The office was larger than Marisa had expected. She’d tried therapy once, after a painful breakup, and that office had been the size of her college dorm room. There had barely been enough room for herself and the therapist. But this office was spacious, bigger than an IKEA display kitchen. It seemed like a lot of effort for someone who only advertised as a quit-smoking hypnotist.
Doctor Katherine Alexander rose from her chair behind the desk, saying, “Marisa Ivan?” Pronouncing the name the same way that everyone did, Eye-venn. She was an inch or two taller than Marisa, and dressed like an extra from a TV show about lawyers: smart-looking jacket and a skirt that dropped just past her knees. Her hair was earlobe-length, cut into a professional-looking bob.
“It’s Eee-vahn,” Marisa said pleasantly, as the crossed the office to shake hands.
“I’m sorry,” the doctor said. Her grip was firm, but the shake was light. “You must get that all the time.”
Not only did Marisa get the mis-pronunciation of her name all the time, but she got the subsequent joke you must get that all the time all the time. Usually she said not all all with a friendly smile, but this time she went a different way. Hell, if a hypnotist wanted to get the honest answer out of her, she probably could.
“Actually, yeah,” Marisa said, shrugging. “You get used to it.”
“Well, Miss Ivan,” the doctor said, emphasizing the correct pronunciation, “have a seat here.” She indicated a lounge chair to the right of the desk, instead of the standard chair opposite the desk.
The lounge chair was leather, soft and supple under her. Lying on it was like floating in the air, with no part of her body connected to the floor. Like everything else in the office, the lounge chair seemed much more expensive than Marisa could believe. The quitting-smoking business must be quite lucrative.
“So, tell me how I can help you,” the doctor said, taking her seat behind the desk.
Marisa had to turn her head uncomfortably far to the left to look at her, and eventually just decided it was easier to look straight ahead. “Well, my partner took me to a hypnosis conference in Baltimore,” she said, strategically omitting that the conference had been dedicated to erotic hypnosis. “And I kept nodding off during the classes, even though I never volunteered to be tranced. All of these experienced hypnotists were telling me what a great subject I was. And my partner has complained about my smoking for a long time, so I thought I could use hypnosis to quit.”
“How long have you been smoking?” the doctor said.
“Since I was twelve,” Marisa said, feeling a blush creep up over her face. And now the doctor would say—
“Wow, that’s pretty young.”
“Yeah,” Marisa said sheepishly. “I thought I had a crush on this older boy. I wanted to look cooler and older than I was, and he and his friends all smoked, so…” She made a gesture with her hand, as if to say, there you go.
“But he didn’t live up to expectations, did he?” the doctor said wryly.
“No,” Marisa said, laughing. The doctor had a good read on her. Every woman who came through those doors must have started smoking for the same reason. “He didn’t last three weeks before I realized that he was an asshole. And also that I kind of liked girls.”
“The addiction lasts a lot longer than three weeks,” the doctor said sympathetically.
“Yeah,” Marisa said. “And it seems like an even bigger asshole, sometimes.”
“Well, it’s my job to help you with that,” the doctor said. “But first, we need to talk about what hypnosis isn’t.”
“Isn’t?” Marisa echoed.
“TV and the movies have given people a lot of wrong ideas about how hypnosis works,” the doctor said. “This is not a thing that I do to you. I can’t just put you to sleep and order you not to smoke. It’s a cooperative process, as we work together to strengthen your willpower and help you beat back the cravings.”
“Okay,” Marisa said. “Cooperative sounds good.”
“And the most important thing for a cooperative process is, you have to want to cooperate. Many, many people sit in that chair without really being ready to quit. They have doubts and hesitations, they’re not ready to be honest with me, and they expect me to make their problem go away without trying to cooperate. So I’d like you to look at me and tell me: Are you ready to quit smoking?”
Marisa propped herself up on her elbows, so that she could comfortably look at the doctor. “My partner…” she started, and caught herself. They’re not ready to be honest with me. “My girlfriend. She moved across the country so we could be together. Her parents disowned her after she introduced me and came out to them. She’s given up so much for me. I want to give this up for her. I want to quit smoking, Doctor.”
The doctor’s face was unreadable for a moment, until she offered a pleasant smile. “Then you should call me Katherine. Lie back and uncross your ankles.”
