Kent's face drained of all color. "Tina ... you wouldn't ..."
"Try me," Tina growled. "Now, will you let me be with Mitch when we go home, or do I have to keep you in that short, weak, vulnerable girl's body?"
Ultimate Empathy Therapy
Part 5 of 8
Copyright © 2013 plaintivesigh
All Rights Reserved.
Both sessions ended around nine in the evening. Tina and Kent walked out of their respective rooms, then exited the counseling center together.
Tina looked down at her Dad, now her ‘daughter’. “Hey. How did your session go?”
“Fine.” Kent didn’t feel like opening up any more tonight.
“Did you talk about Mitch and me, how you feel about us?”
Kent turned to her ‘father’. “Tina. You need to realize this fact. I will never, ever change my mind about you and Mitch. As long as you live at home, I forbid you to see or talk to him. And when you eventually leave home, I will do any and every thing in my power to keep you two from getting together. Until you come to your senses, that’s what I will do.”
Tina’s mouth fell open. “You — you intend to continue to make my life miserable? You’re going to antagonize Mitch until he gives up on me?” Tina knew that Kent could very well accomplish that.
“Sorry, honey. It’s for your own good. Now: in about 30 hours, when we return to our own bodies — “
“Wait. ‘When’ we return to our bodies? Don’t you mean, ‘IF’?”
Kent looked up. “Huh?”
“IF,” Tina boomed, “IF, IF, IF. IF I allow it. You read the waiver we both signed? Well, I did too. I remember it saying that BOTH of us had to be willing to change back; if not, we stay this way for as long as it takes for both of us to agree. And since we’re talking about you and I, that may mean ‘never’. Frankly, my existence as your daughter has been horrible for the last year. If you keep sabotaging Mitch and me, then why should I go back? I kind of like being big and tough, and in charge. Especially in charge over you — ‘daughter’.”
Kent stood stunned. She’d remembered that provision in the papers, yet she never thought that Tina might want to not change back. Being small and vulnerable was already unnerving; the threat of this becoming a permanent situation scared the hell out of her. She said nothing more for fear of inflaming Tina more. Silently, both of them walked together.
Tina entered the cabana where Mr. and Mrs. Braxton slept. Marlene was brushing her teeth, readying herself for bed. Her ‘husband’ quickly changed into his sleepwear while his wife was in the bathroom.
As they settled into bed, Tina turned on his left side, facing his side of the mattress.
“Can I at least get a kiss goodnight?” whispered Marlene.
“Oh! Sure, ‘honey’. Sorry.” Tina turned over to give Marlene a kiss. Just a quick peck, and it would be over; at least that was Tina’s plan. Instead, Marlene grabbed his shoulders and pressed her body up against him as they engaged in a long, warm, wet smooch. That’s when Tina felt it happen.
OMG no no no! Not another hard-on, not now!
Marlene felt it also, pressing against her stomach. Without a word, she placed her right leg over her husbands’ legs. She next pulled his shirt up, exposing his bare chest. She began to pull up her nightgown…
“No! Marlene — NO!” Tina pulled suddenly away, and turned his back to her while sitting up.
“Wh — what? Kent … what’s the matter?”
“I can’t … not while we’re doing this … special therapy,” Tina gasped. His body’s urges had almost led to the unthinkable. “I do love you, and I want you so bad, (OMG I can’t believe I just said that to my mom) but I can’t. If I do, it will screw up the treatment. It just lasts a little more than a day, now. The morning after tomorrow, things will be fine. I’m sorry.”
“Kent … I don’t understand. What does intimacy between us have to do with you and Tina? You look so worried lately — you aren’t yourself. Sex has always been one of the ways you’ve been able to relax, and rethink any problems later. I’ve never heard of a father-child treatment that required the parents to be abstinent from each other.
“And right now, my husband, I need us to make love. I need it perhaps even more than you. I need to be reassured that I can still bring you to ecstasy, to know that even if the world falls apart, we won’t. I need the fulfillment, the peace it gives me. I’ve never refused you before. Please don’t refuse me now.”
