Group Therapy

Group Therapy

With her marriage crumbling and counseling not helping, Brooke seeks the advice of her best friend, Kelly. Kelly has advice all right—in the form of a spousal “swap.” Brooke recoils at the suggestion. No way is she that desperate.

Or is she?

Content warning: Group Therapy contains explicit sex scenes. Read at your peril, and enjoyment.

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Chapter One

BROOKE LAUNCHED FROM the Camry before the sedan came to a complete stop.

“Damn it, babe.” The gear shift groaned when Jared banged it into park. “Wait.”

Ignoring her husband, she heaved the door closed as hard as she could. A tiny measure of satisfaction streaked through her at the resulting crash.


She dashed onto the porch of their two-story home, fumbled with the keys, managing to unlocked the door in spite of her shaking hands, then slammed it shut. The wood frame splintered. Not that she cared. They could have broken car and broken house to go with their broken marriage.

Tears coursed down her cheeks as she vaulted up the stairs, taking them two at a time. Once in the master bedroom, she plopped onto the bed, her face buried in her hands. She couldn’t outrun the hurt any longer.

Brooke and I don’t communicate like we used to. She doesn’t seem to like me touching her. I don’t know how to get her to relax and enjoy making love.

Not even the sobs thundering in her ears could drown out the litany of failure in her head.

“Hey, sweetie.”

Brooke jumped like she’d been hit with an electrical current. Her head snapped up as she glared at the intruder. But it wasn’t Jared. Kelly, her best friend and neighbor, stood in the doorway.

Brooke swiped a hand over her cheek. “What are you doing here?”

Kelly closed the door. “Making sure you’re all right.” She grabbed a box of tissues off the nightstand then sat beside Brooke, handing her several.

Taking the offering, Brooke wiped her eyes. She probably looked terrible, with smeared mascara and puffy eyes. She blew her nose loudly then pasted on a smile in the feeble attempt to appear that nothing was wrong. Yeah, right. “I thought you were busy packing for the movers. They show up tomorrow, right?”

On top of everything else, Kelly and Sam were moving to Florida next month, a reality that broke Brooke’s heart. She didn’t know what she was going to do without her best friend’s support and advice. More tears pressed her eyes, but she blinked them back.

Kelly’s look said she wasn’t buying the delay tactic, but she crossed her legs with a small wave of her hand. “Just for Sam’s tools and crap. The furniture guys won’t show up until the week after next.”

“You looking forward to retirement in sunny Florida? Just think, no more frigid winds coming off Lake Michigan next winter.”

Kelly chuckled. “Sam’s the warm-blooded creature who craves moderate temperatures. I’m fine with the cold. Even Chicago cold. As far as retirement goes, I still don’t think my husband is ready to play golf twenty-four/seven. Though he won’t admit it, he misses the firehouse and the guys.”

Brooke glanced at the door. “Did you, um, see Jared downstairs?”

“Yup. I sent him off to help Sam in the basement.” Kelly folded her hands in her lap. “Enough stalling. Tell me what happened in counseling.”

Brooke couldn’t contain her bitter laugh. “What happened was my husband doesn’t find me desirable anymore.” She took another tissue.

“I doubt Jared said anything like that.”

“He might as well have. He told the counselor that sex with me isn’t what it once was.”

Kelly arched an eyebrow. “Isn’t that what you told me about sex with Jared?”

“That’s different. He said it to a complete stranger in front of me.”

“As opposed to you telling me behind his back in secret?”

Brooke pinched her nose with a tissue and glowered. “Whose side are you on anyway?”

“Yours and Jared’s.” She patted Brooke’s leg. “What did the counselor say?”

Brooke rolled a shoulder, twisting the tissues in her hands. “That we need to communicate better. Be open and honest. Blah, blah, blah.”

“Anything else?”

Another shoulder roll. More tears swelled and, despite her best efforts, slipped down her cheeks. Kelly handed over an undestroyed tissue then covered Brooke’s hands with her own. “It’s going to be okay. You know that, right?”

Brooke shook her head and more tears fell.

Kelly shifted on the bed. “Okay. Tell me—exactly—what Jared said in counseling.”

Pulling in a shaky breath, Brooke proceeded to annihilate another tissue. “He said we weren’t connecting any more. That we were more like roommates than husband and wife.” Grief and guilt welled in her chest. “He said sex has become nothing but a release. That I’m too uptight to enjoy it which makes him not enjoy it.” She covered her face in her hands again. Huge sobs shook her shoulders.

