Authors: Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen
But I know I’m only lying to myself.
Saturday, November 17
You told a lie, which is an ironic entrance into a study on morality and ethics. Quite entrepreneurial, too.
You were not a substitute for the eight
The original participant called to cancel at 8:40
., explaining she had overslept, long after you were escorted into the testing room. Still, you were allowed to continue,
because by then you had proven to be an intriguing subject.
First impressions: You are young; your license confirmed that you are twenty-eight. Your chestnut-brown curls are long and a tad unruly, and you are clad in a leather jacket and jeans. You don’t wear a wedding ring, but a trio of slim silver bands is stacked on your index finger.
Despite your casual appearance, there’s a professionalism
about your manner. You did not carry a to-go coffee cup and yawn and rub your eyes, like some of the other early morning subjects. You sat up straight, and you did not sneak glances at your phone between questions.
What you revealed during your initial session, and what you didn’t intentionally reveal, were equally valuable.
A subtle theme began to emerge from your very first answer that
set you apart from the fifty-one other young women evaluated thus far.
First you described how you could tell a lie to appease a client and secure a better tip.
Then you wrote about canceling a night out with a friend, not for last-minute concert tickets or a promising date, as most of the others did. Your mind returned to the prospect of work instead.
Money is vitally important to
you. It appears to be an underpinning of your ethical code.
When money and morality intersect, the results can illuminate intriguing truths about human character.
People are motivated to break their moral compasses for a variety of primal reasons: survival, hate, love, envy, passion. And money.
More observations: You put your loved ones first, as evidenced by the information you withhold
from your parents to protect them. Yet you describe yourself as an accessory in an act that could destroy another relationship.
It was the question you didn’t answer, though, the one you struggled with as you scraped at your nails, that holds the most intrigue.
This test can free you, Subject 52.
Surrender to it.
Saturday, November 17
My power nap pushes away thoughts about Dr. Shields and his strange test. A cup of strong coffee helps me turn my focus onto my clients, and by the time I arrive back at my apartment after work, I almost feel like myself again. The idea of another session tomorrow doesn’t seem daunting anymore.
I even have the energy to tidy up, which mostly
consists of gathering the clothes that are heaped on the back of a chair and hanging them in my closet. My studio is so small there isn’t a single wall that’s not blocked by a piece of furniture. I could afford a bigger place if I moved in with a roommate, but years ago I made the decision to live alone. My privacy is worth the trade-of.
A sliver of fading late-afternoon light peeks through
the single window as I sit down on the edge of my futon. I reach for my checkbook, thinking that I won’t dread paying my bills as much as usual with an extra five hundred dollars coming in this month.
As I begin writing a check to Antonia Sullivan, it’s as if Dr. Shields is in my head again:
Have you ever kept a secret from someone you loved to avoid upsetting them?
My pen freezes.
Antonia is a private speech and occupational therapist, one of the best in Philly.
The state-funded specialist who works with Becky on Tuesdays and Thursdays makes a little progress. But on the days Antonia comes, small miracles occur: An attempt to braid hair or write a sentence. A question about the book Antonia has read to her. The resurfacing of a lost memory.
Antonia charges $125
an hour, but my parents think she bills them on a sliding scale and they pay a fraction of that. I cover the rest.
Today I acknowledge the truth: If my parents knew I paid most of the bill, my father would be embarrassed, and my mother would worry. They might refuse my help.
It’s better that they don’t have a choice.
I’ve been paying Antonia for the past eighteen months. My mother
always calls to fill me in after her visits.
I didn’t realize how hard it was to engage in that charade until I wrote about it in this morning’s session. When Dr. Shields responded that it must be difficult, it’s like he gave me permission to finally admit my true feelings.
I finish writing the check and stick it inside an envelope, then I jump up and head to my refrigerator and grab a
I don’t want to analyze the choices I make any more tonight; I’m going to have to be back in that world soon enough.
I reach for my phone and text Lizzie:
Can we meet a little earlier?
