Authors: Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen
“Yes!” Mandy says. “It could be Justin.”
Taylor wrinkles her nose. “Who answers their phone on a Friday night, though? He can leave a message.”
A few moments later, she touches the speakerphone button and a man’s voice fills the room:
“This is Ben Quick, Dr. Shields’s
assistant. I’m confirming your appointments this weekend, for tomorrow and Sunday from eight to ten
. The location again is Hunter Hall, Room 214. I’ll meet you in the lobby and take you up.”
Taylor rolls her eyes and I pull back my mascara wand.
“Can you keep your face still, please?” I ask.
“Sorry. Was I out of my mind, Mandy? I’m going to be way too hungover to get up early tomorrow.”
“Just blow it of.”
“Yeah. But it’s five hundred bucks. That’s, like, a couple sweaters from rag & bone.”
These words break my concentration; five hundred is what I make for ten jobs.
“Gah. Forget it. I’m not going to set an alarm to go to some dumb questionnaire,” Taylor says.
Must be nice,
I think, looking at the sweater crumpled in the corner.
Then I can’t help myself:
Taylor shrugs. “Some psych professor needs students for a survey.”
I wonder what sort of questions are on the survey. Maybe it’s like a Myers-Briggs personality test.
I step back and study Taylor’s face. She’s classically pretty, with an enviable bone structure. She didn’t need the full forty-five-minute treatment.
“Since you’re going to be out late, I’ll line
your lips before I apply gloss,” I say. “That way the color will last.”
I pull out my favorite lip gloss with the BeautyBuzz logo on the tube and smooth it along Taylor’s full lips. After I finish, Taylor gets up to go look in the bathroom mirror, trailed by Mandy. “Wow,” I hear Taylor say. “She’s really good. Let’s take a selfie.”
“I need my makeup first!”
I begin to put away the
cosmetics I used for Taylor and consider what I will need for Mandy when I notice Taylor has left her phone on the chair.
rocking Friday night will consist of walking my little mixed terrier, Leo, and washing the makeup out of my brushes—after I take the bus across town to my tiny studio on the Lower East Side. I’m so wiped out that I’ll probably be in bed before Taylor and Mandy order
their first cocktails at the club.
I look down at the phone again.
Then I glance at the bathroom door. It’s partly closed.
I bet Taylor won’t even bother to return the call to cancel her appointment.
“I need to buy the highlighter she used,” Taylor is saying.
Five hundred dollars would help a lot with my rent this month.
I already know my schedule for tomorrow. My first
job doesn’t begin until noon.
“I’m going to have her do my eyes kind of dramatic,” Mandy says. “I wonder if she has false lashes with her.”
Hunter Hall from eight to ten
.—I remember that part. But what was the name of the doctor and his assistant?
It’s not even like I make a decision to do it; one second I’m staring at the phone and the next, it’s in my hand. Less than a minute
has passed; it hasn’t locked out yet. Still, I need to look down to navigate to the voice mail screen, but that means taking my eyes of the bathroom door.
I jab at the screen to play the most recent message, then press the phone tightly to my ear.
The bathroom door moves and Mandy starts to walk out. I spin around, feeling my heartbeat erupt. I won’t be able to replace the phone without
her seeing me.
I can pretend it fell of the chair, I think wildly. I’ll tell Taylor I just picked it up.
Dr. Shields’s assistant . . . eight to ten
. . . .
“Should I make her try a darker lip color?”
, I think, willing the message to play faster.
Hunter Hall, Room 214.
“Maybe,” Mandy says.
I’ll meet you in the lob—
up and drop the phone back onto the chair just as Taylor takes her first step into the room.
Did she leave it faceup or facedown? But before there’s time to try and remember, Taylor is beside me.
She stares down at her phone and my stomach clenches. I’ve messed up. Now I recall that she left it with the screen facing down on the chair. I put it back the wrong way.
I swallow hard, trying
to think of an excuse.
“Hey,” she says.
I drag my eyes up to meet hers.
“Love it. But can you try a darker lip gloss?”
She flops back onto the chair and I slowly exhale.
I redo her lips twice—first making them berry, then reverting to the original shade, all the while steadying my right elbow with my left palm so my shaking fingers don’t ruin the lines—and by the time I’m finished,
my pulse has returned to normal.
When I leave the apartment with a distracted
Thank you” from the girls instead of a tip, my decision is confirmed.
I set the alarm on my phone for 7:15
Saturday, November 17
The next morning, I review my plan carefully.
Sometimes an impulsive decision can change the course of your life.
I don’t want that to happen again.
outside Hunter Hall, peering in the direction of Taylor’s apartment. It’s cloudy and the air is thick and gray, so for a moment I mistake another young woman rushing in my direction for her. But it’s just someone out for a jog. When it’s five minutes past eight and it appears that Taylor is still asleep, I enter the lobby, where a guy in khakis and a blue button-down shirt is checking his watch.
“Sorry I’m late!” I call.
“Taylor?” he says. “I’m Ben Quick.”
I’d correctly gambled on the assumption that Taylor wouldn’t phone to cancel.
“Taylor is sick, so she asked me to come and do the questionnaire instead. I’m Jessica. Jessica Farris.”
“Oh.” Ben blinks. He looks me up and down, examining me more carefully.
I’ve traded my ankle boots for Converse high-tops and slung
a black nylon backpack over one shoulder. I figure it won’t hurt if I look like a student.
“Can you hang on a second?” he finally says. “I need to check with Dr. Shields.”
“Sure.” I aim for the slightly bored tone Taylor used last night.
The worst thing that’ll happen is he’ll tell me I can’t participate, I remind myself. No big deal; I’ll just grab a bagel and take Leo for a long
Ben steps aside and pulls out his cell phone. I want to listen to his side of the conversation, but his voice is muted.
