I rarely write in the third person, so this story is an experiment for me. My thanks to Jeriscol for his editing and education about the commas and semicolons.
Marybeth stomped down the street trying to vent her anger. Brad had pissed her off every day this week, setting a new record for his insensitivity and selfishness. Moreover her wrist hurt where he'd twisted it trying to gain control over her and make her have sex with him the night before. She'd spit in his face and he'd thrown her across the room onto the sofa. Now that she thought of it, her hip hurt too.
"Oh, God," she thought, "I'm headed towards a divorce. He was so nice when we lived together -- and then we had to go and get married." The wedding had been two years ago and the marriage had gone downhill from there. A fleeting thought of the lavish wedding and reception flashed through her head.
"I'll call Jess later and see if she has any suggestions." Jess, her long-time best friend, had divorced her husband of five years the year before and now seemed to be living an idyllic life living and working in the Embarcadero in San Francisco. She had several attentive boyfriends that seemed to adore her and satisfy her every need. Marybeth pushed back the twinge of jealousy that crept into her mind when she thought of Jess.
"Coffee; must have a coffee." The aroma of fresh brewed coffee wafted onto the sidewalk as she passed the Starbucks near her office. As usual she turned and waited in line for the expensive brew.
Afterwards, as a reward that fine spring morning and also to cool her temper and anger at Brad before she went to her office, she sat at a small metal table outside the coffee shop and sipped the hot coffee.
It was then that she noticed renovations going on in the empty store next door to Starbucks. The store had sat vacant for almost two years, the art gallery that had been in the place had folded. She recalled the art had never appealed to her and that she'd never seen anyone other than the gallery owner in the store. No wonder it had folded. There was no indication of what the new store would become.
Two days later, Marybeth stomped down the street -- as usual. She thought, "Brad's setting a new record. He's been an asshole everyday this month." This morning he'd yelled at her for leaving her dirty clothes from the day before in a pile in the corner of the bedroom. Of course, his were strewn from one end of their condominium to the other, some of them smelly remnants of his basketball game with the guys the evening before at the court in the schoolyard near where they lived. He'd thrown a few things at her but fortunately they'd been clothing.
Also as usual, she turned into Starbucks glancing at the pile of construction debris piled curbside for trash pickup by the empty store next door. "That's quite a renovation they're doing there," she thought. I wonder what the store will be.
When her turn came to order her coffee she also asked the girl behind the counter if she knew what the store would be. The result was a shrug and a shake of the head.
On her way to work she peered through the windows of the construction site next door. The place would be some kind of nicely appointed office space. She could see that the contractors were preparing a number of separate rooms. Based on wires hanging from the wall, the place would be well connected with computers and such. She speculated on what kinds of business that might include: insurance? Investments? Telemarketing? Oh well, time will tell.
Two weeks later things had only gotten worse with Brad. Marybeth came out from Starbucks and sat down to enjoy her morning coffee. She thought, "I have to get my head off my hellish life with Brad and into my job. My marriage is affecting everything I do." Suddenly, she noticed the intriguing name for the store that had been under construction. The signage must have gone up the day before while she'd been at work:
"Hummm. Marriage Exchange," she thought, "I'd love to exchange my marriage for someone else's. I wonder if they'll do that for me? Nah. Probably just a catchy name for a marketing company of some kind -- or perhaps counseling." After all, no one could exchange your marriage, could they?
She reflected on Brad's latest 'stunt' as she referred to them. He'd gone out drinking with the guys and not come home until one in the morning. Then he'd demanded sex with her. She'd told him on no uncertain terms to 'fuck off' and get sober. She locked him out of the bedroom, worried that he'd destroy the door. He'd slept on the couch, again, and was just rolling his slovenly body into gear as she'd left the condo. "What a mess I've made of my life -- my marriage," she thought.
The thought of sex flit through her mind and made her smile. She hadn't had sex with Brad for months. She decided to save her 'treasures' for some future, more deserving lover. Brad was turned off -- permanently. Nonetheless, she felt needy some days. She thought of Jess and her lovers. She'd call Jess later, if nothing more than to get her perspective on what she should do. Jess was earthy, but gave good advice and was always a good listener.