Tina had never heard Marlene sound so desperate. His heart broke as he replied. “NOT … UNTIL … THERAPY’S … OVER!” With that, he stood up and walked out of the front door. He didn’t stop until he got to the ice machine located between the cabanas and the main complex. Oh dear god … I’m destroying Mom and Dad’s relationship! Dispensing some ice into his cupped hands, he then placed it on his groin as he began to sob.
Kent lay in bed, distraught. The threat delivered to her tonight had rocked her world. She had been hanging on in this hurricane of strange feelings, clinging to the knowledge that all would be back to normal in just hours. But the prospect of staying this way, for weeks or months or forever? That was breaking all of her resolve; she feared she was even losing her grip on reality.
She needed someone. In the past, she would have made passionate love to Marlene; that usually helped calm her storm. Right now, she didn’t need sex so much as someone to listen, and comfort. Janis? No … her ‘sister’ was a bully. Best to let the bully sleep. Marlene? Yes … except then Tina would get involved too, likely; and facing ‘him’ again right now made her shiver. Who?
She started to smile, and her eyes brightened. Perfect! I’ll get to talk to someone, and I’ll help break Mitch’s hold on Tina at the same time!
Kent quietly got out of bed, taking care not to wake Janis. She picked up the clothes she’d worn earlier and carefully put them on — bra, shorts, tank top, and sandals — and slinked out of the cabana. In the darkness, she hoped the hoodlums were in bed already as she walked down the trail to the pool. Only two couples were lingering there, talking under the light of the nearly full moon. And then she gladly saw her objective, tending the poolside bar.
“So, gorgeous one, what brings you here so late?”
“I need one of your virgin PC’s, please. And an open ear, if you care to give it.”
“Coming right up.” James smiled as he pulled out the necessary ingredients from his bar fridge. “You sure you don’t want an espresso?”
“Ah, nope,” Kent replied. While in this teenage girl’s body, she had the rep of being the coffee queen. Kent, though, detested coffee — too bitter, and adding sugar and cream helped little. “It’s too late; the caffeine will just keep me up.”
The blender whirred and produced the creamy smoothie. “I was just about to close up shop; it’s almost 11,” James said. “We stay open later — ‘til 1 a.m. — on Friday and Saturday, because there’s no formal therapy on the weekend. Then we get a new set of clients flying in on Sunday, and the week starts over again.”
“So, you work seven days a week? That sounds rough,” exclaimed Kent.
“One of the line cooks tends bar for me about five days a month. It’s not so bad. I have fun, and meet some of the nicest people. Like you,” he grinned. “And when I do have a day off, I get to spend it in this paradise.”
What a great guy, thought Kent. And if I can get him interested in me, I don’t see any way that Tina can resist his charms when — er, make that ‘if’ (gulp) — we switch back.
Kent slurped the last of the colada. “Delicious. But now I’m a little chilly.”
“Hang on.” James closed down the bar, grabbed some of the thick pool towels next to the bar, and led the girl to a covered bench swing. Sitting her down, covering her with the towels, he then sat next to her and put his arm around her. “Better?”
“Much!” cooed Kent. Have I got this flirting business down, or what?
“So, Tina. What do you need to talk about?”
“Can’t give specifics. The person I usually open up to — “
“Isn’t here, I know. You told me you were spoken for the first day I met you. I’m assuming that’s a boyfriend, not a fiancé, right?”
“I sure hope not,” mused Kent.
“Hm? Sounds like there’s trouble in the romance area of your life. I hope I’m not making you feel like you’re cheating on your guy.”
Let’s reassure him that Tina finds him attractive, Kent thought, so she snuggled her head into the crook of James’ neck. “I need someone right now. You’re here. Mitch isn’t.”
“Hooray,” James said.
Kent spilled her thoughts. “I feel like nobody likes me now; like, in spite of everything I’ve done for my family, that no one appreciates it. I’m not perfect, by any means. But I feel like I’m better than 99% of the other fa- er, daughters out there. Do you understand what I’m getting at?”
“I think so, Tina. Heck, I keep this smile plastered on whether or not people appreciate my efforts. I make a mean margarita, a beautiful bloody mary, and a fantastic fuzzy navel. Yet I rarely get a word of thanks, much less a great tip. People seem too absorbed in their hang-ups, especially here. But it still doesn’t mean that they don’t deserve my best. Heck, I owe it to myself to do my best — in my smile, and my work.”
