"Welcome to Isla Empatio Bonita ... The Island of Beautiful Empathy. We specialize in relationship therapy."
Ultimate Empathy Therapy
Part 1 of 8
Copyright © 2013 plaintivesigh
All Rights Reserved.
(Author's note: Thanks for being patient with me; it's been a long time since even my last comment on the site. Big time RL issues, still not fully resolved. But, I had the urge to write, so I decided to obey my moose (Mousse? Mouse? MUSE!) and put this up. A couple of items: Although there are no TG elements in this first part, they will play a big time role in all the rest of the parts. This first part is essential to the story, though. AND, even though I love to read magical and Sci-fi stories, I usually don't write them (On my own, that is). Well, this story arc will have a small unreal element. I tried not to make it the crux of the story; I just couldn't figure out how to get the exact emotional conflict I needed without it. Ah, emotional conflict. There's some of that in this first chapter. But for all of you who stay away from "unreal" elements in stories, I urge you to hang in there with this one, since the major basis is empathy/emotional issues. Plus, if you stick with it, I'll give you a genuine Stan Lee inspired "no-prize"! Thank you guys in advance for your readership, comments, and kudos! HUGZ! **Sigh**)
The twin-engine turboprop lurched its way through the late morning sky. These hot Caribbean spring days weren’t as bad as the summer ones when it came to turbulence, but it was still enough to have half of the 21 passengers on board holding on to their vomit sacks. A few had to ask the attendant for an extra one.
“I am soooo loving this vacation so far,” a teenage girl mumbled with sarcasm, and barely audibly. It was enough for her father to hear, though, and he tensed up with a scowl twisting his mustache and beard. As he was about to reply, his wife’s hand on his forearm gave him pause.
“Let it go, dear. This is a rough flight. She’s not the only one complaining,” his love said. Other passengers were moaning and groaning too, so it was wise advice. He really should have followed it. But it was too late; his daughter had pushed his “button”, and he couldn’t let her disrespect go unanswered.
“It’s tough enough enduring the bumps and the smell of puke. Don’t force me to listen to your childish whining too. Stuff like this happens; take it like the brand new 18 year old you are rather than the bedwetting toddler you sound like!” It was spoken in a whisper, yet it hissed loudly enough that the girl was sure half the plane heard it.
As her mother shook her head and leaned her forehead into her palm, the girl began a slow burn that bubbled out of her chest and up into her head. She held her tongue (thankfully), but the hurt and hatred she had for her jailer — that was what she had begun referring to her father as — came out through her pupils as she tried to stare a hole through him. I wish I could shoot laser beams from my eyes, she thought. Then maybe I could make him feel just a fraction of the hurt he’s caused me.
It was a good thing that the aisle separated her from her father. She was on the left of the plane where the single seats were; the double seats on the other side were where her parents sat. Three seats wide were all this small plane could fit, and ten rows deep. Behind the girl sat her younger sister, all 17 years of her, popping her gum as she listened to her tunes on her smartphone. “Zoning out” was little Janis’ way of dealing with the war zone that her family had become this last year. She was also a fashion devotee; it occupied her consciousness and dulled the acuteness of the family stress. She was the most stylishly dressed member of her family.
The wife tried to intervene again on her oldest daughter’s behalf. “Kent — not here, not now, not in public. Please. We’ll deal with it on the ground, after we check in to the cabana. Don’t embarrass her, and me, and yourself.”
“She embarrasses me,” he fumed. “I’ve had it up to here with the rebellion, the attitude, the lies and sneaking around. And now she’s flying to a tropical paradise for a dream of a spring break trip — one she didn’t have to pay a penny for, mind you — and all she can do is spout that sarcasm, that smarmy attitude, that …” he ground his teeth together as his face turned redder and redder.
“Shh, shh, cool it, honey. Close your eyes. Imagine the butterfly conservatory.” Marlene prayed that this would once again work. It was a place they had visited years ago as a couple, and he said he’d never felt so peaceful as they watched both the common and the rare species flutter around from flower to flower.
Marlene’s voice competed in Kent’s thoughts with his fatherly pride. “There are times that you shouldn’t stay silent, that you should not compromise,” she softly suggested.
ABSOLUTELY, thought Kent.
“-but this is not one of those times. Trust me. Relax. Think of the blue morpho.”
