Authors: Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen
A second later, my phone rings. But the
person calling is not Thomas. It is you.
“He just left,” you say breathlessly. “It wasn’t at all what I was expecting.”
Before you can continue, the call-waiting signal beeps. Thomas is on the other line.
After twenty-two glacial minutes—a stretch of time that housed emotions ranging from rage to despair to thin threads of hope—everything is converging too quickly now.
one moment, Jessica. Gather your thoughts.”
All traces of authority are removed from the tone as Thomas is greeted: “Hello there!”
“Where are you, sweetheart?” he asks.
Ambient noises, such as the clatter of dishes or the conversation of nearby diners, may be available to him. It is vital that the response is consistent in both the manner and word of a woman who, while not entirely
carefree, is enjoying a spontaneous outing after a long day.
“Near the office. I just stopped for a bite since I haven’t had a chance to grocery shop this week.”
Across the street, the door of Deco Bar opens and you emerge holding your cell phone to your ear. You stand on the sidewalk, looking around.
“How long until you’ll be home?” Thomas asks. His voice is gentle, his words unhurried.
“I miss you and I’d really love to see you tonight.”
The amassed clues—the brevity of the meeting combined with Thomas’s unexpected request—allow hope to buoy to the surface.
Deco Bar and the café across the street are less than twenty minutes from the town house. But a debriefing is required from you before Thomas can be faced.
“I am just finishing up, Thomas is told. “I’ll phone
you when I am in a taxi.
Meanwhile, you remain on the sidewalk, hugging your arms around yourself against the cold. Your expression cannot be deciphered from so far away, but your body language conveys uncertainty.
“Perfect,” Thomas replies, and the call is terminated.
You are still holding on the other line.
“Apologies for the delay,” you are told. “Please, continue.”
didn’t come there for a date,” you say. Your cadence is slower now; you have had time to shape your response. This is unfortunate.
“Thomas wanted to see me because he was suspicious. He caught sight of me at the museum after all. He knew it wasn’t an accident that I showed up at the diner. He asked me why I was following him.”
“What did you say?” The question comes out sharply.
flubbed it,” you say meekly. “I insisted it was just a coincidence. I don’t think he believes me. But Dr. Shields, he’s clearly a hundred percent devoted to you.”
Your job is not to form conclusions, yet this is too compelling to ignore. “Why do you presume this?”
“I know I told you I’d never been in love before, but I’ve seen it in other people. And Thomas said he was married to a wonderful
woman, and that I should stop bothering him.”
Is it possible? All the worrisome signs—the late-night phone calls, the unscheduled visit by the woman with the swinging coat to Thomas’s office, the suspicious lunch at the Cuban restaurant—were simply a mirage.
My husband passed the test. He is true.
Thomas is mine again.
“Thank you, Jessica.”
The view from the window displays
a winter landscape: you walking down the sidewalk in your black leather coat, the tails of your red scarf a splash of color against the night.
“And that is all you two talked about?”
“Yeah, that was the essence of it,” you say.
“Enjoy your evening,” you are told. “I will speak with you soon.”
Three twenties are put on the table—an enormous tip, inspired by the happiness that feels
too big to contain.
As a cab is hailed outside the café, my cell phone rings.
“Have you left the restaurant?” he asks.
Instinct shapes my response: “Not yet.”
“I just wanted to let you know I’ve run into a little traffic,” he says. “So there’s no need to rush.”
Something in his tone triggers an alarm, but he is told: “Thanks for letting me know.”
is swiftly considered: Twenty-two minutes at Deco Bar. Too brief for a romantic interlude. Yet it seems unlikely that the contents of the conversation you reported with Thomas would require so much time.
You are barely visible two blocks ahead. But you are traveling in the opposite direction of your apartment. Your stride grows swifter, as if you are eager for what awaits.
You are in a
rush, Jessica. Where are you going?
Thomas’s delay affords the opportunity to gather more information. And a brisk walk in the cool air helps to clear the mind.