“My, what a great attitude you have,” breathed Kent.
James laughed. “The better to woo you with, my dear.”
“So, you admit you’re trying to woo — mph!“
Kent couldn’t finish her sentence. James had craned his neck over and was planting the tenderest of kisses to her lips. Kent froze; her male brain was protesting, yet not wanting to push James away for Tina’s sake. Kent’s current body, however, was responding at 100,000 RPM. Her skin tingled, her heart beat like a trip hammer, her pupils dilated, and goose bumps rose on her neck, her legs, and groin. Also, her left butt cheek felt warm. And compressed. And massaged.
Wh … that’s James’ hand!
“Hey — stop! Please,” Kent gasped.
James looked crestfallen. “Really? Oh — I’m sorry. Nuts. I got carried away. Forgive me.”
“Hey — no apologies needed. I’m just not looking for that out of you — not tonight, at least.” But feel free to explore that with Tina when we’re back to normal, Kent schemed. “James, you’ve been great. You listened to me, and that kiss … wow. But I better get back before someone in my family notices I’m gone.”
“I’m already missing you,” James said with mock distress.
“James … listen closely. In a day or two, I may be acting strange; like I’m not attracted to you, like tonight never happened. If that occurs, don’t be put off. Keep pursuing me. Just be your gallant, sweet, handsome self. You will reach me again. Please remember that, OK?” Kent hoped that Tina would be open to this dream of a boy.
“Okay, Tina. That sounds kind of weird … but I’ll bet it has something to do with that secret therapy that some of the couples here go through. I’m right, aren’t I?”
“Gee. You’re smart, too. *sigh*,” Kent faked a swoon, then got up and walked towards the cabana path. “Night, James. Sleep tight.”
“Sweet dreams, gorgeous. Make one of them about me,” called James.
Morning came, and girl-Kent walked to the gazebo to meet man-Tina. This is the last day … the last morning I have to get make-up applied. Yee-haw! As of about 3 a.m. tomorrow, I get to be me again! Lost in her reverie, Kent was almost at the stairs to the gazebo before she noticed Tina was already there, waiting.
“Well, aren’t you up early,” said Kent. “Did you rest well?”
“No. I slept horribly. Mom’s hurting badly because I won’t get affectionate with her, and this … thingie of yours keeps coming to life with the slightest movement. I woke up at four and couldn’t get back to sleep because I was afraid of yesterday morning happening again,” Tina moaned.
“Don’t worry, honey. See, this is why we should definitely change back when the 60 hours is up.”
“You think you’re pretty slick, don’t you, Dad. As miserable as I am now, I’ll be just as doomed if I lose Mitch because of you. So, even though it’s killing Mom, she might just have to get over losing her husband if I am forced to have to get over Mitch.” Tina was so angry now, he was saying anything that he thought would hurt Kent.
Kent’s face drained of all color. “Tina … you wouldn’t …”
“Try me,” Tina growled. “Now, will you let me be with Mitch when we go home, or do I have to keep you in that short, weak, vulnerable girl’s body?”
Kent stood, and started to leave the gazebo. She turned back to Tina at the edge of the stairs. “Forget the make-up. My eyes are too wet for mascara anyway.” She then ran away, crying.
Breakfast was a somber affair. Tina angrily poked at his eggs. Marlene didn’t touch her food; she did sip her coffee, but it did nothing for her reddened eyes. Kent was bloodshot in her peepers also, just nibbling on a berry or two from her fruit plate. Not a word was said. Janis, who could sense the tension but had no clue where it was coming from, finally broke the ice.
“What the heck is wrong with everybody?”
Kent and Tina glared at her, while Marlene continued to sip her coffee and look out the window at the flora.
“Okaaay … I withdraw the question,” Janis mumbled as she slumped down in her chair.
After breakfast, the family walked out and sat in shaded chairs on the verandah. The silence held until Tina spoke.
“Let’s skip therapy today, “daughter”. I don’t want to go.”
“Fine with me. It’s just making things worse, anyway,” answered Kent.