After she finished her coffee, Marybeth looked in the windows of the new shop again, however, there appeared there was no furniture or equipment yet in the offices. The following day, she asked about the shop at Starbucks but again only got a shrug indicating both indifference and lack of knowledge.
A week later, seething with her latest frustration with Brad, something to do with his anger over her meals and his drinking problem, Marybeth trod into Starbucks, her mind full of thoughts about how soon she could extricate herself from her husband. Such a shame I can't snap my fingers and make him vanish like the witch on that old black and white TV show.
A few minutes later armed with her coffee, she decided she'd better let her anger at Brad cool down before barreling into work with her current attitude. She sat at one of the metal tables and took a deep breath. "Maybe I should try mediation," she thought, "Or levitation; I'll levitate Brad right into the path of a speeding locomotive."
She looked across the sidewalk and for the first time realized that the previously vacant store now had come to life: Marriage Exchange. There were lights on in the establishment and she could see one woman moving around the outer reception area, neatening up the area.
Marybeth screwed up her courage, stood and walked towards the new store. As she entered a subtle sweet aroma of jasmine caught her attention and made her pause. She could feel some of her anger drain away.
"Hello," a woman's voice said pleasantly. "May I help you?"
Marybeth turned and looked at the woman: about her age, pretty -- no even beautiful, trim, wonderful skin tone, hair done in an attractive twist, silk blouse, black stovepipe slacks, low heels. "Yes, I guess." She paused and for a moment mused over how her own dress standards had declined as her anger at Brad grew. "Your store name caught my attention. I wondered what you did, or perhaps if you have a brochure."
The woman smiled and said, "I'm Tara. And yes, we do have a brochure." She rummaged in her desk and produced a single pocket-sized pamphlet with picture of smiling couples on it. She rose again and handed it to Marybeth. "Do you need a replacement or a better model?" she asked with a touch of humor in her voice.
Marybeth asked, "Replacement? Better model?" The woman sounded like she'd been talking about refrigerators.
Tara laughed. "Yes. Women come to us when they either need to replace a husband or boyfriend that's left them high and dry, or they want to get rid of one they have and get a better one. Usually they're in a marriage, but not always; sometimes it's a long-term relationship, that's why we call it Marriage Exchange."
Marybeth nodded in understanding and stated bluntly, "Oh, I need a new model!" She glanced at the brochure. "How do you make THAT happen?"
"Well, we have a variety of techniques. Apparently the one you have doesn't show any signs of departing? Have you tried counseling?"
Marybeth said, "He won't go to counseling; I've asked several times. And, no, he won't leave on his own. All he does is criticize and yell at me for my mistakes; he can occasionally be a little physical." She rubbed her wrist still sore from over a week earlier. "I've kept score over the past couple of months and there's only been one day when he was nice all day."
"Well, on one level, we have two basic techniques. We can help you push him out, or we can use some outside 'magnet' to make him want to leave you for what he thinks will be better. In the process we also find 'something better' for you. How's that sound?"
She thought for a moment and said, "Well, for one, it sounds expensive. Don't I need a lawyer and divorce papers and things like that?"
"We provide all that as part of our package, satisfaction guaranteed or your money back. The 'Do It Yourself' kit is $2,000; the 'Chauffeured Package' is $3,000, plus out-of-pocket expenses. There can be a few extras. We can finance the payments or even arrange for the money to be 'extracted' from your spouse's share of the divorce settlement as he departs. When you sign up for one of the programs we explain all the details to you." She looked at me expectantly.
After a moment Marybeth said, "Let me get back to you. That's more money than I've got now, and I also want to read your brochure. Do you have references for this kind of thing?"
"Oh yes, just let me know when you want them. We're very patient and there's no hard sell. I should also mention that something like this can take a few months; a separation or divorce is not something that we can make happen overnight, although we have had a number of miraculous departures or exchanges." Tara smiled warmly.
