Van exhales with a long, exaggerated breath then rubs his tired eyes. Frustration had set almost immediately after attempting to learn how to write computer code at the library.
Skyler passed along a bit of information she’d heard regarding tech companies from the mainland outsourcing much of their computer coding offshore. Van figured he had as good a chance as anybody landing a job. His outlook changed shortly after seeing what the work actually looked like. It wasn’t even simlish – just a bunch of weird symbols and squiggly lines. With the exception of the occasional actual word, like “if” or “new”, he couldn’t understand any of it.
Van switches off the computer and stands to leave. He had prematurely built up his hopes of landing a cozy computer job. Unfortunately, he is completely out of his element when it comes to tech stuff at this level. Maybe if he had studied harder during math class instead of staring at Benita the whole time, he may have had some concept of where to begin. The truth of the matter is even if he could figure out all of that gibberish, he’s not sure he could actually pull if off. Just the thought of sitting at a desk all day long was enough to make him crazy.
He had given it his best effort. Van recognizes the facts and resigns to yet another defeat. It was a great lead, nonetheless. And if weren’t for Skyler, he would have never known about it. Accepting her as his roommate has been both a boon and a debacle. If anything, Skyler has provided a much-needed distraction away from Benita. Without her, past couple of days would have been unbearable. He’d been spared the sloppy and sappy post-breakup blues, and he’s moved on to simply being numb.
On the downside, he had become very accustomed to living alone. Quickly unlearning a few habits, such as showering with the bathroom door open, has become a priority. Otherwise, the arrangement has worked out fairly well. They had both slept most of the day after being fired. When Van woke up to an empty house, he figured she was gone for good. He was surprised when she returned early the following morning with breakfast, coffee, and her heartfelt gratitude for being allowed to stay. As part of the living arrangements, she gave her word to Van that she would not steal any more simoleons. All the same, Van did not ask where she had come across the money to buy breakfast. Nor did he inquire where she had spent the night. She was asleep in his bed when he left for the library.
Skyler isn’t exactly rude. To the contrary, she’s actually quite pleasant. The problem is that she sometimes lacks basic, common courtesy and refinement. Sleeping completely naked in his bed is one example. Considering it is the only piece of furniture in the house where either of them is able to sleep, confronting her about it is pointless. Unless something changes over the next week or two, the entire conversation will be moot anyhow, because they’ll both be looking for another place to sleep.
Van makes his way his way to the first floor of the library. While turning leave through the large, open courtyard, he hears a little voice urgently calling his name. Natalia Gonçalves is Benita’s youngest sister. While it is true the entire family has already grown to love Van as a son, Natalia has been the most vocal about a wedding date. She’s a very bright girl, if not a little bit odd. He’d rarely encountered Natalia without her winning smile… Benita’s smile. But this is one of those times.
One of the joys of being a kid is the luxury of not quite understanding all the subtleties surrounding a bad breakup. With the directness excusable only for a child, she asks Van if he is ever coming to see them again. Her parents told her that he’d be too upset about Benita to come. Van smirks, walking to the table where she is seated. He pulls out a chair and sits at the table across from her. Before he can think of how to respond, Van notices the books Natalia has checked out.
Our Extraterrestrial Neighborhood
UFO Secrets Revealed!
Probed! How to Survive an Alien Abduction
Concerned and somewhat confused about her choice of reading, Van searches for something to say. Before he is able to speak, however, Natalia’s mother rounds the corner from another section of the library shouting Natalia’s full, given name. She sees Van and blushes instantly, rushing over to collect the inquisitive child. There had never once been any awkwardness between him and the Gonçalves family. But now, Van can see that Benita’s mother, Luiza, is terribly uncomfortable. Van stands to calmly reassure her. Luiza frowns sympathetically, apologizing after a very long and restless pause.
Van smiles and reassures them both that he’s not angry with anybody, especially Benita. Luiza reaches out and holds Van’s hands in hers, complementing his strong exterior. Her sympathetic frown and nurturing eyes see right past it, however. She reminds him of the many times he has confided that she is like a mother to him. And a mother always knows when her children are hurting. Van meets her gaze and nods, fighting back the emotion he had previously been spared.
Nearly overcome with emotion herself, she confesses how badly it pains her and Benita’s father to see this happen. Both Luiza and her husband saw a different side of Benita when the news came; she was hungry, ambitious, and indomitable. It was not the same Benita they spoke to earlier that same morning at church. And the decision… it came so suddenly, with no indication that she had given the matter any thought or consideration past the opportunity itself.
Van makes a grunt/snort sound and comments that he learned about it over voice mail. Luiza’s reaction is one of shock and dismay. Benita had given her assurance that she had spoken with Van and settled the matter personally. She apologizes again, complimenting the poise and maturity with which he has handled this crisis. It speaks volumes about the kind of man he has become.