“Now, wait a minute, you two,” Marlene cut in. “I’m suffering from this ‘special treatment’ of yours also. Today is the last day of it, right? So, see it through. I’m damned ready for it to be over.”
“Where did you go last night, Tina?” chirped Janis.
Man-Tina barked, “Janis, don’t change the subj — wait. What?”
“I said,” Janis looked directly towards girl-Kent, “where did you go last night, Tina? You left at around ten till eleven and didn’t come back until nearly midnight.”
Kent was mute, and flushing bright red from chest to crown.
“You should remember how light a sleeper I am,” Janis continued. “I saw you sneak out. I would have left to go make sure you were okay, but then I would have been disobeying Daddy’s rule of walking alone after dark. And I always obey Daddy’s — “
“Janis, shut up,” both Kent and Tina said in near unison.
Then Tina turned to Kent. “So … where did you go?”
“LIAR! You’re lying!”
“Now that’s the pot calling the kettle.”
Tina stood up. “That’s it! I have had it with you! You will no longer be allowed to be alone! You must be with your mother or me at all times! You will sleep on the floor in our cabana so we can monitor you constantly! If you continue to act like a delinquent, then I’ll treat you like a criminal!”
Kent rose in reply. “Oh yeah? Well, after the threat you leveled at me last night — and again this morning - I realize I may have to live the rest of my life this way. So I will live it in spite of you, not under you! And I’m 18, ‘Daddy’. Less than three months, and you’ll never see me again if you don’t want to,” Kent hissed.
“I’ll never see you again? Oh please — promise me that!” roared Tina.
“Kent! Tina! Stop this! Please,” Marlene implored.
“You want to know where I was last night, ‘Daddy’,” Kent said, ignoring Marlene. “I was with James. I poured out my heart to him because I couldn’t do it with anyone in this screwed up family!”
“James the bartender? You don’t really know him, do you? He could be a smooth talking liar, trying to just bed you!” Tina countered.
“Yeah — like Mitch,” smirked girl-Kent.
“YOU LEAVE HIM OUT OF THIS! MITCH IS PRECIOUS TO ME!” shouted man-Tina.
At this point, Janis and Marlene were totally confused.
“Go ahead, ‘Dad’. Make good on your threat. You will be a failure of a man. I will be successful no matter what, because that’s what I am — a success. Unlike you,” Kent said with all the venom she could muster. She was five feet from her 'father', arms crossed.
Tina lost all control. He screamed at the top of his lungs: “HOW … DARE … YOU … SPEAK TO ME THAT WAY!” As he said it, he closed the space between him and Kent in two giant strides, slamming his fist down on the side table near them. The punch was so hard that it destroyed the wooden bench with a loud KRAK — AKK.
Kent was suddenly scared to death. The scream had shaken her whole body to the spine, and the table smash left her ear ringing. She had never seen this look on what used to be her face. Tina was like a raging monster, well able to crush her with his bare hands; a hulk, with more clothes and flesh colored skin. A high-pitched squeal of fear escaped from Kent’s lips, and she turned and ran away into the trees.
Tina stood still, numb from the realization of just how crazy he had just acted. Marlene was out of her chair, holding onto a frightened Janis.
“Kent … what … what’s happened to you?” Marlene sobbed.
Tina looked at his ‘wife’. “Marlene …”
“Just … just stay away from us!” -She continued backing farther and farther away.
Dr. Brand tapped his pad computer. “You’re a little late for the session, Tina, so we’re going to have to make it a forty minute one. By the way, where’s Kent?”
“Doc,” man-Tina sniffed, “everything’s going to hell. I’m screwing it all up. I didn’t want to come here this morning, but there was had nowhere else to go, no one to talk to.” He then relayed the events of the morning to Brand.
The psychologist’s brow furrowed with worry. “We’ve never had to end a UET early, but I think it’s time to make an exception. Let me clear it with the CEO.”
Tina was exasperated. “To hell with the CEO! You’re the boss here! I’m sure you have the authority — now do it, please!”
“I cannot do this without the CEO’s permission, nor without his capacity,” Brand replied deeply. “Stay here. I’ll call; if she approves, then we can proceed as soon as we find Kent. I’ll get Angelo on that as soon as I get off the phone.”