You proceed another block. Then you rapidly spin around. Your head swivels from side to side as you survey your surroundings.
Only the dark cloak of nightfall and the distance separating us, combined with the fortuitous location
of a cordoned-off building, which provides a shield, prevents you from noticing your pursuer.
You turn and continue.
Several minutes later, you arrive at another small restaurant called Peachtree Grill.
A man waits inside the glass doors to greet you. He is approximately your age, with dark hair, and he wears a navy puffy coat accented with red zippers. You lean into his open arms.
He hugs you tightly for a moment.
Then you both disappear deeper into the restaurant.
You profess to be honest, yet you’ve never mentioned this man before.
Who is he? How important is he to you? And what have you told him?
How many other secrets are you holding, Jessica?
Friday, December 21
My conversation with Thomas at Deco Bar was exactly as I described it to Dr. Shields.
He found me there at a few minutes past eight
at a table in the back area. I was nursing a Sam Adams, but he didn’t even order a drink. The bar was crowded, but no one seemed to be paying much attention to us.
Still, we stuck to the script.
“Why have you been following me?” Thomas asked as my eyes widened in surprise.
I protested that it was a coincidence. He looked skeptical and told me that he was married to a wonderful woman and that I should leave him alone.
We repeated variations of this dialogue until the two women at the next table turned to stare. I didn’t have to pretend to be embarrassed.
This was all good; we
had witnesses. And although I hadn’t seen Dr. Shields when I’d surreptitiously looked around the bar, I wasn’t going to rule out the possibility that she had engineered a way to track our conversation, or at least watch our interaction.
That meeting with Thomas didn’t last long. But it was actually our second encounter of the day.
At four o’clock, several hours before we met at Deco Bar,
Thomas and I had convened at O’Malley’s Pub, the same place where we’d met exactly one week ago before I brought him to my apartment. Back when I had no idea he was Dr. Shields’s husband.
Thomas had to cancel a client appointment to create a gap for the late-afternoon meeting; our conversation was too important to have over the phone. And we needed to talk before the date Dr. Shields had orchestrated.
I arrived first at O’Malley’s. Since it wasn’t even happy hour yet, only a couple other people were there. I made sure to take the table farthest from them. I positioned myself with my back to the wall so I could have a full view of the room.
When Thomas walked in, he nodded at me, then ordered a Scotch from the bar. He took a big gulp even before he sat down and removed his coat.
“I told you my wife was crazy,” he said. He ran a hand over his forehead. “Now, why did she have you ask me out on a date?”
We both wanted the same thing from each other: information.
“She told me you cheated on her,” I said. “She manipulated me into seeing if you’d do it again.”
He muttered something under his breath and finished his Scotch, then signaled to the bartender for another.
“Well, I guess we have an answer for that already,” he said. “You haven’t told her anything about us, have you?”
“Whoa, you want to slow down there?” I suggested, pointing to his drink. “We’re meeting again in a few hours and we need to be sharp.”
“I get it,” he said. But he still stood up and retrieved his second drink.
“I didn’t tell her we slept together,” I said when he returned
to the table. “I’m not planning to ever tell her about that.”
He closed his eyes and sighed.
“I don’t get it. You say she’s crazy and you want to leave her,” I said, “but when you’re around her, you act like you’re in love with her. It’s like she’s got this weird hold on you.”
His eyes snapped open.
“I can’t explain it,” he finally said. “But you’re right about one thing: It is
an act when I’m with her.”
“You’ve been unfaithful before.” I already knew the answer, but I had to smoke him out.
He frowned. “Why is that any of your business?”
‘It’s my business because I’ve gotten sucked into the middle of your twisted relationship!”
He glanced behind him, then leaned closer to me and lowered his voice. “Look, it’s complicated, okay? I had a little fling.”
One fling? He was only being partly honest.
“Does your wife know who she was?” I asked.
“What? Yeah, but she was a nobody,” he said.