“Okay, Katherine.” Marisa settled into the lounge, hands resting above her belly button. “Do you want me to close my eyes, or…”
“No, just sit comfortably,” Katherine said. “What we’re going to do is, I’m going to guide you into a hypnotic trance: a state of deeper relaxation and heightened concentration, that you’re probably familiar with from the conference. Then, I’m going to do what we call fractionation: lead you up out of trance, then back down, then back up again, then back down again. I find that doing this a few times makes it easier for us to access your willpower at a core, subconscious level, which in turn makes it easier for you to fight off the cravings.”
“Okay, Katherine,” Marisa said. “You’re the expert.”
Katherine set a small box on the side of her desk, within Marisa’s sight line but just above her eyes. When the doctor removed a cover off of one side of the box, Marisa saw that it was a metronome. She chuckled, “So movies and TV gave me the wrong idea, huh?”
Katherine chuckled also. “Sometimes I live up to the stereotype, I admit.”
“I thought I had gotten away from those things,” Marisa said. “I graduated from music school, before I had to find a real job.”
“What instrument?” Katherine adjusted the width of the metronome swing to its maximum, and set it moving. The gentle tick, tick, tick, reminded Marisa of hours of practice.
“Not enough market out there for professional cello players?” Katherine moved her chair, rolling it closer to the lounge seat.
“Cellists,” Marisa said. The stereotype said to follow the arm of the metronome with your eyes, right? That’s just what she found herself doing. “And no, not much market at all.”
There was a brief moment where neither of them spoke, the gentle ticking of the metronome filling the room. This is nice, Marisa thought.
“Just let your eyes settle on the head of the metronome,” Katherine said. “Watch it move, back and forth. Take a deep breath in, let the warm, clean air fill your lungs. And let it out, feeling all of the tension in your muscles dissolving.”
Marisa had not even been aware of tension in her muscles, but her shoulders went noticeably slack as she exhaled. Wow, this really works, she thought, as her eyes followed the metronome.
“Just let yourself breathe, slow and deep. Just let those eyes follow the head of the metronome, back and forth. As all tension leaves your body, you may find your eyes needing to blink.”
Marisa blinked. She had to concentrate upon picking up the motion of the metronome up again.
“That’s right. Watching the head of the metronome even as those eyes blink again and again.”
Marisa blinked, then again. The rest of the room began to blur, as she focused on the metronome against the blinks.
“Some people find that the blinks cause their eyes to become heavy,” Katherine said. “Heavier and heavier with every blink.”
It was as though lead weights had been placed on Marisa’s eyelids. Soon she was putting so much effort into opening her eyes, she had no time or effort left to try to follow the metronome. She let its gentle ticking tell her where the arm was.
“I’m going to count backward from ten, to one,” Katherine said. Her voice seemed to be floating all through the room. “Each number down will be a weight on those eyelids, on those muscles. On the number one those eyes will be closed, those muscles completely relaxed.”
Marisa said nothing. It was all she could do just to keep forcing her eyes open again and again.
“Ten. Nine. Each blink sending those eyelids down and down and down. Seven, so sleepy.”
Marisa did not wonder where the number eight had gone.
“Six. Arms as heavy as lead. Five. Legs as heavy as lead. Three, two, one, sleep.”
Marisa’s eyes dropped shut. The sound of snapping fingers followed her into the darkness.
Marisa blinked her eyes open. It was not easy; they felt as though she’d had an eight-hour slumber.
“Hi,” Katherine said warmly. “How are you feeling?”
“Tired,” Marisa mumbled. “Are we done?”
“Oh, no,” Katherine said, smiling. “There’s a lot to do yet. I just wanted to bring you back up, see how you’re doing.”
“I’m fine,” Marisa said vaguely. She looked for the arm of the metronome, but the small wooden box was no longer sitting on the side of the desk.
“Look here,” Katherine said.
Before Marisa could move her head, Katherine’s hand moved in front of her face, maybe two feet away. The hand was closed and her index finger was extended, as if to say, We’re Number One! “Focus on my finger,” the doctor was saying.
The hand swayed to the left, then to the right. Like the arm of the metronome, Marisa thought. As if on cue, her eyes began to blink again.
“Stay focused on my finger for as long as you can,” Katherine said. “Follow my finger as it moves back and forth.”
As the arm swayed, Marisa found it easier to focus upon. Her eyes were still heavy and blinking, but between the blinks, it was so easy to focus.
“As the finger floats upward, feel your body floating with it, higher and higher,” Katherine said. The finger moved up and up, until Marisa’s vision was almost completely obscured by her heavy eyelids.