Dr. Brand stepped out. Tina stayed in the counseling room, head in hands.
“Uh, Mr. Braxton?”
Tina looked up. It was an Isla employee, one he’d not really seen before … she had the official shirt and nametag, though. “Uh, yeah. That’s me.”
“Sorry to bother you, but I notice you’re alone in here. Sir, we’ve received an urgent call for you. It’s from your company; whoever called said he had to speak to you urgently. He’s holding on line 3.”
“Uh — hello?” Tina was nervous; he knew next to nothing about being a CEO.
“Mr. Braxton! Thank God I found you. I know you’re on vacation, sir, but this is an issue that just came up, and it’s pretty serious. In fact, the whole survival of Hannegill Enterprises is at stake.”
“Uh — okay,” hemmed Tina.
“A corporate raider is actively trying to buy us out. He started yesterday; he means to divide us up into dozens of smaller divisions and sell us off. Evidently he’s already sold half of our shareholders on the idea. They’re calling a special meeting this Friday. I know you’re not due back until Monday — but this is too serious for you not to be here, leading the opposition to this guy. When shall I send the corporate jet to pick you up?”
“Uh — what?!” hawed Tina.
“Sir — snap out of vacation mode. I need you here with me right now. We’ll reimburse you with an extra week of vacation.”
“Uh — who is this I’m talking to?”
“Kent — this is Robert. You know, the COO? The guy you left in charge of the company while you went on this vacation?”
“Why, of course I know you, Robert. The phone service here is awful; I can barely hear you. Robert, hang on for thirty seconds.”
Tina put the phone in his lap. Dad’s not here to help me. And if we can’t find him, I can’t switch him back to his body. If I say the wrong thing, Dad could lose his company. Oh My God — what do I tell this guy? What would Dad say?
In thirty seconds, Tina lifted her head, and raised the phone handle to her head. “Robert — you there?”
“Yes, sir. I never left.”
“Robert. I am in a critical moment with my family. If I leave them now, I might lose them. And when it comes to choosing between Hannegill and my family — well, there’s no contest. I left you in charge because I trust you can do the job. Now, if you need me to speak to the board or the shareholders, I can do it via Skype, or some other videolink. Make it Friday when that happens, if at all possible. Until then, Robert, know this: you can deal with this. I have given you all the tools necessary for this, and I wouldn’t have chosen you if you couldn’t handle it. Repeat after me: I CAN HANDLE THIS.”
“I — I can handle this,” said the voice through the phone.
“I CAN HANDLE THIS!”
“Good man. Now get out there and handle it.” Tina hung up. Well, I hope I didn’t screw up things even more badly. I don’t know what else I should have said, though — that was the absolute best I could think to say in the situation. I hope dad doesn’t freak out when he hears.
Tina didn’t have to wait long to find out. Angelo walked in the door, with a fretful, nervous Kent in tow.
“Angelo — don’t leave me alone with him. I won’t feel safe,” Kent whispered to her attendant.
“Hokay, signorina,” reassured the Italian. “I’ma right here.”
Tina breathed a sigh of relief. “Thank God you’re here, ‘daughter’. Dr. Brand has decided to end the therapy now, and get us back to normal. He’s just getting all the things in order, like talking to his boss.”
Kent appeared suspicious. “So … you’re fine with that? What about your threat to not agree to the switch back?”
“Dad, I’m not meant to be a man. I’m a girl. I just wanted to make you suffer … to abuse you like I felt you had been abusing me.”
Kent was silent for the longest time before responding. “Tina … abuse is the right word.”
Tina shook his head in shame. “I know, I know. I wanted to make you feel my hurt, to get even with you. But when I did it, it made me feel horrible — like I can’t live with myself. I’m such a hypocrite — complaining about how you treat me, and then I turn around and do even worse back to you.”
“That’s not what I meant,” said Kent, eyes welling. “I’m not talking about your behavior. I’m talking about mine.”
The young girl walked over to the big man and sat next to him, grabbing ahold of his hand.