Ahh. The blue morpho. His favorite. When resting on a leaf or twig, it kept its wings together so that one could only see the brown underside, a rather plain and drab appearance. But when they took flight … that was when their wings would flash a magical cobalt blue. Kent had viewed his first one on the cover of an old record album, of all things. He figured it was faked, a painted image for Santana’s Borboletta. Only upon their visit to the preserve had he discovered that they actually existed. So serenely beautiful …
The mother next looked across the small aisle at her daughter. Tina was still fuming, looking as if she was thinking up a new verbal barb to launch towards her father’s neck. Marlene shook her head, catching her oldest offspring’s eye. PLEASE, she mouthed, and pointed to the magazine lying on Tina’s lap. The girl remained scowling, but thankfully picked up the periodical and began reading it.
Marlene finally exhaled. Her spouse, eyelids closed, still looked lost in the reverie of memory. Another Kent/Tina battle averted — for now. Hope this truce lasts for more than just 3 minutes. God, please help us. Help my family. Protect my daughter from her heart; protect my husband from his pride and anger; protect Janis and me while you’re at it. And please, please, PLEASE — have this trip and the therapy work.
Just … just fix this mess, please. And while you’re at it, if it’s not too much trouble, could you make this airplane stop bouncing?
A quick glance back at Janis showed she was still popping her gum, listening to her “pod”, and reading GLAMOUR. No sign of queasiness seen. Good.
Marlene pulled out the brochures she had received for this trip. Basically, it was a small, privately owned island in the Caribbean; it had been turned into a retreat of sorts, with highly trained family counselors and mediators. The cost for the weeklong stay was astronomical, but her husband was a CEO making $1.2 million a year, so they could manage it.
It was amazing to her how Kent Braxton, a man of authority and power in his job — men and women by the hundreds following his every whim — seemed to be flummoxed by the disobedience of an 18 year old child. Well, after all, it’s not like he can fire her. Still, the fatherly “putting the foot down” that had worked so well for him the first 16 years had suddenly grown ineffective. No, not just ineffective — inflammatory.
Marlene actually agreed with Kent’s position; she just disagreed with the way he laid down the law and tried to force Tina to comply with their rules and wishes. There was way too much yelling, and stomping, and anger. From both father and daughter.
Though she knew Tina’s actions were wrong, she could identify with the hurt and pain that her daughter had when Kent would throw his angry words around, like little ninja stars. Some would miss, some would merely graze her soul, but others would draw blood, leaving psychic wounds with permanent scars. Why couldn’t her husband see that none of them had the effect he wanted — producing understanding and obedience from her?
No. Instead, the bad behaviors fed each other. The angrier Kent got, the more stubborn and rebellious Tina became, and vice versa. Marlene prayed nightly for an answer.
Then this mailer caught her eye. It was mixed in with all the other junk mail and almost went into the trash. The words “crisis counseling” and “tropical island” on the postcard stopped her from tossing it. Both her husband and daughter had steadfastly refused any suggestion of therapy; but if linked to an island getaway, maybe they’d bite.
And they did, amazingly.
Marlene leaned back on the head support and wondered if the postcard was an answer to her prayer. Hopefully the counselors were good; hopefully not quacks selling snake oil or weird Freudian therapists or ghost channelers or anything. Her research for this place had turned up frustratingly little, even though it had been in existence for 40 years, per the mailer.
So hopefully this is an answer to my desperate prayer. I sometimes wonder if God still answers prayers. Then she became aware of something. For the last few minutes the plane ride had been blessedly smooth.
A young Scottish woman sat in a lotus position, the midday sun brilliantly enlivening her pixie cut of red hair.
Next, I focus on th’ Hibiscus flower. Such a perfect appearance; bright red petals rotatin’ aroond a pink stamen bearin’ brilliant yellow pollen. It is whole, complete, in balance, and I invite its balance intae my existence. Indeed, I have been made in balance, and ordered tae cause that property tae bloom in others. I hae no rough ridges or deep dangerous ravines; my soul is even. My heart is peace. My throat is …
Rahne Ruiz broke from her deep meditation before her cotton mouth could cause her to cough. She reached for her cup of deep red herbal tea and took a sip. Hibiscus also makes a calming beverage, she thought and smiled. How lang hae I been in a mild trance? Nae lang enough tae get dehydrated, surely. The tea was the only substance she had taken — Rahne was completely drug-free.
Then her body — having waited patiently all morning — let her know of another need. She stood up and quickly hopped towards the water closet. I shude hae remembered; th’ hibiscus is also a natural diuretic.
Four minutes later, she sat at her desk. She took another quick look at the seven cases that were arriving on the small island. Each with a different challenge. Most were couples, married or otherwise; one was a threesome in a love triangle (THA’ will be interestin’, she thought), and the last was a family.
