The equatorial, mid-morning sun shines through small windows opposite Van’s bed, waking him from a deep sleep.
His alarm had already gone off a number of times in a fruitless effort to wake him in time for work. After each snooze delay, he had resolved to get out of bed the next time it sounded. It was a good strategy in terms of indulging himself with a few extra hours of unconsciousness. Where it failed, however, was about to become abundantly clear.
When his phone rings, he ponders the quirky notion that it seems to be a rather angry ring. There is no questioning the identity of the caller. It is Omar, the resort manager. Van groans, then sits upright in bed. Still half asleep, he regards the phone then the alarm. After a time, a slow realization begins to take form. He’s an hour late for lifeguard duty.
He had stayed out too late diving last night, looking for trinkets to unload on tourists. As it has been with most outings, lately, he’ll barely cover the cost of tanks and gear. Honestly, he’d be lucky to break even. The resort’s gift shop always takes what he can’t push on visitors. Unfortunately, their set buying price isn’t worth his effort.
Tired, hungry, and feeling slightly stressed-out despite the extra sleep, Van calls his favorite taxi driver, asking her to meet him at the main road. Natalia is a popular, local woman possessing a bit of a wild side. Her driving, while technically incident free, is wildly reckless and far too erratic for visitors and tourists. Her unusually salty vernacular doesn’t help much in that regard, either. As a result, she typically finds herself relegated to driving locals around the island’s treacherous back roads.
Van thanks Natalia for the swift ride to work, while silently thanking himself for not eating breakfast beforehand. A few angry beachgoers grumble at his arrival while he exchanges the red “do not swim” flag for the green one, signaling “all-clear” and safe to swim. Safe, of course, is a relative term.
More and more, Van has been called upon to pull inebriated resort guests out the ocean. What’s worse, are the opportunists who play-act the need for rescue in some creepy attempt to make his acquaintance.
Thirty minutes after the belated start of his shift, Van spots the resort manager, half marching, half prancing his way through the sun-scorched sand toward his guard station. Van never cared much for the shrewd and duplicitous sim. He’d known Omar for since before the resort when he’d been acquainted with Van’s “parents”.
Van cringes every time he thinks about that word. From his earliest childhood memories, he had been raised by two men, Mitch, and Wade. Van has no memory his mother, and neither had ever volunteered information about which, if either, was his true, biological parent. In retrospect, the pair had always treated Van with a disinterested, mild indifference. Sure, they would dust him off and show him around like a trophy every once in a while. Most of the time, Van felt like he was just an unwelcome nuisance. What irks him most about the situation is, given Omar’s former association with Mitch and Wade, it is quite possible that he knows more about Van’s pedigree than Van knows about himself.
Van greets Omar with a chipper Good Morning, doing his best to delay the inevitable unpleasantness. Omar’s perfectly practiced smile is convincing but clearly forced. The resort manager’s effeminate falsetto, which seems a pitch higher than usual, asks if Van is aware of the time “his” beach opens to swimmers in the morning. Van nods, then responds by reciting the weekly schedule, which is posted in plain sight on a board just a few steps away from them. Omar sets his jaw and shifts his weight dramatically. His response is a jeering threat to terminate Van’s employment if he is late to work a second time.
After an uncomfortably long wait for Van’s reply, which does not come, a pert but indignant smile crosses Omar’s face. He asks Van how he’s managing to get along with his parent’s unpaid debts. Van’s facade remains un-flinched, but the taunting barb hits home. He retains his controlled composure, despite wanting to punch the little creep in the mouth. Oddly, the word “parents” unnerves Van much more than Omar’s clumsy attempt at emotional broadsides, and it allows old, unresolved conflicts to surface.
Just before his teen birthday, Van was again uprooted and brought to Isla Paradiso, where Mitch and Wade felt destiny had called them to make their fortune on a surefire business venture. The venture involved a modest capital investment toward establishing a new luxury resort. Alas, the luxury aspect of their plan was fundamentally flawed, not to mention their commitment to seeing the business through.
With a few meager earnings in their pocket, they’d purchased a plot of land on which they were going to build a magnificent postmodern mansion. Here, they would host extravagant a-list parties and rub elbows with the rich and powerful. It was probably around that time that they either became bored or discouraged (or both) or ran out of money. The mansion had not worked out quite as they had hoped. To make matters worse, word had spread back on the mainland about the tiny, rustic island and its raw, untapped potential.
Landgraab moved in quickly. Mitch and Wade moved out just as quickly. Somehow, the pair had caught wind of priceless artifacts, free for the taking, located in far-away lands. Initially, they were gone only for days at a time. They’d return empty handed, but absolutely certain that their next excursion would be the one that made them rich. Eventually, they spent more time away than at home. When the time came for Van to age into an adult, they had been gone for almost an entire year with no word from either of them.
Looking away from Omar, Van mimics the same pretentious smile with which the manager had first approached him. He then states, simply and coolly, that he has work to do. He turns his back dismissively and attempts to block out the fact Omar, and the buried emotion his presence evokes exists at all.