Thumper Ch. 03byktmccoll©
With their marriage on the rocks, Abby and George turn to a most unlikely source for help. Unbeknownst to George, Abby has agreed to let the incubus, Damian, and his mate, Britt, act as marriage counsellors.
George drove his rusted pickup past the university campus where he'd been chasing tenure for the last several years. It was Friday evening and students wandered the lamp lit paths, hurrying to their dorms or to some club or another.
As for George, he had a date.
No, he reminded himself, not a date. A session. A session with a marriage counsellor. A solo session with a female marriage counsellor. An attractive, buxom marriage counsellor who made his heart race and tied his tongue like a pretzel.
Stop it, he chided himself guiltily. It's a session, nothing more, nothing less.
Better concentrate on driving, he decided, as his truck groaned around a corner.
The truck had been a concession to Abby's unreasoning distrust of anything that couldn't stand up by itself without support. Ten years ago, George had been mooning about motorcycles. Hogs. Softtails. Never mind that he'd never ridden a motorcycle before, but by God, he was born to be wild and he could take a course at the community college to teach him how. In the end, Abby had quietly approved of a truck, but one with a quad cab in case they ever decided to have kids. The truck would give George's depleting testosterone room to float about in. Free range hormones. He'd made a great show of reluctantly sacrificing his dreams of roaring down the wide open road to a Steppenwolf soundtrack. The bike was out, the truck was in. Abby had chosen red, which was okay with George. She'd called it his sexy, sexy red truck. Of course, the finance company had owned half of its sexiness at the time, but his testosterone, what there was of it, was all his own.
The truck was now rattling its way to the converted warehouse that housed the office of the counsellors. Abby had insisted on giving therapy one more chance. She'd said that these counsellors were recommended, that they often succeeded where all others had failed. If this doesn't work out, she'd said, at least we'll know that we tried everything. Please, she'd said. She'd practically begged.
George had grudgingly agreed.
He and Abby had met the counsellors two weeks ago, in a meeting that left more questions than answers. As he rolled through town, he replayed that first meeting in his mind.
They'd pulled up in front of an old factory that had been converted to office lofts. The name of the defunct company peeled from the crown of the building.
"Doesn't look like much, does it?" said George.
Abby shrugged and stepped out of the car.
The lobby was spacious and richly appointed, in contrast to the building's shabby exterior. A chandelier hung from the high ceiling, and light gleamed in the polished marble, burnished metal, and dark hardwood. An office directory featured a dozen buttons, but only a few were labelled. "We want unit four," said Abby, checking a slip of paper.
"What's this business called?" asked George, noting that unit four was unnamed.
"I don't know. All I have is a person's name and address."
George shrugged and pressed the button. For a minute, nothing happened. George glanced around, noticing a closed circuit camera affixed to the ceiling.
"George and Abigail Masterson?" came a disembodied voice.
"Yes," answered George.
"Take the elevator to the top floor. First door on the right."
A buzzer sounded and George hurried to open the door.
At the door stood a man dressed in an exquisitely tailored grey suit. George judged him to be a shade taller than six feet, which was several inches taller than he was. The man had a lean, chiselled face, strong jaw, and body that appeared to be no stranger to physical exertion, which was unlike George on all counts. His dark, wavy hair revealed a hint of grey at the temples, George noted. George himself had almost no grey, for which he was happy, but his hair was thinning. The man was tanned, bespeaking a disdain for the conventional wisdom about UV rays. His face was rugged and weathered, but not unattractively, with a network of lines that radiated out from his eyes. Deep creases bracketed a firm mouth. He was handsome and George immediately disliked him. He preferred his old counsellor, who had the look of an unassuming accountant.
"I'm Damian," said the man. They shook hands all around and Damian ushered them inside the office.
Tall windows overlooked a busy commercial street, but no sound penetrated. The room was dominated by a heavy oak desk set against the backdrop of bookcases. A laptop occupied the desk, but otherwise its surface was uncluttered. Off to one side sat a meeting table with four leather chairs, on the other a low leather couch and coffee table.