“Tina … what just happened frightened the hell out of me twice. The first time was seeing the raw fury in your face, the craziness in your eyes. I really thought you were going to hurt me. So, I ran off into the trees. While there, I realized a terrible truth: In this past year, I have made you feel that way. The times that I have ‘lost it’ and raged, and made you tremble and back away? I thought I was forcing obedience out of you. But what I was really doing was scaring you to near death. That’s true, isn’t it?”
Tina nodded her head. He ... he’s beginning to see — finally!
Kent was now openly weeping. “That’s child abuse, Tina. I don’t deserve to be your father. I should be locked away in a prison somewhere. Oh God … baby … I’m a monster … I feel so horrible … I’m so, so, so sorry …” Kent broke down, holding her face in her hands, sobbing loudly.
Tina watched Kent for a minute, searching for any signs of insincerity. Finding none, he put his arm around the weeping girl. “Dad … look at me.”
Kent suppressed the sobs enough to raise her face; she lowered her fingertips enough so her eyes could peek at Tina.
“Dad … we have to change how we act towards each other. We have a long way to go — but this is a start. I’m sorry too, for my behavior this past year — boy, I’ve learned how horrible it feels to have a disobedient daughter. I’ve treated you with such disrespect. I’m willing to work on changing. I just pray that I won't have to give up ... M-m …” Tina was faltering.
Mitch?! realized Kent with awe. This was the first time that she had even shown a hint of weakening her stance regarding her lover.
“… Because no matter what happens in life, I love you. You’re my Daddy.” Tina’s tears were freely falling now. “Please forgive me for how I’ve hurt you. And Daddy — I forgive you, too. For all of it.”
Both father and daughter now dissolved together in a rush of wails and tears, hugging each other tightly.
The next hour was one of peace and bliss for both of them. They reminisced about the good times of past years; they complimented each other on the best qualities they saw in each other. Kent spoke of what an honor it was to be in Tina’s beautiful body, to possess her gleaming smile. Tina remarked about how proud she was of his accomplishments. When Tina recounted the phone call with Robert from Hannegill, Kent was amazed at the wisdom of his daughter’s response.
And Kent spoke to Tina about Janis’ blackmail of her. Tina was embarrassed severely to find that Kent had seen the explicit photos, and readied herself for a lecture. None came.
“The only thing wrong with what you did there, Tina, was trusting those photos to someone who wasn’t trustworthy. By posting it to his friends, he betrayed you. But tantalizing each other is what lovers do; and if you were married to a responsible partner, I’d have no trouble with what you did.”
Tina was stunned. “Really?!”
“I’ll let you in on a secret — you cannot tell anyone else. Your mom knows, but she should not know that I told you this, okay?”
Kent pointed to the smartphone located in Tina’s left back pocket. “In the pictures section is a hidden file, secured by three passwords. That’s where I keep your Mother’s Victoria’s Secret photo shoot.”
“Mom … did a lingerie photo shoot?!”
“Yes, about five years ago. It was a Valentine’s gift to me. And when I’m gone on a weeklong trip, feeling lonely, I get to a private place, call your Mom on speakerphone and pull up that file. If I ever get ‘horny’ I like to focus all that sexual tension on her body, no one else’s. And now you know another secret I use to make sure I’m faithful to your mother.”
“Dad … I’ve been so ashamed of those nude pics … I can’t believe you aren’t yelling at me over it.”
“Daughter,” Kent said, “Look at me. I … forgive … you. For all of it. Everything. I want you to know something: even though I may not agree with you — even if you do things that I can’t be proud of — you will always be my beloved daughter. I will love you forever, and nothing, no one will ever change that.”
“You forgive me? For all of it?”
More tears and hugs followed. After fifteen more minutes, they calmed enough to resume talking.
“Tina,” Kent said. “We have to do something about Janis. She
can’t continue to shoplift and steal — she’s hurting other people, and she’ll ruin her life.”
“I know, Dad. But what do we do?”
“Ahem,” spoke a rough voice with a heavy Mediterranean accent. “I have a suggestione.”
