The package arrived at work on Friday, just a padded envelope labeled, "Annalisa Johannsen, Personal and Confidential," and the address of her company. Whoever had sent it, they had left no return address at all. The mail carrier gave her a bit of a curious look, but all she could do was shrug helplessly in response.
At lunch, she took the envelope off to a quiet portion of the cafeteria and opened it. It turned out to contain a CD-ROM and a note. The note was printed on a computer, not hand-written, so the identity of the sender remained as mysterious as ever. It just said, "You need to know. Watch me alone. A friend."
Need to know? Need to know what?
Annalisa made it through the rest of the day without thinking about the disc too much, but that didn't mean she was any less glad to be able to get out the door and drive home. She always made it home an hour or so before Sam, and she took that time to head to the upstairs "office", slip the disc into the DVD-ROM drive, and open it up.
The disc only contained one file, a video clip. Wondering what all the trouble was about, Annalisa opened it.
It turned out to be some sort of low-budget fetish pornography. The room had been draped with black cloth to give it a "dungeon" feel. Annalisa shifted in her chair. She'd never been comfortable with pornography, even the relatively tame things Sam was interested in. This looked to be several orders of magnitude worse, the sort of thing she'd heard of but never seen. The woman in the video was kneeling in front of the camera, dressed in some sort of...outfit...was that rubber? Annalisa shuddered. Who the hell would send her something like this?
Then a second person walked in front of the camera. He said something, but Annalisa didn't even listen. She just stared, open-mouthed, at her husband's naked body.
She didn't believe it. She couldn't believe it. Sam didn't, wouldn't, couldn't, didn't! But the woman on the screen crawled over to him. Annalisa couldn't tell much about her; the rubber covered her from head to toe, with the exception of a few body parts that just made Annalisa's mouth set in a firm line as she continued to watch. Maybe this was a prank. Maybe Sam was going to stop her, turn to the camera, and say, "You know I love you too much to do this, honey!"
No, she was sucking on his...oh God. Annalisa closed the window and sat there for a long moment. She looked at the house around her, at a life that had suddenly become thin and brittle like ice on the surface of the water. She'd gone through the ice now, into black waters of betrayal and uncertainty, and...and she didn't know what to do next. Did she stop loving Sam? Should she leave? Confront him? Deny it? Did she need to pack? Who was the other woman? Was it just the once? How many women were there? Was she sure it was Sam? Did she need a lawyer?
The emotions just seemed to pile onto her, fighting each other for supremacy until all that Annalisa felt was a numb sensation. After what felt like hours, she heard Sam's car pull into the driveway, and she ejected the disc and slipped it back into the envelope.
It was just too much to handle right now. Sam didn't have to know she knew. Not yet.
She'd surprised herself with her ability to act naturally. She'd kissed Sam on the cheek, they'd had dinner and talked about their day, and she somehow didn't include, "I found out you were making pornographic videos" in her recap of events. They'd watched a little TV, cuddled a little, and fallen asleep just like normal.
Except for she hadn't slept. She just lay there, wide awake. Was this her fault? She kept coming back to that one. She knew her sex drive wasn't exactly high, but Sam had never said a word of complaint. Maybe this was why. Maybe he was satisfying himself elsewhere with the urges she knew she could never bring herself to gratify. Maybe this was only fair. She got her wonderful, loving husband, who gave her everything she wanted and made her happy, and he found some...pervert...to help him deal with his sexual issues. Maybe she could just turn a blind eye to it all, let the whole thing work itself out.
An hour later, she was upstairs in the office, watching the video.
She huddled in the chair, hugging her own knees, as the woman in black sucked her husband's...sucked her husband. She had the sound low, but she could still hear him saying, "Good job, slave. You know you love to please your master, don't you?"
The woman in black didn't answer, unless "bobbing her head up and down faster" was an answer. But Sam kept talking to her, telling her what a good...oh, God, she'd never even heard him use that word! Then he told her to stop, and just like that, she did. He told her to turn around, and, and...the fact that he said, "Spread your legs like the slut you are," that didn't bother Annalisa. Obviously, whoever this woman was, 'slut' was an apt description of her. What bothered Annalisa was the moan of pleasure the woman gave when he said it. She seemed...happy.
Annalisa reached for the mouse again when the two of them started...making love...but stopped herself. She needed to find out everything. Her own husband had suddenly become a total stranger to her, and she needed to learn everything she could about this new man before she decided whether or not she could live with him.