From the moment he first stepped into their office, something told George that this foray into marital rescue would be different. The walls of the office were adorned with provocative artwork, striking after the nondescript and consciously neutral office decor of the counsellors he and Abby had visited in the past. One painting was of a woman's hand against a dark red background, palm upraised, fingers slightly curled, caught either in the moment of release or of making a fist. Another was of a woman, done in the style of Caravaggio, bound to a column, light playing dramatically against her lowered head and the folds of white cloth draped loosely around her torso. A sculpture of two stylized figures impossibly entwined stood on the credenza.
So absorbed was George with the decor that he failed to notice the entrance of a woman into the office.
"Sorry I'm late. I was tied up," she said.
"Ah, Britt. We were just getting acquainted," said Damian.
Damian made the requisite introductions, but George scarcely heard. Britt walked towards them with feline grace and shook hands. She led them to the meeting table and sat next to George, opposite Damian. She and Damian exchanged a brief, inscrutable look. Britt smiled at George and idly twirled the stands of her ponytail between slender and expertly manicured fingers. Her hair was light brown and her bangs neatly framed expressive and beguiling green eyes. She wore little makeup, as her clear and healthy complexion would scarcely have benefited from it. Rimless glasses sat on a delicate nose. Her lips curved in a gentle smile as she addressed Abby and George. "I hope I haven't missed anything."
She wore a simple, white blouse. The top buttons were undone, revealing a crucifix nestled in the cleft of her cleavage. A thick leather belt cinched the narrow circumference of her waist, and she wore a short leather skirt. Completing the ensemble were shiny black boots that sheathed her legs to the tops of her calves. Seated and without the advantage of four inch heels, she no longer appeared as tall as she had on her entrance. She crossed her legs and her skirt rode up, revealing an expanse of toned thigh, stockings, and a garter strap. George's eyes widened. She was young enough to have been a grad student, thought George. He hoped that she wasn't; any professor would have been mightily distracted by her presence.
"We were just getting started," said Damian. "I was just about to explain to Abby and George that we are not counsellors or therapists in the traditional sense of the word."
No shit, thought George, sneaking a peek at Britt.
"For certain couples," continued Damian, "therapy works well. It reveals hidden motivations and all that blessedly interesting stuff. But for some couples, those who have undergone, like you, therapy two..."
"Three," offered George.
"...or three times, sometimes a different approach is needed. An approach that is less orthodox."
Damian poured water from a pitcher into four glasses.
"The key, of course, is whether both of you are still committed to each other, and what you're willing to sacrifice to return your marriage to that matrimonial bliss that you promised each other at the altar."
Damian smiled, waiting for an answer.
"We wouldn't be here if we weren't committed," said Abby.
"I agree," said George with as much conviction as he could muster.
"Wonderful. Although Britt and I borrow heavily from standard practices, we do not, in this context, regard ourselves as therapists or marriage counsellors. Rather, we consider ourselves to be coaches."
"Just so you understand," said Britt, picking up the theme, "we observe no doctor - patient relationship in the conventional or regulatory sense. For one thing, we're not doctors, and Damian and I get involved with our clients."
The way she spoke the word involved made George's heart lurch. "Involved? How?" asked George.
"Suffice it to say that we take a more hands-on approach than our colleagues do. More, certainly, than is commonly accepted by our peers," said Damian.
"Hands on?" blurted George.
Damian ignored the question. "But I think we're getting ahead of ourselves. Just so that Britt and I are clear on whether we can help you, and whether we want to take you on as clients, we would like you to complete a questionnaire. This will help us determine whether our methods are suited to you, and, more importantly, whether you might be receptive to our methods and our rules."
Britt pulled two forms out of a folder and pushed them towards George and Abby. "In the interest of privacy, I'll ask George to move to the desk and complete the form there. Okay?"
Abby and George nodded.
With that, Britt and Damian left the room.
"They're an interesting pair," said George from the desk.
"Uh-huh," said Abby, scanning the questionnaire.