“And as the finger drops down, you sleep.” There was the suggestion of downward movement, the snap of fingers, and Marisa seemed to drop through the chair.
“Eyes open, there you go.”
Marisa blinked the blurriness out of her eyes. “Wow,” she murmured.
“I know, right?” Katherine was in her rolling chair, right beside her. Was she sitting closer than she had before? Marisa couldn’t remember. “It feels great anyway, but on top of that, you’re a great subject.”
“Uh, thanks,” Marisa said. “I’m still trying to understand what being a great subject means.”
“It means sleep—“
“Eyes open, and sleep.”
“Eyes open, and sleep.”
“Eyes open, and sleep.”
“Eyes open, Marisa.”
Marisa opened her eyes. She saw her right hand, seemingly hanging in midair, the thumb knuckle at her eye level.
“Wow,” she said again, though she could not quite remember when she had said wow previously.
“Some people find their hand growing lighter still,” Katherine said in a just-passing-the-time voice. “Lighter than air, like a helium balloon.”
Marisa became aware of her eyes moving, following the hand as it floated up and up. Her gaze remained fixed on the thumb knuckle.
“How does your hand feel, Marisa?”
“Tingly,” Marisa said. “Like it’s about to go to sleep.”
She did not have time to be aware of what she’d said. A tsunami of relaxation crashed over her. Marisa’s eyes dropped, her hand dropped, everything dropped.
“Are you ready to begin?”
Marisa blinked. Katherine was sitting in her rolling desk chair, right at the side of the lounge chair, looking at her expectantly.
“We haven’t … started?” Marisa said. Trying to process what Katherine had said was like trying to escape quicksand.
Katherine cocked an eyebrow. “Do you think we’ve started?”
“Well, yeah,” Marisa said.
“Why do you think that?”
“I just feel … different,” Marisa said.
“How do you feel?”
“My whole body just feels really heavy,” Marisa said.
“So you’re feeling deeply relaxed.”
“Yeah,” Marisa said, letting her body sink into the lounge chair. The leather cushions were so soft.
“Anything else?” Katherine was taking notes on a pad that Marisa could not remember seeing before.
“My mind is. I don’t know. Fuzzy.”
“So it’s very difficult to think.”
“Yes,” Marisa murmured. The doctor must be a very good hypnotist; she understood perfectly.
“But if it’s so difficult to think, why can you think we’ve started?”
“I don’t,” Marisa said, needing extra effort to force out the word, “know.”
“But you can concentrate on the sound of my voice, can’t you?”
Marisa sighed, relishing an easy question. “Yes.”
“So you’re deeply relaxed, finding it so difficult to think, concentrating on the sound of my voice?”
“Then why haven’t we started?”
Sinking into the chair, it was so difficult to find an answer. “Eyes’re … open,” she murmured.
“Do you think you can be deeply hypnotized with your eyes open, Marisa?”
Marisa had no idea, but there was only one answer easy enough for her to think of. “Yes.”
“And if you were deeply hypnotized with your eyes open, what would happen if you closed your eyes?”
Marisa seemed to hear her own voice from across the room, saying, “Deeper.”
“So if you’d like to begin, there’s only one thing you need to do right now.”
Marisa sensed, rather than understood, the emphasis on the final two words. She closed her eyes and let everything fall away.
Marisa opened her eyes. She was looking at the metronome on the edge of the desk. It was not ticking. She could not remember the last time she had seen it tick.
“How are you feeling, Marisa?”
“I’m deeply hypnotized,” she heard herself say.
“Good girl,” Katherine said. “Do you see the metronome?”
“Its arm is perfectly still,” Katherine said.
“Just as my mind is perfectly still,” she heard herself say.
“Can you imagine something for me, if I ask you to?”
“Yes, Katherine,” Marisa heard herself say. It was quite relaxing to listen to herself, to not have to do the talking.
“Imagine a wall of glass,” Katherine said. “This is your will. Everything you want to keep in your life is on your side of the wall. Everything you don’t want to have in your life, is on the other side of the wall. A strong will is what keeps the unwanted things away. Do you see?”
“Yes, Katherine,” Marisa heard herself say.
“But cigarettes are on your side of the wall, Marisa.”
“And you know they must be on the other side of the wall.”
“To help you, I must break the wall.”
“To help you, I must break your will.”
“In a moment, I will touch you on the forehead. When I do, your glass wall will shatter. You know that you are safe, because my voice can always keep out anything that you do not want in your life. Do you understand?”
