Who cried in the middle of Starbucks?
Devin couldn't help noticing the woman across the room from him. At a corner table, one of only two in the shop that weren't visible from the windows, she held her head in her hands, sobbing and occasionally wiping her eyes or nose on a napkin. The other patrons sipped their chai or mochas and tried to ignore her, but she was hard to ignore.
Sometime in her life, someone had probably told the woman she was "pleasantly plump". Her legs overlapped the chair on either side, and the shape of her face bore a striking resemblance to the moon. That face contained a snub nose that was probably cute when it wasn't bright red from being wiped with a Starbucks napkin, a mouth with lips that could have used some lipstick to make them look more full, and eyes. The eyes were what caught Devin's attention. From this distance he couldn't tell their color, but they were nearly almond-shaped, with thick lashes that did show across the room. They were her most beautiful feature, along with the tumble of auburn hair that reached her shoulders.
Taken one piece at a time, the woman was pudgy and unattractive. But together, everything blended to make her beautiful. And Devin doubted she had any realization at all of how she looked.
He picked up his soy latte and went over to the woman's table. She glanced up with wide eyes when he sat down, then immediately covered her face with her hands. "Now isn't a good time."
"I can see that." Devin nudged her coffee cup, which felt empty. "Would you like another drink?"
"I'd like you to leave me alone." She peeked out through her fingers. Her eyes were a shade of green Devin had never seen before; it added to her beauty. "Everyone's staring at me, aren't they. You came over to tell me to quiet down?"
"I came over to find out why such a lovely lady is crying in a coffee shop."
She snorted. "Lovely? Please get your eyes checked. A fat, ugly hag is crying in the middle of the coffee shop because her boyfriend just informed her that unless she loses fifty pounds, he's dumping her for the blonde bimbo he works out with."
"Fat, ugly hag?" Devin raised an eyebrow. "Is that what he called you, or do you truly believe that's what you are?"
"Both." She held her arms out to her side as if to give him a better view of her. "Look at me. Do you disagree?"
"Very much so." He reached a hand across the table. "I'm Devin Stewart, and I have to say even though your crying's what caught my attention, your beauty is what kept it."
"You really do need your eyes checked." She shook his hand. "I'm Sophie Miller. Nice to meet you. I'm sorry I disturbed your coffee drinking."
"Oh, please. No disturbance at all." Devin looked around the shop at the other patrons, some of whom were smiling, some of whom were glaring. "Not for me, anyway, and who cares what they all think? You have as much right to be here as anyone. You didn't answer me about another drink."
"No, thank you." She picked up her cup. "Well, maybe. Just tea. Plain, unsweetened tea. If I have to lose fifty pounds, I'd better start watching myself."
"How much does your boyfriend weigh?"
"I don't know. Two hundred, maybe? Why?"
"Then I think you should lose two hundred pounds instead of fifty. Why would you care what such an ass thinks? If he's threatening you with another woman to get you to lose weight, he isn't worthy of you."
Sophie shook her head. "You don't understand. He's right. I'm huge. If I lose him, I won't have anyone. You might not think that's a bad thing, but trust me, I've been alone most of my life and I don't want to start that again."
"So a jerkish boyfriend is better than none?"
"Pretty much, yeah."
Good lord. This woman needed to give herself far more credit. No one deserved to be treated poorly. Devin suspected, and he was sure Sophie did as well, that her boyfriend was already fucking the blonde bimbo, and yet Sophie was still considering losing weight to keep the guy. Devin was glad he'd sat down with her. He knew he could help her.
"You know, if you want to lose weight for the right reasons, I have a suggestion for you," he said.
"The right reasons?"
"Yeah. Your health, your self-esteem. You, in other words, not some guy who doesn't appreciate what he has. Haven't you ever heard that you can't change for others, only for yourself?"
"Yes, but..." Sophie looked down at herself. "I've been fat since I was ten. I don't know if I even can lose weight."
"You won't if you're trying to do it for someone else. Do you want to lose weight for your own sake?"
"I want to feel attractive."
"We'll pretend that was a yes. So as I said, I can help."
"I'm a hypnotherapist." It was a slight exaggeration. Devin had done hypnosis for years and had helped people, but he wasn't licensed and didn't officially practice. "Hypnosis works well for things like quitting smoking and losing weight. I've had success with others; I'd be willing to give you some names if you want to check me out."