Then he walks over to me. “How old are you?”
“Twenty-eight,” I respond truthfully.
I sneak a glance at the entrance to make sure Taylor isn’t going to saunter in at the last minute.
“You currently reside in New York?” Ben asks.
two more questions for me: “Where else have you lived? Anywhere outside the United States?”
I shake my head. “Just Pennsylvania. That’s where I grew up.”
“Okay,” Ben says, putting his phone away. “Dr. Shields says you can participate in the study. First, I need to get your full name and address. Can I see some ID?”
I shift my backpack into my hand and dig through it until I find my
wallet, then I hand him my driver’s license.
He snaps a picture, then takes down the rest of my information. “I can Venmo you the payment tomorrow at the conclusion of your session if you have an account.”
“I do,” I say. “Taylor told me it’s five hundred dollars, right?”
He nods. “I’m going to text all this to Dr. Shields, then I’ll take you upstairs to the room.”
Could it possibly
be this simple?
Saturday, November 17
You aren’t the subject who was expected to show up this morning.
Still, you meet the demographic criteria of the study and the slot would otherwise be wasted, so my assistant Ben escorts you to Room 214. The testing space is large and rectangular, filled with windows along the eastern-facing side. Three rows of desks and chairs line the shiny
linoleum floor. At the front of the room is a SMART Board, its screen blank. High on the back wall is an old-fashioned round clock. It could be any classroom in any college campus in any city.
Except for one thing: You are the only person here.
This venue has been selected because there is little to distract you, facilitating your ability to concentrate on the task ahead.
that your instructions will appear on the computer that is being provided for your use. Then he closes the door.
The room is silent.
A laptop waits on a desk in the first row. It is already open. Your footsteps echo across the expanse of the floor as you walk toward it.
You ease into the seat, pulling it up to the desk. The metal leg of your chair grates against the linoleum.
A message is visible on the screen:
Subject 52: Thank you for your participation in Dr. Shields’s morality and ethics research project. By entering this study, you agree to be bound by confidentiality. You are expressly prohibited from discussing the study or its contents with anyone.
There are no right or wrong answers. It is essential that you are honest and give your
first, instinctive response. Your explanations should be thorough. You will not be permitted to move on to the next question until the prior one is completed.
A five-minute warning will be issued before the conclusion of your two hours.
key when you are ready to begin.
Do you have any idea of what to expect?
You bring your finger to the
key, but instead of touching it, your hand hovers over the keyboard. You are not alone in your hesitation. Some of the fifty-one subjects before you exhibited varying degrees of uncertainty, too.
It can be frightening to become acquainted with parts of yourself that you don’t like to admit exist.
Finally, you press the key.
You wait, watching the blinking cursor. Your hazel eyes are
When the first question blooms on the screen, you flinch.
Perhaps it feels strange to have someone probing intimate parts of your psyche in such a sterile setting, without disclosing why the information is so valuable. It is natural to shy away from feelings of vulnerability, but you will need to surrender to this process if it is to be successful.
Remember the rules: Be open
and truthful, and avoid pivoting away from any embarrassment or pain these questions provoke.
If this initial query, which is relatively mild, unsettles you, then you might be one of the women who wash out of the study. Some subjects don’t return. This test isn’t for everyone.
You continue to stare at the question.
Maybe your instincts are telling you to leave without even starting.
You wouldn’t be the first.
But you lift your hands to the keyboard again, and you begin to type.
Saturday, November 17
As I stare at the laptop in the unnaturally quiet classroom, I feel kind of anxious. The instructions say there are no wrong answers, but won’t my responses to a morality test reveal a lot about my character?
The room is cold, and I wonder if that is deliberate, to keep me alert. I can almost hear phantom noises—the rustle of papers, the thud
of feet against the hard floors, the jostling and joking of students.
I touch the
key with my index finger and wait for the first question.
Could you tell a lie without feeling guilt?
I jerk back.
This wasn’t what I expected when Taylor mentioned the study with a dismissive flip of her hand. I guess I didn’t anticipate being asked to write about myself; for some reason,
I assumed this would be a multiple choice or yes/no survey. To be confronted with a question that feels so personal, as if Dr. Shields already knows too much about me, as if he knows I lied about Taylor . . . well, it rattles me more than a little.
I give myself a mental shake and lift my fingers to the keyboard.
There are many types of lies. I could write about lies of omission or huge,
life-changing ones—the kind I know too well—but I choose a safer course.
I’m a makeup artist, but not one of the ones you’ve read about. I don’t work on models or movie stars. I get Upper East Side teenagers ready for prom, and their moms ready for fancy benefits. I do weddings and bat mitzvahs, too. So yeah, I could tell a high-strung mother that she could still be carded, or
convince an insecure sixteen-year-old that I didn’t even notice her pimple. Especially because they’re more likely to give me a nice tip if I flatter them.
not knowing if this is the kind of response the professor wants. But I guess I’m doing it right, because the second question appears quickly.
Describe a time in your life when you cheated.
Whoa. That feels like a presumption.
But maybe everybody has cheated, even if just at a game of Monopoly when they were little. I think about it a bit, then type:
In the fourth grade, I cheated on a test. Sally Jenkins was the best speller in the class, and when I looked up and chewed on the pink rubbery eraser of my pencil, trying to remember if “tomorrow” had one
or two, I caught sight of her paper.
Turns out it was two
’s. I wrote the word and mentally thanked Sally when I got an A.
Funny how those details came back to me, even though I haven’t thought about Sally in years. We graduated from high school together, but I missed our last few reunions, so I have no idea how she turned out. Probably two or three kids, a part-time job, a house near her parents. That’s what happened to most
of the girls I grew up with.