The policy of IEB was adults only. But the two kids here were 17 and 18; essentially adult, by their standards. Wha’ tool would be best used t’ help in this situation …
A booming bass voice came over the intercom speaker on her phone. “Ms. Ruiz, please —“; the speech cut off as the phone speaker turned into a crackling, sputtering mess.
Rahne jumped up and ran to the director’s office. Knocking twice on the door then cracking it open, she peeked in. “Sorry, Mr. B. My phone is still goosed. What did ye say tae me?”
A huge black man in a dress shirt, vest and slacks was standing and putting on his business jacket. He glanced Rahne’s direction and raised an eyebrow at her yoga outfit. “Plane’s landing.”
“OCH! Is it noon already? Yikes! I’ll be richt oot.” She ran back to her office and shut the door and drew the blinds. In three minutes she reemerged, miraculously attired in a white pant and coat ensemble with a tropical shirt and accented sandals.
“Wow! Cool! This is, like, how the President gets off Air Force One on TV,” chirped Janis, finally acknowledging something besides her phone. The family was disembarking on a wheeled staircase that had been rolled up to the plane. They descended one by one onto the tarmac along with the rest of the passengers.
There was no large terminal building to go to, so all the luggage was unloaded right there and presented to the passengers. It looked like all of the people there were pairing up, except for the Williams family and a trio consisting of a man, a woman, and an androgynous person who couldn’t be pigeonholed as one or the other sex. He was a feminine man, or perhaps she was a boyish woman.
Three long limousines drove up, and three chauffeurs got out and divided the passengers into three groups. Kent and his family got put into the limo with the trio, which made him more than a little uncomfortable. Especially when the androgyne ended up sitting next to him on his left.
Marlene picked up on her husband’s sudden tension. “Blue morpho, blue morpho,” she whispered into Kent’s right ear.
The androgyne turned to the other two (s)he was with. “This guy to my right makes me nervous. I think he’s into drugs. His wife keeps whispering about morphine to him,” (s)he muttered.
Suddenly the flat screen television behind the front seats turned on, revealing a pre-taped message. A large, tall black man was standing, flanked by a redheaded woman; he began to talk.
“Hello and welcome. I am Dr. Mark Brand, counselor and COO of this therapeutic retreat and resort, Isla Empatio Bonita — the ‘Island of Beautiful Empathy’.
“We specialize in relationship therapy. Our reputation is impeccable, and our waiting list is so long that we have taken to picking our attendees on the basis of urgent need. So, the fact that you have been chosen to attend our program is good and bad news. Good, because this island is truly unique and beautiful. Bad, because it means your relationship is likely in deep, deep trouble.”
Kent looked at his wife with a raised eyebrow. His unspoken look communicated clearly: “Deep, deep trouble? Are things between me and Tina that bad?” Marlene answered with a quick firm nod.
The TV continued. “You will find plenty of activities to do in your spare time, including snorkeling, swimming, fishing, horseback riding, and sunning on the beach. We have a jogging trail and a workout room near the main office. But your free time will be limited; you will be in anywhere from 3 to 5 hours of therapy daily.
“The evenings will mostly be unscheduled. Meals in our gourmet restaurant have been covered as part of your prepaid fee. We have a late night snack bar that has tasty items available for purchase, while alcohol and specialty drinks can be bought at mealtimes as well as at the evening poolside bar. Also, there is an extensive paperback library, jogging trails, and a meditation room. Unfortunately — or fortunately, depending on how you look at it — there is no cell phone service or internet access on this island.”
Tina looked at her smartphone displaying no bars. Perfect. Just ... great. This completes the disaster this week is going to be.
On the screen, the fire haired female took the podium from Dr. Brand. “I’m Dr. Rahne Ruiz. I’ll be in charge o’ most o’ th’ counselin’ that takes place. This can be a place o’ great healing, if ye will open yuir mind an' soften yuir heart. Ye may be thinkin’ that it is the other party that needs tae change, but I want ye tae open yuir mind to th’ possibility tha’ it's ye tha' needs renewal.”
I hope Tina heard that point, thought Kent.
I sure hope Dad was listening to that, thought Tina.
“Cool! Her name sounds like ‘rain’, “ giggled Janis to her mom.
“There are eight counselors on staff, including Dr. Brand ‘n’ I. We also hae a staff o’ fifty people all dedicated tae yuir relaxation and healing, 24 hours a day. In a few minutes, we will be greeting ye personally when ye arrive at th’ office; please enjoy a complimentary fruit drink with us. Ye’ll also receive yuir counseling schedule for th’ week. Meanwhile, yuir bags will be taken tae th’ private cabana that ye’ve been assigned. When you go tae yuir room, relax for a little; each o’ the groups will have a session scheduled for either 2 or 4 pm. Thank ye, and enjoy yuir stay at th’ Isla.”
