Currie ran a critical eye over the buffet before the guests arrived. Dining was informal at the retreat. Guests grabbed a plate and silverware and helped themselves. When they finished, they returned their dirty dishes to the window between the dining room and kitchen. Thora and Emeralda made short work of the cleaning up, and the sisters offered evening activities for any guests who were interested. Tonight, Currie would start drawing her caricatures of each guest to pin on the floor to ceiling bulletin board in Brie’s office. It was the first step in finding the cause of their pain.
At the moment, though, she wanted the buffet to impress them. There was the salad that Thora made, the mushroom-crepe lasagna, salmon with a spicy glaze,
apricot-basil chicken roll-ups, and a corn and tomato pasta salad. Dessert was simply meringues with different fresh fruits to heap inside them. Wine bottles were uncorked, beer bottles nestled in a tub of ice, and carafes of coffee and iced tea sat at the end of the table. Satisfied, Currie went to join her sisters to greet their guests.
Two women arrived first, hesitant and nervous, and took a table close to the buffet. The one looked to be in her early fifties, the other, much younger. A man in his seventies hobbled in next, followed by the other three women. They stayed close together, as if seeking safety in numbers. The rest of the men wandered in alone at the last minute until the dining room was filled.
Currie told her sisters Thora’s news when they went to get their own meals. “She’s worried that we won’t let her stay on the island,” she finished.
“Of course she’ll stay!” Saffron said. “She’s our friend. No, she’s more like family.”
“A baby? A mortal?” Brie’s efficient mind was already thinking of all the possibilities. She sighed,
Currie smiled. “Is that a yes?”
“Thora’s not just kitchen help. She’s part of us,” Brie said. “But babies are noisy and messy. They interfere with schedules.”
Saffron laughed. “The heavens help us!”
“I’ll go talk to Thora,” Brie said. “You two mingle with the guests.”
Saffron walked to one end of the room, and Currie went to the other.
“May I join you?” Currie asked, as she stopped at the table with the three younger men. “Or would you rather be alone?”
“Grab a chair,” the one with crutches said. “We can ask you some questions and get a feel for how things run here.”
Currie remembered that he was Brent Yearwood, the twenty-five-year-old who’d lost his leg in a boating accident. He was one of Brie’s clients. She took the last empty chair at their table and smiled at each of them. “What do you want to know?”
“Where’s the nightlife, the club and the music, the booze and the parties?”
Currie looked out the windows at the lush gardens surrounding them. “You’re looking at it.”
Brent stared. “My dad said this was the place to be, that people waited in line to come here.”
He looked at the dozen people in the dining room. “Why?”
“They come here to heal.”
“Heal?” Brent’s eyebrows rose in surprise. “I can’t heal. My leg’s gone. Why would Dad send me here?”
“I don’t have a clue. Didn’t you look at the brochure?”
Brent shrugged. “I was too busy.”
“It doesn’t interfere with my job, if that’s what you mean.”
Currie didn’t ask what he did for a living. She already knew. He was a stockbroker. “Maybe your dad thought you had an avoidance issue.”
Brent’s face hardened. “This isn’t some expensive psych ward, is it? A fancy getup for addiction therapy?”
“Why?” Currie studied him. “Is that what you need?”
Brent’s face flushed with anger. “No! But Dad would think so.”
“Then relax. Your dad’s not here. And we don’t do therapy. We just open our island for people to come and get away from it all.”
“But there’s no bar, no nightclub.”
“Sorry. We made that clear in the brochure. If you don’t like it, though, you can pack your bags and leave when Emeralda takes the ferry to the mainland next week.”
“To get supplies. There’s no reason for her to make the trip more often. Most guests stay a month. No one else comes and goes.”
“A month.” Brent made it sound like forever. He shook his head, a stunned look on his face. “How does that work?”
“Give it a week. You’ll see.”
“If he’s finished bitching, the rest of us DID read our brochures, and we’re glad you invited us to come,” the man sitting next to Brent said. He pushed back the thick brown hair that kept falling onto his forehead.
Quite the looker, Currie had to admit. Deep blue eyes, and he must be almost six-four with a sinewy build.
“I’m Price Compton. I’m in sales.” One of the clients on her list. The details on the form he’d filled out were sketchy. He wasn’t ready to share his deepest problem yet. He looked at the other man sitting at the table and raised an eyebrow in inquiry.
“Ward Darrow,” he said, introducing himself. “I’m a firefighter.”
Ward had pitch-black hair like Currie’s father had in his youth. His brown eyes were almost black. He stood almost six feet, like her father too, and looked hard muscled. He gave the impression of being rock solid, but at the moment, he looked fragile--too much suffering.
They were all suffering, Currie reminded herself, or they wouldn’t be here. “Well, let me tell you what’s offered after supper,” she said. “My sister Saffron does a nature walk every evening after dinner. The plants and wildlife here are extraordinary.”
“Oh, goody! Sign me up,” Brent jeered.
“Brie set up a quilting frame and needlepoint projects, and she plays the piano. I draw caricatures of each guest to pin on our office bulletin board, so that we can get to know you better.”
“Let me see--quilting or pictures--which will it be?” Brent slumped back in his chair in disbelief.
“There are puzzles and crosswords, along with hundreds of books and newspapers in the library. Once I draw your caricature, we’ll assign you the project you’re to finish before you leave here.”
“Project? Are you for real?” Even more surprise registered on Brent’s face. “I thought that was a joke.”
“It’s the reason you came,” Currie said. “A challenge.”
“Oh God.” Brent groaned. “What can a one-legged stockbroker do for your island?”
Currie smiled. “You’d be surprised.”
“Surprised or shocked?” Price asked.
“That remains to be seen, doesn’t it?”
“And are we guaranteed to heal?” Brent asked. “Do you have a one hundred percent rate going?”
“So far, but there were some close calls. And some heal more than others. There are never any guarantees in life, are there?”
“One hundred percent?” Price asked. “I didn’t think that was possible. That’s like beating the odds.”
Ward’s dark brows drew together in a scowl. “Do we need to participate to heal? Can we just go back to our cabins and be alone?”
“Of course, but can I come for a half hour to sketch you when I’ve finished the others?”
“If you have to.”
That was as much of an opening as she was going to get. She wasn’t worried. They’d had other guests who locked themselves away to lick their wounds, but eventually, the island proved too tempting. They left their private misery and re-entered the world. “I’ll see you when I’ve finished the others then,” she said. From his expression, she knew that he wasn’t looking forward to it.