Sam pulled out of the woman's...out of the woman, and said, "Get down on your hands and knees." The woman did so, and Sam grabbed her hips and--and, oh, no, he wasn't putting it...he was. She'd touched that, and he'd been putting it up some woman's...into her...oh, God. Suddenly, she realized she also needed to know who this woman was. Sam wasn't using protection in the video. From a woman like this, who knows what kinds of diseases he could have contracted? She needed to have herself tested, she needed to...to what? Follow Sam around? It'd never work. She needed to hire a private detective. Which meant she needed an excuse to leave the house. Which meant that while she was gone, Sam could be...could be...she watched again as he grunted in animal ecstasy while the woman underneath him did the same. She'd never even imagined a woman could enjoy...that...but this woman made it look like the best thing ever.
Annalisa wanted to cry, but no tears came.
"You look like hell, Lis." Sue ushered her into the apartment, and began to make tea.
"I feel worse." Annalisa sat down on the couch and hugged herself. "I've just been to a detective's office, Sue. I...I think Sam may be cheating on me."
Sue walked back in as the water began to boil. "Sam? Don't be silly. The Rock of Gibraltar is less likely to cheat than that man of yours, and it probably has more sexual urges. What would possibly make you think he was cheating on you?"
Annalisa pulled the padded envelope from her purse. "Someone sent me this." Sue reached for it, but Annalisa pulled it away. "You can't watch it," she said, the hysteria in her voice frightening her a little. "I don't want..." she took a deep breath. "I don't want you seeing it." Good. That sounded calmer. "But it's video footage of Sam. With another woman."
Sue's lips tightened into a thin line. "I see," she said disapprovingly. Sue had never married, claiming a disbelief in the validity of the institution, but she obviously felt anger on her best friend's behalf. "Who's the other woman?"
"I don't know. The detective is going to find that out. Then I'll have to...to...oh, Sue, what am I going to do?" She hugged her friend tightly, and then the tears came, great big flooding torrents of them. She sobbed into Sue's shoulders until the whistle of the teakettle brought her back to herself, and spent a few moments rubbing her eyes with a tissue until Sue came back in with the tea.
"It's cruel of him, Lis," Sue said. "That's all it is, cruel."
Annalisa shook her head. "No. He's just...men have urges, Sue. They can't always control themselves."
Sue rolled her eyes, then looked at Annalisa and the expression on her face and stopped. "Lis...not to change the subject, but have you ever thought of seeing a therapist?"
"I don't need a therapist. I'm fine." She looked down at the envelope. "Until yesterday, I was fine."
Sue just shook her head and sipped her tea. "Cruel," she muttered to herself.
The next two weeks were deceptively normal for Annalisa. She went to work every day, she visited the doctor on Tuesday and got a clean bill of health on Thursday, she came home and snuggled with Sam as though nothing had happened--they even made love, a few days before the results came back from the detective. Sue came over the weekend after they'd talked at her apartment, and didn't even mention what she knew about Sam. (That had taken quite a bit of pleading on Annalisa's part, though. Sue seemed like she'd calmed down since they first talked, but she was still very unhappy about the whole situation.) Annalisa felt like she was an actress playing a part in a play, the Happy Wife. Did Sam feel like he was playing the Happy Husband? Did he secretly dream of a starring role in a pornographic movie? Could she ever make him happy the way the woman in black did? Was it worth it to try?
That Friday, the mail carrier brought her another envelope, this one from the detective agency. She opened it up, and found a disappointingly small amount of information. Records of Sam's movements for the last two weeks, which consisted of trips home, to work, to the grocery store, and a stop at Sears to pick up a pair of slacks. The photos of the "other woman" consisted of nothing more than Sue's visit to their house on Saturday. The only other thing in the envelope was the name of a website, "hypnomania.com", which was where the clip had supposedly come from.
When she got home, Annalisa brought up the site. The entrance banner claimed that it featured "hypnotized sluts", and described graphic sexual activities they performed, but Annalisa entered it anyway. It had dozens of video clips, going back almost five years. Her husband was in all of them, sometimes with one woman, sometimes with two. She scrolled through the thumbnails, not even daring to look at one, but one caught her eye anyway.
It was recent, just added a few days ago. It featured her husband, two of the faceless women in black rubber, and the notes on it said...
She clicked on it. A few minutes of downloading later, she was watching the two women rub each other's bodies while her husband watched. She didn't even understand it. She'd been with them the whole time. They couldn't have...she didn't understand. It felt like there were holes in her world, and they were getting bigger. She didn't want to fall into one.
She heard Sam's car pull in, and her fear resolved itself into anger. She stormed downstairs as he walked into the room with Sue. With Sue. She looked at them both.