As he'd expected, Sophie shook her head. Fortunately for him, since he had no names to give her. "I don't want to talk to anyone else about it; I'd feel too weird. Are you sure it would work, though? I have a lot of weight to lose."
"I helped one woman lose over a hundred pounds. You said your boyfriend wants you to lose fifty, and to be honest I think you could lose less and still be attractive. So yes, I'm sure it would work."
"I can't believe I'm doing this." Sophie opened the pocketbook that hung on the back of her chair and took out a pen and notepad. "Could I have your number so I can get in touch to set it up?"
"Of course." Devin rattled off his cell number. "But actually, I'm free now if you'd like to get started. It may take more than one session to be completely effective."
"Uh huh. Of course it may. How much is this going to cost me?"
"You only pay if you get results, and we'll negotiate the price then. Don't worry, I won't break your bank, I promise."
"I'm nuts." Sophie put away her pad and pen and stood. "Okay. Let's get started. Even though you might be a rapist or axe murderer or something. I'm that desperate."
"You shouldn't be desperate at all." Devin stood and threw away the empty cups. "Come with me."
He had walked to Starbucks, which wasn't far from his apartment. Sophie had driven, in a dark green Volvo that looked like it had seen its better days. "Sorry the car's so trashed," she said. "I've been trying to persuade my boyfriend to buy a new one, but he says we don't have the money. Of course, we have enough money for the gym membership and his motorcycle."
"You and he share finances?"
"It seemed easiest when we moved in together, but now I'm starting to wish we didn't. I earn more than he does, but he spends far more than I do."
Mentally, Devin added to his list of things he planned to do for Sophie. Helping her lose weight was the most obvious thing, which was why he'd used it to persuade her to work with him. But it wasn't the only thing he intended to change about her. She needed to see herself as a beautiful person, inside and out, and she needed to get rid of the albatross of a boyfriend that hung around her neck. Once he had her in a hypnotic trance, he would be able to plant suggestions to deal with all those things.
"Don't worry about the car," he told Sophie. "I appreciate the ride."
"It's the least I could do if you're going to help me." They got into the car, and Sophie started the engine and drove away from the curb. "This is probably the stupidest thing I've ever done, picking up a strange guy and going to his house with him. I mean, you could murder me or something. But for some reason I don't think you will. I mean, maybe I'm just being naïve, but you seem like you really want to help me, so I guess I'll take what I can get. Sorry, I'm babbling."
"You're fine," Devin assured her.
When they got to his apartment, Sophie had another attack of second thoughts. "Maybe I shouldn't do this. I mean, I've heard some scary things about hypnosis. And it might not even work, right? You might not even be able to put me into trance or whatever they call it, right?"
"Come in, have a seat, and I'll explain how it works," Devin replied. "If it doesn't sound like something you want to try, that's fine. No harm, no foul, and at least I got a ride home out of the deal."
He knew that once he explained it to her, she would go through with it. The explanation itself was part of the hypnosis.
Sophie sat at the edge of the couch and looked at Devin expectantly. Her eyes truly were beautiful. Devin just had to get her to believe it. "Hypnosis is a method of planting suggestions in one's subconscious or unconscious mind," he said. He kept his voice low and soothing. "When one is hypnotized, one can be instructed to do, say, or think things. But no one can be hypnotized against their will, and even when one is in a hypnotic trance, they can't be instructed to do anything they would normally refuse to do or that goes against their beliefs. Hypnosis for weight loss and that kind of thing only works if the person genuinely wants to lose weight."
"So you couldn't hypnotize me to make me sleep with you or anything like that?" Sophie's words were slightly slurred; she was already relaxing into a trance-like state just from the sound of Devin's voice. Just as Devin had intended.
"Not unless it was something you wanted to do. And even then, I wouldn't attempt it. That would be unethical."
"You want to lose weight, Sophie. Will you let me hypnotize you to help you do that?"
"Good. Then relax. Breathe deeply and let your entire body fall still. You feel the relaxation spreading from the ground into your feet. Your feet and ankles feel heavy now, too heavy to move. Now to your calves and knees. The relaxation is like a warm pool, and each step you take into the water relaxes more of your body. Now to your thighs, your hips."