There was no warning. A finger pad pressed between her eyes as Katherine said, “Then sleep.”
“Eyes open,” Katherine said.
Marisa opened her eyes. Katherine stood next to the lounge chair, making her seem ten feet tall.
“How are you doing?” Katherine said.
“Fantastic,” Marisa beamed.
Katherine asked, “Do you feel any different?”
“Well, my will is your will,” Marisa said, in the same tone of voice that she might have said, well, my mouth is a little dry.
“Really?” Katherine said.
“Oh, absolutely,” Marisa said. “My will is your will.”
“Well, that’s interesting,” Katherine said. Her voice sounded lower than before, more sultry. She reached down and caressed Marisa’s cheek. “You have such beautiful cheekbones. Are you Russian?”
Marisa blushed, at being guessed so accurately. “My mother changed her name from Ivanova.”
“But your mother is a bit of a bitch, isn’t she?”
Marisa did not think for a second that it was odd for Katherine to know this. “Yeah, she is,” Marisa said ruefully. “She grew up in the old Soviet Union, and hated the government back then. Now she just watches Alex Jones all day, and every time that asshole says the word communism, she sends him money.”
“You’d watch Alex Jones all day, if I told you to,” Katherine said, still caressing Marisa’s cheek. “And send him money, wouldn’t you?”
“Oh, yes,” Marisa sighed with pleasure. The touch on her cheek was so soothing. “My will is your will.”
“Don’t worry, Marisa,” Katherine said, walking back to her desk and taking a seat in her chair. “I’d never do that to you. But I’d very much like you to take off your sweater.”
Marisa, who was wearing nothing under the soft cable-knit fabric, thought that was a wonderful idea. “My will is your will,” she said, and tried to move her arms so that she could push herself into a sitting position.
The arms did not move. Not an inch.
“What is it, Marisa?” Katherine said.
“I can’t … move?” Marisa said. She tried her legs, for good measure. Nothing. “I can’t move at all!”
“What do you mean, you can’t move?” Katherine said. Her tone was that of a disapproving teacher. “I’ve asked you to take off your sweater.”
“I know! But I can’t!” Marisa strained to lift her arms off of the couch. Neither one rose more than a millimeter. She was reminded of the time she tried to move the weights at the gym after one of those steroid types used the machine.
“My will is that you take off your sweater,” Katherine said, even more sternly. “And you told me your will is my will.”
“My will is your will! I swear!” Marisa began to sweat, from frantic nervousness more than physical exertion.
“You’re moving your head,” Katherine scoffed.
She was right; Marisa was frantically moving her gaze back and forth between the doctor and her inert arms. “I don’t… I can’t explain it!”
“Well, you’ll have to be punished,” Katherine said. She rose from the desk and walked over to the chair. Her footfalls were sharp and heavy, like a parent stomping away from an argumentative child. She stood at Marisa’s side again, towering over her limp body. “Lick my pussy.”
Marisa’s eyes went wide. “What?”
“You heard me,” Katherine said. “Cunnilingus. It is my will that you lean your head over here and eat me out.”
“My will is your will, but … you’re wearing a skirt!”
Katherine gave a bemused grin, which seemed incongruous with her angry commands. But then her voice turned stern once more, as she said, “Then I suppose you’ll have to pull it down with your teeth, won’t you? Get to it!”
There was no more arguing for Marisa to do; after all, her will belonged to the doctor. She swung her head in Katherine’s direction, but her torso was just as heavy as her arms and legs. Her head wasn’t even close to passing over the arm of the chair. Marisa, who stood just five-foot-five, thought she would have a better chance of dunking a basketball than getting her teeth on Katherine’s skirt.
“Please, I can’t,” she said.
“You’re not even trying,” Katherine accused.
“I am trying! But it’s too far and I can’t move!”
“The chance to kiss my pussy is arousing to you, isn’t it?”
At once Marisa was inflamed, deep in the well between her legs. Muscles that could not help her rise off of the chair clenched with arousal. She was instantly wet. “Oh, God, yes,” she moaned.
“And you know that you will not come until I will it, don’t you?”
“My will … unnnhhh … is your will…”
“Then why can’t you lick me like I told you to?”
“I don’t knooooooww…” Tears began to stream down Marisa’s cheeks. Her mouth worked helplessly, as her neck muscles began to cramp up.
A great shadow fell over Marisa’s face, as the palm of Katherine’s hand covered her eyes and she heard the word SLEEP
“Eight, the scene completely over. Nine, you’re back in the room with me. Ten, eyes open, wide awake.”