I walk into the Lounge and scan the room, but Lizzie isn’t there yet. I’m not surprised; I’m ten minutes early. I see a pair of empty barstools and snag them.
Sanjay, the bartender, nods at
me. “Hey, Jess.” I come here often; it’s three blocks away from my apartment, and happy-hour beers cost only three dollars.
“Sam Adams?” he asks.
I shake my head. “Vodka-cran-soda, please.” Happy-hour prices ended nearly an hour ago.
I’m halfway through my drink when Lizzie arrives, peeling of her scarf and jacket as she approaches. I pull my bag of the stool next to me.
the weirdest thing happen today,” Lizzie says as she plops down and gives me a quick, hard hug. She looks like a Midwestern farm girl, all pink cheeks and tumbling blond hair, which is exactly what she was before she came to New York to try to break into theatrical costume design.
“To you? No way,” I say. The last time I talked to Lizzie, she told me she’d tried to buy a homeless guy a turkey
sandwich and he’d expressed annoyance that she didn’t know he was a vegan. A few weeks earlier, she’d asked someone to help her find the aisle with bath towels at Target. It turned out to be Oscar-nominated actress Michelle Williams, not an employee. “She knew where they were, though,” Lizzie said when she’d recounted the story.
“I was in Washington Square Park—Wait, are you drinking a vodka-cran-soda?
I’ll have one too, Sanjay, and how’s that hot boyfriend of yours? Anyway, Jess, where was I? Oh, the bunny. It was just right there in the middle of the path, blinking up at me.”
“A bunny? Like Thumper?”
Lizzie nods. “He’s precious! He’s got these long ears and the tiniest pink nose. I think someone must have lost him. He’s totally tame.”
“He’s in your apartment right now, isn’t he?”
“Only because it’s so cold out!” Lizzie says. “I’m going to call around to all the local schools on Monday to see if any of them wants a classroom pet.”
Sanjay slides Lizzie’s drink over and she takes a sip. “What about you? Anything interesting?”
For once, I had a day that could rival hers, but when I start to speak, the words on the laptop screen float before my eyes:
this study, you are agreeing to be bound by confidentiality.
“Just the usual,” I say, looking down as I stir my drink. Then I dig into my bag for a few quarters and jump up. “I’m going to pick out some tunes. Any requests?”
“Rolling Stones,” she says.
I punch in “Honky Tonk Women” for Lizzie, then I lean against the jukebox, flipping through the choices.
Lizzie and I met shortly
after I moved here, when we both worked backstage at the same of-of-Broadway play, me as a makeup artist and her as part of the costume crew. The production closed after two nights, but by then we’d become friends. I’m closer to her than just about anyone. I went home with her for a long weekend and met her family, and she hung out with my parents and Becky when they visited New York a few years
ago. She always gives me the pickle from her plate when we eat at our favorite deli because she knows how much I love them, just as I know that when a new Karin Slaughter book comes out she won’t leave her apartment until she’s finished it.
Although she certainly doesn’t know everything about me, it still feels strange to not be able to share today’s experience with her.
A guy approaches
and stands next to me, looking down at the song titles.
Lizzie’s song begins to play.
“Stones fan, huh?”
I turn to look at him. He’s a B-school grad for sure, I think. I see his type every day on the subway. He’s got the Wall Street vibe, with his crewneck sweater and jeans that are a bit too crisp. His dark hair is short, and his stubble looks more like genuine five o’clock shadow
than some sort of facial hair artistic expression. His watch is a giveaway, too. It’s a Rolex, but not an antique that would signal old family money. It’s a newer model that he probably bought himself, maybe with his first end-of-year bonus.
Too preppy for me.
“They’re my boyfriend’s favorite,” I say.
I smile at him to soften my rejection. “Thanks.” I select “Purple
Rain,” then walk back to my stool.
“You have Flopsy in your bathroom?” Sanjay is asking.
“I put down newspapers,” Lizzie explains. “My roommate’s not that happy about it, though.”