Marybeth took the brochure and her coffee and left the store, completing her walk to work. She felt as though a burden had been lifted from her shoulders even though she hadn't signed up for any Marriage Exchange programs.
At work she read the little brochure about a dozen times, but it provided no further information about Marriage Exchange other than what Tara had told her. There was a phone number, a local exchange that she assumed was the storefront she'd visited. She called and heard Tara answer: "Marriage Exchange, how may I help you?"
"Tara, this is Marybeth Wagner, I was in there about an hour ago. I wondered if I could talk to one or two people that used you guys. Is that awkward?"
"No, no," Tara told her. "Here are two names: Kate Webster and Diane Lawford. I think they both work in town near here." She also provided the phone numbers. "If you want I can give you a couple of men as well; you know problems such as you're facing can be felt equally on either side of a relationship."
After hanging up, Marybeth dialed Kate's number. Almost immediately a female voice answered: "Optimal Insurance, how may I direct your call?" She requested Kate Webster and in another moment another voice answered, "Hi. This is Kate."
Marybeth started, "Kate, you don't know me but Marriage Exchange gave me your name as a reference. I know it may be presumptive to ask but I was curious why you used them and how you think about someone like me using them? I'm thinking very seriously of signing onto their program."
"Where are you? Now I mean?" Kate asked.
Marybeth answered, "Errr, I work downtown, near Main and Pineapple."
Kate said, "Oh, Good. I'm about two blocks from you. How about we do lunch? Do you know the sandwich shop on Cortez near Main?" The pair set up a meeting and two hours later the two women sat on a park bench in front of City Hall eating their sandwiches.
Kate started by telling her story, "I was married to a guy named Charlie. Everybody loved Charlie, including his secretary. He bonked her a few times and I suspected but didn't have any solid evidence. I could have probably forgiven that, but then his whole disposition around me soured; I couldn't do anything right. It was a downward spiral. I figured he'd leave but he didn't, he just hung around, fucked her, and made my life miserable. He wouldn't go to counseling either. I hated to go home from work. I didn't know where to turn."
"A friend told me about Marriage Exchange. I thought it was a joke, you know 'trade your husband in for a better model' and all that. It wasn't. I'm married to Todd now and he's such a sweetheart, as different as night and day from Charlie. He's attentive, loving, kind, can't wait to do things with me, dotes on me, and calls me a few times every day just to tell me he loves me. Moreover," she whispered, "He's a divine lover. He's a dream come true."
"Anyway, M.E. as I call them; apparently had some other gal enter the picture and come on to Charlie. She was irresistible -- even more than his secretary - and he went for the bait. They did their magic on him and next thing I knew he'd packed up and moved out, then pleaded with me to divorce him on my terms. He gave me an outrageously great settlement. A month or so later, just when I was thinking of getting back into life, Todd showed up to offer help and solace, although I didn't think I needed much of that." She laughed, "Anyway, I'd resolved to swear off men and never get married again. Todd swept me off my feet, from day one, and a couple of months after my divorce became final, we ran away to Vegas and got hitched. I've never been happier in my life and my life only gets better with him."
Marybeth pushed and prodded with questions; amazed and incredulous that Kate could go through such a rapid change and come out of it amazingly upbeat and elated without the bitterness she detected in so many divorced women. Yet the evidence sat beside her on the bench as they had lunch.
Marybeth called Diane Lawford in the afternoon. As soon as Diane realized she'd been given as a reference, she giggled and suggested a glass of wine after work. She told Marybeth, "This isn't the kind of thing I can talk to you over the telephone about." They agreed on a spot downtown and Marybeth spent the rest of the afternoon wondering about Kate and Diane's objectivity. Had they been so desperate to get rid of their husbands that any replacement would do? Had they paid full price? How long had it taken? Were they still bitter?
Diane Lawford was a beautiful woman and warmed instantly to Marybeth. The two settled into a leather-bound booth at the stately old Hotel Drake, now made over and part of a national chain. Each had ordered a glass of Merlot.