Both Tina and Kent suddenly realized that Angelo had been in the room the whole time. Tina tried to cover up: “Ah … Angelo; you’re probably wondering why I’m calling my daughter ‘Kent’, and why she’s calling me ‘Tina’. See, we’re-“
“Is di ‘minda — swap’, no?” the hairy man grinned. “You donna work here for twenny years witout learning a few tings. Don’ worryaboutit. Dottore Brand, Dottore Ruiz, anda me are di only ones who know. Now, about Signorina Janis …”
Marlene lay on the bed in her cabana. Janis laid with her. They had ahold of each other, both sniffling from the morning’s events. “I curse the day I decided to look at the mailer for this awful place,” the mother said.
She heard a tap-tap-tap at the door. “Kent — leave me alone. I don’t want to see you right now.”
“Mom — it’s me, Tina,” Kent spoke in his daughter’s voice.
Marlene sat up. “Tina? Come in, honey! Are you all right? Janis and I looked for you for nearly an hour!”
Girl-Kent walked in. “Mom. Something wonderful has happened between me and Dad.”
“What?” “Really?” For both Marlene and Janis, those were the words they least expected to hear.
“Yes, really. We both had a breakthrough. I know you said you didn’t want to see Dad right now, but can I bring him in? We both have some amends to make with you guys.”
It was a little unusual, what with Kent apologizing for Tina’s wrongs and Tina confessing Kent’s. Neither father nor daughter thought that disclosing the mind/body swap was a wise thing to do yet, if ever.
There were many tears, admissions of wrongs, apologies, confessions of love, and promises made. Fresh soul wounds still existed in all four Braxtons, but the balms of humility and forgiveness started the slow healing process on most of them. Evil words spoken in the past were addressed, confessed, and absolved. For the moment, all was well.
The four of them ended up sprawled together on the king size bed, hugging, intertwining fingers, and stroking one another’s hair.
Marlene finally interrupted this fantasy-come-true. “I’m hungry. I’ve been so upset that I haven’t really eaten much since the first meal we had here. I’m starving!”
Man-Tina laughed. “You must be feeling better, then. Lunch is still forty minutes away. How about we all get up and go for a stroll — have any of you visited the gift shop yet?”
“Oh, I want to go there!” cried Janis. “All I’ve gotten to do is just stick my head in for a few minutes.” And there are a few items there I’d love to have, if the right opportunity presents itself.
“You go on, Janis. We’ll catch up with you,” her ‘father’ said.
Janis had been in the gift shop for about twenty minutes when the rest of her family showed up. The youngest Braxton had already scouted the place; no security camera, one employee behind the counter. It was a small shop; even with no electronic surveillance it would be hard to get away with something. I’ll stick around; who knows what could happen.
She saw Kent looking around at the coffee cups and shot glasses; he collected the latter. Tina seemed to be advising her father on which shot glass to get. Weird, thought Janis. Marlene went straight to the jewelry case, and asked to see some of the earrings and bangles. They were mixtures of pearls, diamonds, and gold; some had seashells or exotic coral. Pretty, pretty — Janis salivated while watching from the corner of her eye.
“Honey, come on,” Mr. Braxton urged. “They’re opening up the dining area.”
“Ooh! I can’t wait. I’m so hungry!” Marlene turned and walked away, leaving the jewels on top of the display case. The clerk, who appeared to be Asian, started to place the items back under lock when the walkie-talkie on his hip began to squawk.
“Chaoxiang! Pick uppa di phone!” It was Angelo’s voice.
The clerk stopped everything and grabbed his radio. “Chao here. What’s up?”
“Coda red inna di equipament shack! Comma help, NOW NOW NOW!!”
“Fire,” Chao whispered. He looked up. The store was now empty; the youngest daughter of that family was just now stepping out. It would take him precious minutes to lock up — minutes the shack might not have. He left the jewelry on the countertop. Quickly closing the shop door and turning the sign to “CLOSED”, he bolted out the back door, running to the equipment shed.
Two minutes later, the left-unlocked front door opened, and a svelte young girl tiptoed briskly inside.
Lunch for the family tasted better than any meal had in a long time. Without the underlying acid of conflict, everything seemed improved. Also, the special was conch salad, with broiled Chilean sea bass and asparagus.
Marlene leaned towards Janis. “Honey, were you able to find a fresh tampon?”