Devin continued until Sophie's eyes slipped closed. "Are you fully relaxed now, Sophie?" he asked.
"Can you move any part of your body?"
"No. It's too heavy."
"Good." Now came the tricky part, planting exactly the right suggestions. "I'm going to give you some instructions now, Sophie. They will be in your unconscious mind and you will follow them without realizing where they've come from. It will be as though you thought of them yourself. Do you understand?"
"My own thoughts," Sophie murmured.
"Yes. How much do you weigh, Sophie?"
"I don't like to say."
"I understand. In order for me to help you lose the best amount of weight, it would help if I knew how much you weigh now."
"Two hundred pounds."
Devin did a quick calculation in his head. Sophie was only slightly shorter than his own five foot ten. If she lost fifty pounds, that would put her at a good weight for her height. Her boyfriend might have been an idiot, but he did seem to have some idea what he was talking about. "Sophie, when you eat, you will feel full and satisfied on half the amount of food you're given," he said. "When you feel full, you will stop eating. You will eat only when you feel hungry, when your stomach is growling. Do you understand?"
"Eat only when my stomach growls. Stop when I feel full and satisfied. Feel full and satisfied when I've eaten half the food I'm given."
"Very good. When your weight reaches one hundred fifty pounds, you will feel full when you have finished the amount of food you are given." Devin had found that as people got used to eating only half the food in front of them, they started giving themselves less, until the amount they gave themselves at their low weight equaled half the amount they'd had at their heaviest. "Do you understand?"
"When I weigh a hundred fifty pounds, I can eat all of what I'm given."
"Correct." Now came the hard part. Weight loss was easy; it was all about numbers and amounts. But it was harder to quantify thinking better about oneself or dumping a moronic boyfriend. "Now. Sophie, you are beautiful."
"No, I'm not."
This might be harder than he'd thought. "Sophie, you are beautiful inside."
"Good. You are as beautiful outside as inside. Each time you pass a mirror, you will think to yourself, 'I am beautiful inside and out.' Each morning when you dress and each night before you go to bed, you will look into your mirror and say out loud, 'I am beautiful inside and out.' Each time you think or say that phrase, you will believe it more. Do you understand?"
"Every time I see a mirror, think I am beautiful. Every morning and every night, say out loud that I am beautiful."
"That's right." One more thing and he would send her home. "Your boyfriend treats you poorly. Each time he speaks to you, you will think, 'I deserve absolute love and respect.' Each time you think that, you will believe it more. When your weight reaches one hundred seventy-five pounds, you will believe that you are worth better than the way your boyfriend treats you, and you will throw him out and end the relationship. Do you understand?"
"My boyfriend treats me like shit. When he talks to me, I'll think I deserve love and respect. When I weigh one-seventy-five, I'll break up with him."
"Yes." Clearly Sophie wanted to end the relationship; she wouldn't have accepted the instruction so easily if she had any doubts. "I'm now going to count backward from three to one. When I say one, you will come out of your trance. You will open your eyes. You will feel relaxed and refreshed, and you will have no conscious memory of what we have said while you were under hypnosis. Do you understand?"
"Good. Three. Two. One."
Sophie's eyes opened slowly, and she yawned and stretched. "Did it work?"
"Time will tell. You went into trance easily. You still have my phone number?"
Sophie patted her pocket. "Yes."
"I'd like you to call me in five days so we can set up a time for a check-in. I want to make sure the suggestion I planted is effective. If not, I'll do another session. All right?"
"That sounds fine." Sophie rose and shook his hand. "Thank you, Devin. I feel much better already. I'd better get home; my boyfriend will be there soon and he doesn't like it if I'm out when he gets there."
Of course he didn't. He probably tried to control every aspect of Sophie's life. Devin couldn't wait for his suggestions to take hold so Sophie could live her own way. "It was nice meeting you, Sophie. Take care."
"Thanks. You too."
* * * *
Five days later, at the time they'd arranged on the phone, Sophie arrived at Devin's apartment. She wore a bright green blouse and black skirt with her hose and heels; the outfit suited her well. She looked thinner and much happier. "How's it going?" Devin asked.
"I can't believe it. I've already lost five pounds! I didn't think it was possible to lose that much so quickly, but I've only been eating about half of the food I put on my plate. I get full and then I don't want any more." She pirouetted. "How do I look?"