Sanjay winks at me. “Another round?”
Lizzie pulls out her phone and holds it up to show me and Sanjay. “You guys want to see a picture of him?”
“Adorable,” I say.
“Ooh, I just got a text,” Lizzie
says, staring down at her phone. “Remember Katrina? She’s having people over for drinks. Wanna go?”
Katrina is an actress who is working with Lizzie on the new production. I haven’t seen Katrina in a while, since she and I worked on a play together just before I left theater. She reached out to me over the summer, saying she wanted to get together and talk. But I never responded.
I ask, stalling.
“Yeah,” Lizzie says. “I think Annabelle’s going, and maybe Cathleen.”
I like Annabelle and Cathleen. But other theater people will probably be invited. And there’s one I’d prefer not to see ever again.
“Gene won’t be there, don’t worry,” Lizzie says, like she can read my mind.
I can tell Lizzie wants to join them. These are still her friends. Plus, she’s building
her résumé. New York theater is a tight-knit community, and the best way to get hired is to network. She’ll feel badly about going without me, though.
It’s like I can hear Dr. Shields’s deep, soothing voice in my head again:
Could you tell a lie without feeling guilt?
I answer him.
I say to Lizzie: “Oh, it’s not that, I’m just really tired. And I have to get up early tomorrow.”
Then I signal to Sanjay. “Let’s have one more quick drink and then I need to get to bed. But you should go, Lizzie.”
Twenty minutes later, Lizzie and I walk out the door. We’re heading in opposite directions, so we hug good-bye on the sidewalk. She smells like orange blossoms; I remember helping her pick out the scent.
I watch as she turns the corner, heading toward the party.
Lizzie had said Gene French wouldn’t be there, but it’s not just him I’m avoiding. I’m not eager to reconnect with anyone from that phase of my life, even though it consumed me for the first seven years after I moved to New York.
Theater was what drew me to this city. My dream caught hold early, when I was a young girl and my mother took me to see a local production of
The Wizard of Oz.
the actors came to the lobby and I realized that all of them—Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion, the Wicked Witch—were just ordinary people. They’d been transformed by chalky face powder and freckles drawn on with an eyebrow pencil and green-tinted foundation.
After I left college and moved to New York, I started at the Bobbi Brown counter at Bloomingdale’s while I auditioned as a makeup artist for
every play I could find on
That’s when I learned the pros carry their contour wheels, foundations, and false eyelashes in black accordian-style cases instead of duffel bags. At first I worked sporadically on small shows, where I was sometimes paid in comp tickets, but after a couple of years, the jobs came easier and the audiences got bigger and I was able to quit the department
store. I began to get referrals, and I even signed with an agent, albeit one who also represented a magician who performed at trade shows.
That period of my life was pure exhilaration—the intense camaraderie with actors and other crew members, the triumph when the audience rose to their feet and applauded our creation—but I earn a lot more now doing freelance makeup. And I realized long ago
that not everyone’s dreams are meant to come true.
Still, I can’t help thinking back to that time and wondering if Gene is the same.
When we were introduced, he took my hand in his. His voice was deep and robust, as befitting someone who worked in the theater. He was already on his way to making it big, even though he was only in his late thirties. He got there even faster than I anticipated.
The first thing he ever said to me, as I tried to keep from blushing:
You’ve got a great smile.
The memories always come back in this order: Me bringing him a cup of coffee and nudging him awake from his catnap in a seat in the darkened auditorium. Him showing me a
, fresh from the printer, and pointing out my name in the credits. The two of us alone in his office, him holding my
gaze as he slowly unzipped his pants.
And the last thing he ever said to me, as I tried to hold back tears:
Get home safe, okay?
Then he hailed a cab and gave the driver a twenty.
Does he ever think of me? I wonder.
, I tell myself. I need to move on.
But if I go home, I know I won’t be able to sleep. I’ll be replaying scenes from our final night together and what I could
have done differently again, or thinking about Dr. Shields’s study.