George turned his attention to the page before him. There were twenty-five statements, each with a rating scale from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree). It looked like the course evaluation forms he gave to his students at the end of term. George rolled his eyes and quickly glanced to Abby to see whether she'd noticed. She hadn't. George sighed and picked up a pencil.
George scanned the first questions and dutifully circled the numbers. The next got his attention.
"I defer to my partner. "
George tapped the pencil against the desk and Abby shot him an angry look. The tapping stopped. The myth during his undergraduate years was that the worse you treated a girl, the more she felt drawn to you. George had seen the theory borne out in practice, but had never put the theory into practice himself, having been raised to be sensitive to the needs of others. He tried to recall if he'd ever had to put his foot down, to impose his will on Abby or anyone else for that matter. He couldn't remember the last time. Abby and he had often agreed on things and those they did not agree on were too trivial to fret about. All in all, he supposed, he was a pretty undemanding guy, attuned to the needs of his spouse. Or so it seemed, he reminded himself, until someone else satisfied her needs. He circled the four.
"Anything goes between consenting adults."
George prided himself on a healthy libertarianism. Live and let live. Or as Pierre Eliot Trudeau put it, the state has no business in the bedrooms of the nation. Five.
"I communicate my fantasies to my partner. "
George closed his eyes. There was a big difference between communicating fantasies and having them acted upon. True, he hadn't exactly communicated his fantasies in words, but that naughty French maid outfit he'd bought years ago was certainly emphatic enough. Whatever happened to that? Two.
"I characterize my love life as creative and exciting."
George, suddenly depressed, circled one.
After Abby and George had completed their questionnaires, Britt collected them and sat at the desk to review them.
"While Britt is looking over your answers, perhaps you can tell me what brought you here."
George looked at his shoes. He noted that they needed polishing. Fortunately, Abby spoke before he could evaluate his cuffs.
"I was unfaithful." There. It was said. The big transgression.
George's head perked up. This was typically where the therapist would adopt a look of concern and ask a question. A statement, and a blunt one at that, was wholly unexpected.
"I hardly think it's irrelevant," said George. "It's pretty relevant to me. Not to mention that she still works with the guy."
"I'm not surprised that that should unnerve you," said Damian.
"So what is relevant?" asked Abby.
Damian's eyes bored into hers. "Obviously what's relevant is what brought you to the point of infidelity. What's also relevant is why you have failed with three other marriage counsellors."
George watched Abby's reaction to the word failed. She never failed at anything, and the way her face hardened gave George a perverse thrill.
"We found them incompatible with us," said Abby tightly. "They weren't working for us."
"Either that, or you sent them packing if they didn't agree with you. Either of you. Or perhaps you were disappointed when they couldn't wave their magic wands and make everything better. A lot of couples would have given up."
"I don't give up."
Damian smiled, but there was no warmth in it. "Good," he said. "Perhaps you are ready for a different approach. I hope your questionnaires will shed some light on that subject."
Britt returned to the group with her notes in hand. Her cheerful smile contrasted with the tension at the table.
"Did you learn anything interesting?" asked Abby testily.
"Absolutely. I've reviewed your responses and they appear to fall within a common client profile."
"Oh, goody," said George.
Britt flipped though her notebook and took a deep breath. "From reviewing your questionnaires, I can see that your relationship is suffering from ennui, which isn't all that unusual in longer term relationships."
"I could have told you that," said Abby.
"What's more revealing are the roles you have adopted in your relationship. For example, George indicates that he defers to Abby. Abby's response was similar."
"So?" asked George.
"So it's also evident from the responses that no one is effectively in charge. George defers to Abby and Abby defers to George. What's missing is a desire to lead, an embracing of that responsibility, and the desire of one party to submit to the leader. Ordinarily, it's the man who has the authority and directs the relationship."
Abby sat up in her chair, brow furrowing.
"Before you get your feminist hackles up," said Damian, smiling, facing Abby, "Britt is only suggesting that this is the most common model."