Kelly held her close and rocked gently. “Shh, sweetie,” she soothed. “It’ll be okay. I promise.”

Resentment surged Brooke to her feet. “He’s lucky to even get a release. It’s more than I ever fucking get.” She stomped across the carpet. “I do everything he wants. I give him oral, we do doggie style, missionary, whatever he wants and then he has the balls to say I’m uptight? That sex is just a fucking release?”

“Did you say all that about your sex life?”

She narrowed her gaze. “No, but I should’ve said I’d never gotten my rocks off with him. That would’ve shown him.”

“Shown him what? That you can hurt his feelings?”

Brooke spun around. “He hurt my feelings.”

“On purpose?”

Her posture wilted like a day old party balloon. The mattress bounced as she flopped back down.

Kelly took her hand. “Have you ever orgasmed with Jared?”

Brooke paused in wiping her nose to stare. “That’s kinda personal, don’tcha think?”

“Yes and it’s the kind of thing you should have discussed with your marriage counselor, but you didn’t, did you?” She held Brooke’s gaze. “So have you?”

More guilt gnawed at Brooke as she hitched her shoulder with a small head shake. “But that’s not that unusual, is it? Women don’t normally…you know, with their husbands.”

“I do all the time with Sam.”

“Yeah, well you and Sam are freaks of nature. I’ve never seen two people who can’t keep their hands off each other.”

“True, but it wasn’t always that way. We’ve had our share of problems. I think part of the quandary is that our husbands are firefighters. Well, yours is and mine was. Their days are either jam-packed with boredom or five alarm emergencies.” Kelly studied her hands. “Sam and I even separated for a time before we moved to Oak Park.”

Brooke’s eyes widened. “Really? What happened?”

“It was a lot the same stuff I think you and Jared are experiencing. We’d fallen into a rut and needed help climbing out.

“Did you go to counseling?”

Kelly paused. “Yeah, we did the traditional counseling thing for a while, but it didn’t work. So we found…alternative help.”

“What does that mean?”

“That the help we got was unconventional, to say the least.”

Brooke sat straighter. “So? It worked, didn’t it? What’d you do?”

Kelly frowned. “You really want to know?”

“I really do. I’d give anything to have Jared look at me the way Sam looks at you.”

Kelly pursed her lips. Brooke held her breath, fearing her friend wasn’t going to reveal anything. If conventional counseling couldn’t help her and Jared, she had to hope and pray unconventional counseling—whatever that was—would. Her marriage hung in the balance.

Finally Kelly inhaled a breath. “Okay, but remember, you asked. At Sam’s old station house, there was this fifteen-year guy, Davie. He was married to Anna. With it being Sam’s first assignment Davie took Sam under his wing and showed him the ropes. Davie was a great mentor and one of the reasons Sam became the youngest station chief in the city’s history.”

Brooke held up a hand. “Fascinating, but what about this alternative counseling you talked about.”

“I’m getting to that. Anna mentored me, too. She worked as a crisis counselor and helped me adjust to the danger Sam was sometimes in.”

“She helped you like you’ve helped me?”

“Yeah.” Kelly clasped her hands together on her knee. “Sam and I started having problems just after our sixth wedding anniversary. What people say about the seven-year-itch is true. The closer we got to our seventh anniversary, the worst things got between us. I really doubted whether our marriage would survive.”

“But it did. What happened to turn things around?”

Kelly uncrossed her legs and looked Brooke square in the eye. “Davie and Anna happened.”

It was Brooke’s turn to frown. “What does that mean?”

“It means we swapped.”

“Swapped what?”

The question hung between them. Then Brooke’s mouth sagged open. “You mean you and Sam…” She drew in a sharp breath. “With other people?” she whispered, afraid someone might hear.

“Yes. Me and Sam. With Davie and Anna.”

Shock and disbelief rocketed through Brooke. She popped her mouth closed. Opened it then shut it. Opened it again. Kelly just sat there. Finally Brooke shook her head. “How could you agree to do a, uh, swap?”

“Because I was that desperate to save my marriage.”

“But to let your husband sleep with another woman. And for you to sleep with another man. It sounds, I don’t know, sick.”

“Maybe it sounds that way, but that’s not how it was. Anna and Davie were very nurturing.”

Brooke rolled her eyes. “Nurturing? Guess that’s one way of putting it.”

“I know you’ve got more questions than that.”

She slipped her gaze to Kelly. “You don’t mind?”

“Not in the least.”

“Okay.” She stood. “But first I need a glass of wine, if not the whole damn bottle.”


Series: Short Stories
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