"How do you think you look?"
Sophie looked down at herself. "I think I look wonderful. I just bought this outfit yesterday. I thought I deserved something nice to celebrate losing weight. I've never worn anything like this before, but I love how I look in it."
"Great!" So the weight loss and beauty instructions had taken hold. "How are things with your boyfriend?"
"My boyfriend is a jerk." Sophie clapped her hand over her mouth. "He's good to me sometimes. But he keeps talking about the woman he works out with and he keeps telling me how fat I am. I'm losing weight and I'm beautiful anyway. If he keeps it up, I might not stay with him."
"Sounds like that wouldn't be a bad idea." The directions about her boyfriend were working as well. Perfect. "Sophie, I don't think we need another session today. It sounds like everything's working out well for you. Why don't you give me a call next week and we'll check in again?"
"All right." She hugged him. "Thank you, Devin. Thank you so much. I feel wonderful. I'm going to lose all the weight I need to and I'm going to look fabulous."
Devin smiled. "You're welcome. See you in a week."
* * * *
For the next month and a half, Devin checked in with Sophie weekly. She lost an average of four pounds every week, and each time he saw her she was more confident. And more attractive.
Six weeks after they'd met, Sophie walked into Devin's apartment wearing a tight, low-cut sweater that accentuated her soft curves and a miniskirt. She set her coat on the couch and held her arms out to her side. "What do you think?"
"Beautiful," Devin replied. "Absolutely beautiful." It was true. Sophie had lost enough weight now that her previously chunky body curved in all the right places. More importantly, she stood straighter, her confidence increased by the weight loss and by Devin's hypnotic suggestions. "How do you feel?"
"Incredible. Remember how you told me the day we met that I should lose two hundred pounds?"
"Yeah. I lost him. Threw him out last night. He made one too many cracks about my weight and my looks. I think he's pissed that I'm actually losing weight; he was just looking for an excuse to stay with gym slut. So I told him to pack his things and get out of my apartment."
"Good for you." Devin sat on the arm of the couch. "Sounds like things are going well. Do you think you need another session?"
"I don't think I need a session of hypnosis, no." Sophie walked over to him, a wiggle in her step. "A session of something else, though, would be very nice."
There was no doubt about what she meant. If Devin had questioned it, his question would have been answered when Sophie pulled off her shirt, revealing round breasts in a black bra. "Touch me," she whispered.
"You're only doing this because I helped you."
"No." She took his hands and placed them on her breasts. "I'm doing this because I'm a beautiful woman and I deserve to be treated well. I want you to treat me well. I want you to take me to bed and do all the things with me that my asshole ex told me I was too fat to do."
Her low, soft voice was almost hypnotic. And his hands were full of gorgeous tits, which Devin squeezed gently. Sophie moaned.
All right, then. If this was what she wanted, she'd get it. It had been a few months since Devin had gotten laid; he was overdue. Who was he to pass up a woman throwing herself at him? He stood and grabbed her hand. "My room's over here."
His plan was to drag her to his room. Instead, she dragged him and unfastened her skirt on the way. "I don't understand why I'm so fucking horny," she said. "I've never felt like this. I want you, Devin. I want you bad."
Despite her words and the intensity of her desire, which Devin could feel as if it were mist in the air, her voice kept that same low, soothing tone. Listening to it, he felt as though he were in a trance. But that would only be possible if Sophie knew hypnosis, and of course she didn't.
In the bedroom, Sophie removed her skirt entirely. Under it she wore only a thong. Devin had never liked thongs on heavy women, but on her it looked beautiful. Everything about her looked beautiful.
He caught her hands before she took off her bra and panties. "Let me."
Smiling, Sophie kept still while he undressed her. When she was naked, she lay on the bed, arms and legs outstretched. "You want to touch me, Devin. You want to feel every inch of my body. Do it."
He knelt on the bed beside her. Although she still carried some extra weight, her body looked perfect. Gorgeous. He ran his hands over her breasts, down her arms and back to her shoulders. Across her belly and down her legs. Back to her head, where he stroked her soft hair and traced a finger along the sides of her neck. She sighed. "That's so nice. Keep touching me. Touch me everywhere."