As if on cue, all the limos stopped in front of a gorgeous building framed by tall palm trees and tropical plants. There were Drs. Brand and Ruiz, flanked by eight other counselors, all of them walking out to meet the guests/patients.
“Oh, this is a little slice of heaven here on earth!”
Marlene spun around in the cabana bedroom, to take in the three sided window views as fully as possible. She then fell on the bed, back first, arms spread out, laughing, then sighing. Deep, cleansing sighs that felt like all of the cares of the recent months were leaving her body with each exhalation. “Don’t you just love this, Kent?”
“It sure is pretty all right,” smiled her husband. Yet as Marlene looked over at him, she saw that there was still a wrinkle in his brow.
“Kent, don’t worry about the girls not being with us in the same room. They’re just in the next cabana over — a hundred feet away. And we’re on an island, one that pretty much shuts down after 9pm. What trouble could they get into?”
Before he could answer, there was a loud knock at the cabana door. Kent went to open it. Probably a staff member; neither of the girls can knock that forcefully.
The door opened to show a short, thick man with a big smile on his face. He was thick as in big shouldered, big chested, and big mitts dangling off the end of muscular arms. Even at his stunted height — If he’s taller than 5 foot 6, then I’m a monkey’s uncle, Kent thought — the man was obviously powerful. And obviously hairy all over, except for the top of his head. A curled mustache and a “Fred Flintstone” beard shadow completed the look.
“Buongiorno, signore,” the man said.
“Umm … sorry; I don’t know Italian. That is ‘italiano’ you’re speaking, right?”
Marlene came up behind her husband to see who was there. Her jaw dropped, and a slow smile crept onto her lips. “Honey — he looks like a real life Mario! You know, of Super Mario Bros?”
“Mario” let out a chuckle. “I gets dat alla di time, signora. You wanna know sometin’? I really do got a brother name Luigi! But, my name is Angelo. I am your personal assistente. You guys need sometin’ — anytin’ — and I does my best to help you. I do a lotta other jobs on di Isla, but I always am wearing my pager. Dial 400 from any land phone, an’ den 299 — dat’s my number — after you hears di beeps. For anytin’ at all, hokay?”
“Good to meet you, Angelo. Put ‘er there.” Kent reached his hand out to shake the Italian’s. Good Lord, what a powerful grip he’s got, thought the impressed businessman.
“Grazie, signore e signora. You both look lik-a nice people. The last ones assigned to me here had a rough-a time; there was a bigamist. It all turn out A-OK in di end.”
“Someone with two wives?” Marlene elbowed Kent, and whispered in his ear — “And we thought we had problems.”
“No, signora, just one wife. But on second day, a grande fog rolled in. Let-a me tell you guys — dat was a BIG-A MIST!” Angelo walked off, bellowing with laughter at his own joke.
“What a congenial fellow,” said Marlene.
Kent smirked. “Yeah, for a guy built like an orangutan. Hope his help is better than his humor.”
The Braxton girls, Tina and Janis, were unpacking in their cabana. As they did, they had a conversation with attitudes that mirrored their parents.
“No cell phone or internet access. No 4G, not to mention 3 or 2 or 1 or even 0.01G! What kind of a stone age place is this? I mean, everywhere — anywhere — has at least one of those services! This smells like a Dad plan; he hates me, and knows that being out of touch is my worst nightmare.” Tina was fuming.
Janis smiled, with a trace of gloating. “Yeah, this is sooo horrible. The flowers, the beach with the crystal clear light blue waters, the three hunky guys doing the gardening as we came in — oh, what torture!”
“YOU don’t have the love of your life back home, with no way to talk to him, or text, or skype. I don’t want to lose him to some other girl while I’m gone. And as for those three guys — ugh, disgusting. One of them kept flickering his tongue at me as we were registering; another was wiggling his fingers, pointing towards my crotch. What girl wants to be treated that way?”
“One who gets no attention from boys because her sister is so much hotter than she is,” Janis mumbled.
Tina countered. “Janis. There are a number of boys that like you — “
“LOSER boys! Nerds, dweebs, and a couple of stoners. The hot guys — the jocks, the studs — only go for girls shaped like you. You’re more curvy than a roller coaster, and your boobies are huge. I take more after Aunt Glenda, a stick with a couple of bee stings. It’s so unfair!” Janis began to tear up even as she continued unpacking.
Tina spoke softly. “At least Dad still loves you.”