Diane told her, "I can't tell you how happy I was with Marriage Exchange. Two years ago I even contemplated suicide. Darren, my ex, beat me up once in a while; it was his way of controlling me. I asked him to leave several times, but the most I got out of that discussion was a broken jaw one time. I had to drink my meals through a straw for six weeks; they wired it shut. I also missed two months of work."
She went on, "A friend had found the Exchange in another city and sent me a brochure. One day while I was at home nursing a black eye, I called them and talked to someone named Rachel. After she understood how desperate I was, she came here at her own expense a few days later and talked me through the program. I signed up and spent three days giving them an unimaginable amount of information about Darren and me, a lot of ... well, kind of personal ... intimate information. Well, after things started, at least his disposition improved slightly and I didn't feel I'd get roughed up, and then six weeks after I'd started he told me he was divorcing me; he moved out that day and I haven't seen him since."
"What did it cost you?" Marybeth asked.
"Well, it didn't cost me anything. Darren doesn't know it but he paid for the Exchange as part of his settlement."
"Oh yes, a couple of months after Darren moved out, Kinsey Cartland showed up on my doorstep, literally. The Exchange had him come by to help me sort out my affairs. They knew I'd eventually have to move to smaller quarters and trim back in a number of ways. Anyway, Kinsey arrived at ten o'clock in the morning and proposed marriage over a bottle of outrageously expensive wine that same day at five o'clock. Of course, I didn't accept right away, but I did four months later. He swept me off my feet."
"And you're happy?" Marybeth asked tentatively.
"Happy?" Diane stated incredulously. "I haven't had an unhappy second for the three years since Kinsey came into my life. He's the most fascinating man I know, plus he's a divine lover." Diane got a kind of dreamy look on her face.
"Is it ... is your marriage all based on sex?" Marybeth asked.
"Oh no," Diane exclaimed. "He's a bit of an intellectual. He's written a couple of dozen books -- mostly textbooks and he's often a guest lecturer at the City's college. He's well off, plus he brings me gifts, he writes me poetry, he's surprised me with trips to Europe -- where he's from, and to the Caribbean, he helps with housework, he's handy around the home, he likes all my friends -- even the crazy ones, and he encourages my wild streak."
Marybeth just sat in an astonished state and said, "Wow!" Finally she asked, "What did they do -- the Marriage Exchange?"
Diane said, "All I can figure is they lured Darren out by some strong female scent -- some other female was involved, but I don't think much ever happened between them. He was burning up with passion for something or someone when he left -- he just wanted out and I mean immediately. Rachel, the M.E. woman I worked with, said they used something new called E.H.T., whatever that is -- don't ask me, I didn't pay attention. I heard through the grapevine that Darren had changed jobs and was doing all right, but that's all I know for sure. I don't want to stir up a hornet's nest so I haven't called him but he's around town.
"How do I sign up?" Marybeth asked. She sat in front of Tara's desk at Marriage Exchange, her feet planted firmly on the floor and her purse clutched in front of her. On the desk sat her morning cup of coffee.
Tara said looking at her desk calendar, "We'll book a couple of days for you to come in to share a lot of information with us about yourself and about Brad. We could start on Friday and then pick up the second day and any additional time we might need the following week." She looked to Marybeth for approval.
Marybeth nodded, "The sooner the better. Should I plan being here the whole day? This is so important; I can take time off from work."
Tara said it would take at least two full days and then any other time could be done after work, unless there was something exceptional. Marybeth booked Friday and the following Monday.
Then Marybeth asked an interesting question: "As you do whatever it is you do to Brad, is there any chance I could watch it take place? I'd really like to see how you do what you do, but really I want to see the prick cooked in his own juices." She thought a minute and asked, "Diane said you used something called E.H.T. as part of your approach; what's that?"
Tara laughed and said, "We'll see if there's a situation where you can watch. You'll have to ask Stacy; she'll be your advocate here. You'll meet her Friday. Some parts of what we do I just don't know how you'd even be able to see them, but certainly any pickups or come-ons we can figure something out. It depends in part on Brad's habits. As for E.H.T., that stands for Extended Hypnosis Therapy. Several of the founders are expert in the approach and use it in some of our work. Stacy can tell you more about it on Friday."