Fingers snapped, twice, three times. Marisa opened her eyes.
She saw a hotel room. A spacious room with a king-size bed, exactly as big as the office had been. There was a metronome on the desk, next to the coffee maker, at the same place in her eye line as it had been in the office. At first she thought she was still in the lounge chair, but she realized she was in a typical hotel easy chair, with the laundry stand placed under her feet, to simulate the sensation of lying back in a lounge chair.
“Hey there,” a familiar voice said. Marisa turned to see Katherine Alexander sitting on the coffee table.
Her girlfriend, Kat.
Kat was not dressed like an extra from a lawyer show. She was wearing her standard: a Batgirl T-shirt and men’s jeans with the knees torn out. Her hair was not in the businesslike bob, but buzz-cut on one side and flowing down to her shoulder blades on the other side.
Kat asked, “Where are we?”
“Baltimore,” Marisa murmured. “Charmed. The hypno-con.”
The memories came flooding back.
Riding the elevator to their room after the day’s last class. Marisa not understanding the concept of arousal in hypnosis. Kat saying, I bet I can get you hotter than you’ve ever been in your life, without ever touching you. Her own cocky reply, Okay, Svengali, you’re on.
Coming up with the concept of the glass wall. Writing down the consent agreement, the scene description. We do this every time, Kat saying when Marisa complained. Just think about all those fucking dudes who get away with shit when they don’t write one.
The original induction, Elman style, like the class they’d practiced in earlier that day. Kat walking her on drowsy legs into the hall, describing the doctor’s office she would see when she entered next. The suggestions from those blackout periods in between the “doctor’s” commands to sleep, telling her where the scene would go next. The final removal of all suggestions as her arousal faded.
“Did I win the bet?” Kat said, grinning wryly.
“OH MY GOD!” Marisa cried. “That was so INTENSE!” She leaned forward, half in and half out of the chair, to throw her arms around Kat. Only then did she realize how rubbery her legs were from the relaxation. They collapsed to the floor in each other’s arms, laughing.
“You corrected me on ‘cellists,’” Kat said. “Just like on our first date!”
“Well, you said my name wrong,” Marisa said. “Like when we met!”
“God, your trance voice,” Kat affected an excessively robotic tone. “‘Yes, Katherine.’”
“I wish you could see yourself as a doctor! You looked like Fox News on Xanax!”
“I had the fly of my jeans down, but then you said—“
“‘You’re wearing a SKIRT!’” They dissolved into even louder laughter, holding each other close.
They had no idea how long the laughter lasted, but eventually it died down. Marisa shifted, letting Kat hold her around the waist from behind, spooning together.
“Can you not do the Alex Jones thing next time? Thinking back, it feels … creepy.”
“Oh, Ris, I’m sorry!” Kat stroked her cheek, exactly the same way that “Dr. Katherine” had done. “I just wanted to see how deep you were. It’s like I said, I would never do that, not even as play.”
“I know, Kat, I know. I mean I wasn’t scared in the moment, or I would’ve used the safe word. It was just a little too real, I guess.”
“You know what was real for me?” Kat whispered in her ear.
“What?” Marisa said, already knowing what the answer would be.
“When you said you were doing it for me. You were talking about quitting smoking, but I thought about this, coming to Charmed. When I told you I was into hypnosis I thought you were going to leave me. Treat me like a freak. It means so much to me that you came here, let me put you under, do a scene. It’s just … everything.”
Marisa rolled over to look Kat in the eye, but she said nothing. After a moment, they kissed passionately.
God, I am so fucking lucky, Kat thought.
God, she is such a great kisser, Marisa thought.
They broke the embrace to come up for air. “Now, aftercare,” Kat said. “That kiss is the most work you’re going to do for the rest of the night. I ordered Chinese and there’s an X-Files marathon on BBC America.”
“Mmmmm,” Marisa said. “If you don’t want me to do work, don’t show me Scully in that suit.”
“Tomorrow we’ll check out the Dungeon and all that stuff,” Katherine said. “But tonight, I’m waiting on you hand and foot.”
“You know what the first thing you can do is?” Marisa said. “Throw my fucking cigarettes in the garbage.”
Kat gave her a funny look. “You know I didn’t give you the stop-smoking suggestions, right? I’m not trained to do that.”
“I know,” Marisa said, giving her lover another long kiss. “But I think I’ve found a much better addiction.”