"Right," said Britt. "As it stands now, your relationship follows the opposite model, to an extent. George has effectively surrendered a leadership role to Abby. That's fine as far as it goes. However, what I sense from George's responses is that he feels emasculated, due partly to a lack of intimate engagement. As a result of his powerlessness, Abby treats George treated with indifference, which serves only to further emasculate him. In the meantime, the woman feels deprived of the masculine strength that she desires. Abby wants to be led."
Britt took a breath. "Are you with me?"
George and Abby were speechless. In a few sentences, Britt had neatly encapsulated their relationship.
"You can also look at it another way. Abby's infidelity is a misdirected response to the powerlessness of her husband. It's a symptom of the fundamental erosion of the roles you've been unwilling or unable to play in each other's lives. Women have a hard-wired attraction to strong men, particularly those who combine strength with compassion, tenderness, and consideration. In the absence of these characteristics, well, you know what happens.
"So it's no surprise that your relationship has stagnated and suffers from a lack of imagination and creativity."
Britt smiled brightly into the silence, a sunniness in sharp contrast to the gloom that had settled over Abby and George. "Aw, come on, it's not so bad. It happens all the time. Surely you've heard this before."
George replied gloomily. "Never in the space of five minutes. Usually we're hundreds of dollars in the hole before the psychological bafflegab comes out."
George directed his next question to Damian. "Now that we've established our pathetic credentials, what next?"
"We proceed, provided, of course, you're willing to be our clients and you agree to our terms."
George sat back. "Would those be financial terms?"
"Partly that," said Britt. "More importantly, you have to agree to a set of rules."
"As I suggested earlier," said Damian, "Britt and I are considerably more hands-on than our peers. This is for the simple fact that deeds speak louder than words, and leading by example tends to be more effective than idle chat. Britt and I will lead you through various scenarios that will serve to press the reset button on your relationship. The process requires you to be open minded, to trust us completely, and to leave your inhibitions and preconceptions behind.
"It's important that you agree to treat our sessions as guilt- and recrimination-free," added Britt. "A lot of the couples we deal with have constructed the most elaborate barriers to intimacy. Breaking down these barriers will require you complete a series of exercises you might feel uncomfortable with. We'll be challenging you to act outside of your comfort zone. You'll be doing things with us and with each other that might be seen as licentious, possibly immoral."
"What kind of things?" George squeaked. He was perturbed. This meeting had taken an altogether unexpected direction. Not to mention the fact that Britt's leg rested against his. He didn't dare to move away, for fear that she would move closer and demonstrate that their contact was not accidental and not entirely chaste.
"Damian and I need to discuss a strategy, to determine which barriers need to be broken down and how best to do it."
"You said something earlier about your unorthodox methods and rules. What exactly are you talking about?" Abby asked.
Damian glanced at Britt at the desk. She gave a slight nod. "Yes," said Damian. He leaned back, but did not take his eyes off Abby as he recited them, ticking them off on his fingers. "One: There will be no recrimination about what occurs during our sessions. What happens during our sessions stays there. Two: You will not speak of your sessions without our consent to each other or anyone else. Three: Britt and I have carte blanche. You will grant us blanket consent to do what we see fit. Four: You can stop a session whenever you want, but there will be a penalty, usually forfeiture of your deposit and the termination of our relationship."
"Why should we trust you?" asked Abby, anger and fear flashing in her eyes. "It sounds to me that all you want to do is take advantage of desperate people."
"Unlike the divorce lawyers you'd be facing otherwise?" asked Damian sharply. He added more softly, "Think of it as a challenge. At this point, you have nothing to lose."
"Except for my self-respect."
Damian stared hard at Abby. "Both of you have the choice of taking advantage of what Britt and I have to teach you. I won't deny that it'll require a huge leap of faith -- perhaps one you're unwilling to make -- but you know that our methods get results. You have nothing to lose except for your marriage, after all, and if for a moment you feel the process to be humiliating, you've clearly never been taken apart and exposed by a divorce attorney."
That was the beginning. Then yesterday, he'd gotten a call from Britt. Would he come to the office, alone? Would seven in the evening be okay?
"Of course," George had said, thinking anew about how Britt had mouthed the word involved and wondering what exactly that meant.