Luiza’s eyebrows shoot up suddenly, as though she has just thought of an amazing idea. Then her eyes widen in alarm, recognizing that same thought is completely inappropriate. Van knows Luiza well enough to laugh with her about it. It’s like he can read exactly what she’s thinking. He jokingly scolds against plotting to keep him single until Gabriele, her next oldest daughter, comes of age. Luiza’s eyes narrow thoughtfully as she teases that he would only have to wait two more years. They both enjoy a good laugh when Natalia groans in disgust, vowing to tell Gabriele all about their evil plot.
Van laughs off the good-natured exchange. Knowing the local culture and customs as well as he does, he also knows that Luiza had, if only for a moment, seriously considered the possibility. Van softens his tone and smiles, telling her that he hopes Benita will have found whatever she is looking for by then and that he’s not writing her off so easily. Luiza smiles proudly. It was exactly the right thing to say.
As he turns to leave, Luiza reminds him that Filipe will be celebrating a birthday in a couple of days, adding absently that it seems impossible two of her children will have become adults already. It did not seem very long ago that both she and her husband were Van’s age. Van nods and smiles, reassuring her that he will be there. Whatever is happening with Benita, Van refuses to allow his relationship with the only sims he has ever called “family” to suffer.
Van cheers on as Filipe transitions into a strong and handsome, young sim. His hard work in school has paid off, earning him a full scholarship for oceanographic sciences at Sim State University. Van had expected Benita to come home for the celebration. He learns from conversations in the overly crowded, tiny home that nobody has heard from her since she departed several days ago. Still, no matter how concerned they are about Benita, the family has seemingly made a point of not allowing it to disrupt Filipe’s important day.
Some of the extended family and locals are clearly surprised to see Van. News travels quickly in the small, close-knit community. And it seems all bets were against Van making an appearance at all, let alone acting as though nothing had changed. Regardless, it is a good day filled with loud music, laughing, games, and food – and many, many sims. Van somehow manages to speak with just about everyone. At one point, Gabriele and her friends corner Van and give him a lighthearted but thorough drubbing in response to Natalia’s warning about his “evil plot”.
It is fairly late at night before all the guests have left to go home. Van had stayed to help clean up afterward, during which time he’d had a long talk with Benita’s father, Louis, and Filipe. After the last lights in the tiny house go out, Van finds himself unwilling to leave.
He sits on an old chair in the yard, completely alone. Maybe she’s just running late? He stares at the dark window leading to the bedroom Benita once shared with her four other siblings. It still doesn’t make any sense at all. The tears come without warning and all at once. Under the crushing weight of bad debt, no income, and the situation with Benita – his armor finally buckles.
After a time, he is startled back to composure when he hears a familiar, but quiet voice. Natalia, still wearing her pajamas, had snuck up next to him. She points out flatly that he is crying. Van clears his throat and manages an unconvincing laugh. He wasn’t crying, it was just all his extra “awesome” leaking out. Natalia rolls her eyes drolly, then apologizes for giving away his evil plot. She didn’t think it would make him cry. Van laughs spontaneously, telling Natalia that there was no plot. It was only a joke between him and her mother, and that she’s too young to understand it. Natalia just shrugs her shoulders in response.
After a moment, Van’s eyebrows furrow then he asks Natalia what she’s doing out of bed so late at night. She doesn’t answer for a long time. Finally, she looks up at the stars, then out over the ocean, gesturing toward one of the islands on the ocean’s horizon. She tells him, very quietly, that they come out mostly at night. She usually sneaks to the church to watch, since they’re really easy to see from the tall steeples. Remembering the nature of her books from the library, Van presses his lips together in concern. Gently, he tells her that there are no aliens. There’s just no such thing. Weather balloons, meteors, top-secret military aircraft, maybe. But no aliens.
Van lifts Natalia onto his shoulders and carries her over to the house, then puts her down by the doorstep. He instructs her to stay inside and go to sleep. Without warning, Natalia hugs Van tightly around the neck then rests her head on his shoulders, demanding a promise that he will come back to see her even if Benita is being a selfish brat. Van’s tears hold. He sticks out his pinky finger and asks for her promise stop sneaking out of the house at night. She smiles while hooking her tiny pinkie finger onto his. After waiting for her to lock the front door, Van finally turns to leave. He was a fool believing Benita would be here tonight. But he is glad he stayed if only to keep Natalia safe.
As he takes a step into the yard, a cold shiver runs up the length of Van’s spine and his eyes dart instinctively upward. What were those …lights he just saw? Feeling somewhat unnerved, Van makes his way quickly to the road where the cab is waiting to take him home.