"My best friend," she said. "My best friend, in my own house! I...who was it, Sam? Don't bother trying to deny it, because I know it happened!" She was crying now and she knew it, she could feel hot, angry tears streaming down her cheeks, but she couldn't stop now. "You wrote it yourself, on that stupid website of yours! 'This came from a little party I had over the weekend', that's what you wrote! I don't know how you did it, when you two snuck off to have your little fit of depraved sex, but you can't deny it! So who was it, Sam? Who was the other woman?"
The expression on Sam's face stopped her. It wasn't guilt, or shame, or anger, or even fear. He was concerned. He headed over to the closet, and pulled out a box from the high shelf as Sue guided her to a couch. She didn't see what Sam pulled out of the box, but he walked over to her, and set it in her lap. At first, it didn't seem like anything. Just a formless, shapeless blob of black. But when she picked it up, she realized what it was. A rubber mask.
"It was you," Sam said.
"It happened about five years ago," Sam said. "We were fighting. I don't think you remember it now, but we were fighting a lot back then. About sex, mainly. No, not mainly. Even the fights that weren't about sex were about sex. It was right after we met Sue, and I think that made it worse, because Sue was, well, open about sex in a way you weren't, had never been. I think she made us both realize just how repressed you were, and it didn't do our marriage any good to realize that.
"You tried, Ann. You wanted to make me happy, but you just...couldn't. And you didn't even know why you couldn't. Again, you probably don't remember now, but I'd been taking a lot of courses on hypnotherapy, and I was even thinking about getting certified. I thought it might help. I talked to you, you talked to Sue, I talked to Sue, we talked to each other, and I wound up..."
A flash of memory went off behind Annalisa's eyes. Her, watching a metronome tick back and forth rhythmically. With Sam sitting next to her, talking, and Sue on the couch... "You hypnotized me," she blurted out.
A look of relief crossed Sam's features. "Yes. We talked a lot, while you were under hypnosis. You're a very good subject, by the way. It took me three years to get Sue to go as deep as you did that first day. When we talked, it seemed like there was a block, something that was deep inside your subconscious keeping you from dealing with sex. We did some age-regression that day, Ann." He reached out and took her hand. "Do you remember yet what we found?"
She opened her mouth and looked across at Sue. She remembered the conversation they'd had, two weeks ago. 'Men have urges, Sue. They can't always control themselves.' Sue's response, so nonsensical at the time. 'Have you thought of seeing a therapist?' Sue had known. Sam had known. The only reason Annalisa hadn't known was because she hadn't wanted to know. "Yes," she said in a little girl's voice.
Sam hugged her tightly, still talking. "I tried to help you that day, Ann. It was a mistake. I knew that memory was the key, it was what made you so frightened of intimacy and repressed about sex. But I was still way too new at hypnosis to be able to help you properly, and too stubborn not to try. All I did was screw you up in a different way.
"When I brought you back out of the age-regression, I thought we'd had a breakthrough. You seemed energized, alive, sexually vital. You responded to me, talked about things you'd always subconsciously wanted but never even let yourself know about, let alone me. That day...that day was wonderful, Ann. You were wonderful.
"And then I woke you up. And you didn't remember any of it. I thought I'd helped you stop repressing, but I'd actually just made it worse. You still couldn't deal with the memories you'd been hiding from yourself, and so everything associated with them went right down into the memory hole too. You were just as repressed as ever. But when I put you into trance again..."
More memories burst behind Annalisa's eyes, five years of them. She remembered herself drifting in a hypnotic haze, masturbating as she described visions of black latex and submission. She remembered walking down the aisles of an adult toy store, her eyes glassy and unfocused as she helped Sam pick out her outfit. She remembered registering the "hypnomania" website, remembered persuading Sue to join them by finger-fucking her to the edge of orgasm (she was bi? Oh, but that was wonderful!) She remembered Sam talking to her when the cameras weren't on, gradually working away at her barriers. She remembered Sam and Sue fighting over the last step of the process, while she knelt in a blissful trance, remembered Sue calling it cruel, remembered Sam explaining that her conscious mind had to break down the last mental blocks on its own, remembered...
She remembered everything.
Sue had been quiet this entire time, just watching her friend (lover) come to terms with it all. Finally, she reached out a hand and touched Annalisa's cheek. The gesture would have seemed strange and over-familiar a day ago, but now, it felt right. "Are you alright?" Sue asked.
Annalisa leaned over and kissed her, a deep passionate kiss. "I love you," she said. She turned to Sam and kissed him as well. "I love you, too," she said. She looked down at the latex mask in her lap, and almost laughed. Everything seemed so much more simple, now.
She slid her blouse off. "Could one of you two go get the camera?"