“Yeah, Mom. Thanks for letting me go back to my cabana to get it,” Janis whispered back. I’m not quite on my period yet; I’ll have to remember this little lie and not contradict it later.
“The only way this meal could get better is to top it off with an espresso,” man-Tina sighed.
“Or a hot black tea,” gushed girl-Kent.
“This sudden taste change in you two still amazes me,” laughed Marlene.
“Mr. Braxton?” a tenor voice bellowed.
The whole table looked up at a huge Scandinavian woman in a security uniform. She had a frown on her face. “I need to speak to you and your daughter — now.”
“Me?” said girl-Kent with fear.
“No. Her.” She pointed with her big white finger at Janis.
“I want to be included,” Marlene remarked with alarm.
“Can I be there also?” urged Janis’ sister.
“Yes, please let her be there too,” Janis pleaded. If this is about the gift shop, Tina may be my alibi. Or maybe I can pin it on her.
Janis sat bewildered. There on the black and white screen, it clearly showed her entering the empty store and swiping the jewelry. A quick frisk by the female officer showed the items were stashed inside her underwear.
“People think we don’t have cameras in there,” remarked security chief Brita. “Our equipment is state of the art. This shot is from a device so tiny, it’s hidden in the pupil of the eye of one of the mannequins.”
Janis moaned. “I was caught by a dummy.”
“So, little one. Is this your first offense?” Brita thundered.
“Yes. I’ve never done anything like this ever before. I — I don’t know what got into me. I promise,” Janis cried. She was shedding actual tears, although out of fear, not repentance.
“Um … that’s not true.” The quiet admission came from the back of the room. Janis turned her head towards its origin. Tina! That little bitch is squealing on me! “Sis, remember the pix,” Janis growled.
Marlene took charge. “It’s too late, Janis. Tina just showed me the shots from her phone — the ones you’ve been threatening her with. And although she’ll face consequences, it does not excuse your behavior in the least. You’ve been stealing from multiple stores and people. Your closet is full of Chloe’s clothes; I’ll bet that’s why you never want to invite her over. When Tina told us about you — right after you left for the gift shop — I didn’t want to believe it; but it makes too much sense. You really aren’t that great at finding bargain priced fashion and accessories, are you? You’ve just been great at stealing. Do you deny it?”
Janis looked at the assembled accusers before her and considered the evidence against her. Her shoulders slumped in defeat. “No.”
Brita picked up her radio. “Congrats to Angelo and Chaoxiang. The sting was successful. Repeat, successful sting.”
“Wait! This was a SET UP?” squeaked Janis.
“Your blackmailing of me came out in therapy, Janis,” her ‘sister’ casually remarked. “I let Dad here know about it, and he and Angelo figured out a plan to expose you. To help you. You have a problem, sister. You need help. We did let Mom in on it at the last, when you left for the gift shop. She needed to ask for the jewelry case to be opened.”
Janis’ head hung low. “So, what happens now?”
Man-Tina laid down the law. Janis would start counseling here for kleptomania, and continue it upon arriving home. All stolen items would be returned to the stores and people as much as possible, and a lawyer would argue that she in good faith is trying to change her life. If Janis refused any of the above terms, she’d be at the mercy of prosecution without the assistance of the family lawyer; she’d have to find her own.
Janis, trembling, agreed to the terms.
Later, Marlene sat beside a weeping Janis. She didn’t overly comfort, as she felt her daughter needed to feel the fear and stress of her coming consequences so as to motivate her to change. She did feed Janis a fresh tissue every so often, though.
Tina and Kent took a walk. “Well, that went as good as it could, I think,” Tina said.
Kent looked up at him. “You were pretty awesome in there, daughter. You’re going to make a great parent. A real chip off of Marlene’s block.”
“I never would have had the courage to come clean about those pictures without you, Dad. Thank you for loving me through this.”
“It’s time for our afternoon therapy, honey. Ready to get your body back?”
“You know it! And you’re just as eager too, I’ll bet.”
TO BE CONTINUED WEDNESDAY, JULY 17
This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to an actual situation or person is purely coincidental.
Tremendous thanks to Cyclist for beta reading and help!
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Thanks for reading! Hugz - **Sigh**
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