Today's Reading

PART ONE

You're Invited: Seeking women aged 18 to 32 to participate in a study on ethics and morality conducted by a preeminent NYC psychiatrist. Generous compensation. Anonymity guaranteed. Call for more details.

It's easy to judge other people's choices. The mother with a grocery cart full of Froot Loops and Double Stuf Oreos who yells at her child. The driver of an expensive convertible who cuts off a slower vehicle. The woman in the quiet coffee shop who yaks on her cell phone. The husband who cheats on his wife.

But what if you knew the mother had lost her job that day?

What if the driver had promised his son he'd make it to his school play, but his boss had insisted he attend a last-minute meeting?

What if the woman in the coffee shop had just received a phone call from the love of her life, a man who'd broken her heart?

And what if the cheater's wife habitually turned her back on his touch?

Perhaps you would also make a snap judgment about a woman who decides to reveal her innermost secrets to a stranger for money. But suspend your assumptions, at least for now.

We all have reasons for our actions. Even if we hide the reason from those who think they know us best. Even if the reasons are so deeply buried we can't recognize them ourselves.



CHAPTER ONE

Friday, November 16

A lot of women want the world to see them a certain way. It's my job to create those transformations, one forty-five-minute session at a time.

My clients seem different when I've finished helping them. They grow more confident, radiant. Happier, even.

But I can only offer a temporary fix. People invariably revert to their former selves.

True change requires more than the tools I wield.


It's twenty to six on a Friday evening. Rush hour. It's also when someone often wants to look like the best version of themself, so I consistently block this time out of my personal schedule.

When the subway doors open at Astor Place, I'm the first one out, my right arm aching from the weight of my black makeup case as it always does by the end of a long day.

I swing my case directly behind me so it'll fit through the narrow passageway—it's my fifth trip through the turnstiles today alone, and my routine is automatic—then I hurry up the stairs.

When I reach the street, I dig into the pocket of my leather jacket and pull out my phone. I tap it to open my schedule, which is continually updated by BeautyBuzz. I provide the hours I can work, and my appointments are texted to me.

My final booking today is near Eighth Street and University Place. It's for two clients, which means it's a double—ninety minutes. I have the address, names, and a contact phone number. But I have no idea who will be waiting for me when I knock on a door.

I don't fear strangers, though. I've learned more harm can come from familiar faces.

I memorize the exact location, then stride down the street, skirting the garbage that has spilled from a toppled bin. A shopkeeper pulls a security-grate over his storefront, the loud metal rattling into place. A trio of college students, backpacks slung over their shoulders, jostle one another playfully as I pass them.

I'm two blocks from my destination when my phone rings. Caller ID shows it's my mom.

I let it ring once as I stare at the little circular photo of my smiling mother.

I'll see her in five days, when I go home for Thanksgiving, I tell myself.

But I can't let it go.

Guilt is always the heaviest thing I carry. "Hey, Mom. Everything okay?" I ask.

"Everything's fine, honey. Just checking in."
...

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