Her sister’s eyes suddenly flashed with ire. “He’s never stopped loving you, you idiot! He’s just angry with you because you became a slutty whore. Mitch is a pervert, and since you two started dating you’ve changed. I don’t even know you anymore!”
This caused Tina to turn her head away in shame. She didn’t like the things she had allowed Mitch to talk her into; she especially felt guilty about all the sneaking around they had done. It felt wrong to her, but at the same time the feeling she had for him — intense, white hot, obsessive emotion — was so right; it was love. It had to be love. And while he had his faults (pretty big ones, actually), she was sure that this love she shared with Mitch would cause him to change, to become the person she knew he could be.
If people could just let her and Mitch be. Everyone has faults. Who are they — Janis, especially — to criticize? Tina’s eyes narrowed as she responded to her younger sister.
“The difference between you and me, Janis, is that Mom and Dad know about my stuff. If they ever found out about your — “
“They never will find out,” Janis interrupted. “I’ve never been caught. The only way they’d know is if you told them. And we both know why that’s not gonna happen, right? Or should I remind you?”
Tina’s shoulders slumped, and she turned away again, unable to reply verbally. Her head faintly nodded, though.
Janis scowled at her with her eyes, as a triumphant leer arose from her lips. “That’s right. So, let’s drop the whining. I’m going to enjoy the sun here. If you’re smart, you’ll do whatever it takes to get back into Dad’s good graces. But even if you don’t, just stop complaining. I’m sick of it.”
The rest of the unpacking proceeded in silence.
The Braxtons assembled outside in the space between their two cabanas. “They have a late lunch buffet at the reception building, and then we start our first therapy session,” Marlene said as she scanned their personal itinerary given to them. “Is everyone hungry? Any leftover flight sickness?”
All agreed that they were fine, and hungry.
As they walked to eat, Janis tapped her mother’s shoulder. “Mom — did you guys meet Angelo? He’s like our personal assistant. He almost looks like Super Mario!”
“I thought the exact same thing,” Marlene laughed.
“Except he has these super long arms, and he’s a little bald,” added Tina.
At the buffet, the family sat at their own table. The restaurant bar was open, so Kent went to procure a drink or two.
“What shall it be, sir?” The young bartender seemed barely old enough to drink alcohol, much less serve it.
“One light beer, and a margarita for my wife. Do you mind me asking — how old are you, Mr.…”
The young man smiled. “Call me James. I’m twenty-one, almost twenty-two. I graduated college in December — BS in mechanical engineering. I wanted to take a sabbatical for a few months before entering the job market; so I took a bartending course, and here I am. For about three months, that is.”
He seems level headed, and confident but not cocky. A nice guy, mused Kent.
When the drinks were ready, Kent popped two $20 bills on the bar. “James, please make two virgin pina coladas for my girls.”
“Yes sir, Mr. Braxton.” Kent’s eyebrow rose, and James laughed at his surprise. “I know your name from the passenger list. You guys are the only family with kids here. Which one is Tina, and which is Janis?”
“Tina is the one I’m sending back to pick up the coladas,” Kent winked at James. “She’s kind of lovesick right now. Wish there was something — or someone — that could take her mind off of that,” he said as he walked away. A vacation fling with a quality guy might just help break Mitch’s spell over her.
A minute later, a curvy brunette with long, straight hair walked up to the bar, a slight glower on her face. James retained his smile. “Hello, miss. You must be Tina.”
“Don’t get any ideas, buddy. I know when my Dad’s playing matchmaker. I’m not available.” She grabbed the drinks while looking at the barkeep. She couldn’t help noticing that James was attractive, though. Not really muscular, but friendly, confident, mature … Stop it! I’m Mitch’s girl! I want him to be faithful while I’m gone, so I must be also! Maybe I could get this guy together with Janis, though.
“Enjoy your virgin PC’s,” James said as she walked away.
“My sister will. I’m more of an espresso girl,” Tina replied.
Kent and Marlene eyed their eldest as she returned with the frozen drinks. “That bartender seems like a hunk,” Marlene tittered.
“Not my type. He sounded like he was interested in Janis, though.”
“REALLY?” Janis sat up straight, jutting her chest out, and stole a look at the man behind the bar.
James waved to the table with a smile as he wiped the counter clean. “Hi, Janis,” he lightly yelled.
Janis lightly squealed.
Tina smirked in satisfaction as she looked at Kent, who was suddenly grumbling.
Marlene rolled her eyes.
TO BE CONTINUED MONDAY, JULY 8
This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to a real situation or person is purely coincidental.
Tremendous thanks to Cyclist for beta reading and help!
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Thanks for reading! ... **Sigh**
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