I felt myself bristle. I wanted to throw the Scotch in Thomas’s face.
A nobody who was a subject in Dr. Shields’s study, just like me. A nobody who was now dead.
He saw the expression on my face and backtracked: “I didn’t mean—It was just some
woman who owns a clothing boutique a block over from my office. A one-night thing.”
I looked down at my bottle of Sam Adams. By then I’d almost peeled off the entire label.
So he wasn’t referring to April. At least his story aligned with Dr. Shields’s about this affair.
“How did she find out about it?” I asked. “Did you confess?”
He shook his head. “I sent Lydia a text that was
meant for the other woman. Their names started with the same letter; it was just a dumb mistake.”
This was interesting, but it wasn’t the affair I wanted to know about. What about Subject 5?
So I asked him, straight out. “What about your relationship with April Voss?”
He gasped, which was an answer in itself.
When he spoke again, his face was pale. “How do you know about her?”
“You’re the one who first told me about April,” I said. “Only that night in the Conservatory Gardens, you referred to her as Subject 5.”
His eyes widened. “Lydia doesn’t know, does she?”
I shook my head and checked the time on my phone. We still had several hours before Dr. Shields believed we were meeting.
He took another healthy swig of his drink. Then he looked me directly in
the eyes. I could read genuine fear in his. “She can never, ever find out about April.”
That was almost exactly what he’d said about us a few seconds ago, too.
The door to the pub swung open so hard it banged against the wall.
I flinched as Thomas whipped around.
“Sorry!” A portly guy with a red beard stood in the doorway.
Thomas mumbled something and shook his head, then turned
back to me. His expression was grim.
“So you’re not going to tell Lydia about April?” he asked. You have no idea what you would destroy if you did.”
I finally had something on Thomas. It was the opportunity I needed.
“I won’t tell her,” I said.
He started to thank me, but I cut him off. “As long as you tell me everything you know.”
“About what?” Thomas asked.
He didn’t give me much. I thought about what Thomas had revealed while I walked to meet Noah for a late dinner at Peachtree Grill following my second drink of the day with Dr. Shields’s husband, the one in which we’d read our lines like actors onstage.
Thomas had said he’d been with April only once, last spring. He’d gone to meet a friend at a hotel bar. After the friend left and
Thomas lingered to pay the bill, April slid into the seat across from him and introduced herself.
It’s the scene Dr. Shields had me re-create at the bar at the Sussex Hotel with Scott, I think, and suppress a shudder. But I don’t reveal that to Thomas; I might need to hold information over him again.
Did Dr. Shields set up April to test Thomas, and did April lie about it—just like I did?
Or is the truth even more depraved than that?
According to Thomas, he went to April’s apartment later that same night and left a little after midnight. Aside from the way they met, it sounds eerily like our date.
Thomas insisted he had no idea until after April died that she was connected to his wife. But given that April was a subject in Dr. Shields’s study, too, there was no way it
was a random encounter.
The cover story Thomas and I created for Dr. Shields tonight might buy us a little time, I think as I approach Peachtree Grill. I heard relief in her voice when she thanked me after I told her Thomas was devoted to her.
But something tells me it won’t last.
Dr. Shields has a way of pulling the truth out of people, especially when it comes to things they want
to bury. I’ve learned that firsthand.
It’s like I can hear her voice in my head again. I spin around and search the sidewalk. But I don’t see her anywhere.
I resume walking, even faster now, eager to get to Noah and the normality he represents.
A secret is only safe if one person holds it, I think. But when two share a confidence, and both have self-preservation as their
main motive, one of them is going to give. I deleted the text chain in which I asked Thomas on a date before I knew he was married to Dr. Shields. But I doubt he did.
Thomas is a cheater and a liar; strange traits for someone married to a woman who is obsessed with morality.
He says he wants out of the marriage. Who’s to say he won’t sacrifice me to do it?
I know three things happened
last spring: April served as Subject 5 in Dr. Shields’s study. April slept with Thomas. April died.