten years older.
I know Dr. Shields sees the shock in my face, because her own expression tightens.
There is no way April, the young woman in all of those Instagram photos, was in
her thirties; besides, the obituary reported that she was twenty-three. Dr. Shields isn’t talking about April.
If Dr. Shields is telling me the truth, there’s a second woman Thomas was with during his marriage. There are three, counting me. How many were there, in total?
“I just can’t imagine anyone would do that to you,” I say, taking another tiny sip of wine to cover my surprise.
Her head dips in a nod. “The important thing is to ensure that he won’t do it again. You understand, right?”
She pauses. “That is why I need you to reply to him right now.”
I go to put my wineglass on the counter, but misjudge the distance. It teeters on the edge of the marble, and I catch it just before it falls to the floor and shatters.
I see Dr. Shields catalog the incident, but
she doesn’t remark on it.
My plan has gone drastically awry. The confession that I had thought would liberate me feels like a noose.
I pull my phone out of my bag and type out the text as Dr. Shields dictates:
Can we meet tomorrow night? Deco Bar at 8?
She watches as I hit
Less than twenty seconds later, a reply arrives.
Panic floods my body. What if he wrote something incriminating?
I’m so dizzy I want to put my head between my knees. But I can’t.
Dr. Shields is staring at me like she can read my thoughts.
I swallow hard against the nausea rising in my throat as I look down at my phone.
“Jessica?” she prompts.
Her voice sounds tinny and distant, as if it is coming from far away.
My hand is shaking as I turn my phone so Dr. Shields can see Thomas’s response:
I’ll be there.
Friday, December 21
Every therapist knows the truth shape-shifts; it is as elusive and wispy as a cloud. It morphs into different incarnations, resisting attempts to define it, molding itself to the viewpoint of whoever claims to possess it.
I’m leaving in a few minutes to meet T. Should I offer to buy him a drink, since I’m the one who
asked him out?
No, he is traditional. Let him take the lead.
, Thomas approaches Deco Bar, where you await. He disappears from view as he enters through the doorway. He never looks around at the neighboring restaurants and cafés, including the one directly across the street.
, Thomas leaves the bar. Alone.
When he reaches the curb, his hand
dips into his pocket and pulls out his cell phone. He gestures with his other arm for a taxi.
“Are you sure you wouldn’t like anything else, ma’am?”
The waiter’s intrusion blocks the view out the large, plate-glass window. By the time the server leaves, Thomas is also gone. A yellow cab pulls away from the spot where he stood only a moment ago.