Part 7 – choosing to press “Play”

An odd quiet befalls the house following Van’s amazing rescue at the diving buoy.

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Two distinct and disparate attitudes surrounding the event have emerged. They are as different as the sims who claim them. At one end of the emotional spectrum, Van has become morose and contemplative. He has been unable to stop thinking about the sim who died underwater, very likely in the same moments her colleague was being saved. As a lifeguard, there had never been a single drowning on his watch. Granted, this situation is different. But the idea continues to haunt him, despite having saved one sim’s life.

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The opposing perspective belongs to Van’s roommate, Skyler Gilscarbo. While it’s not surprising that the two have processed the same event very differently, there is something more peculiar about the way this confrontation with mortality has affected her. The concept of death is not at issue here. Though still very young, she had already lost friends to drugs and violent crime. The incident responsible for provoking this inner-conflict is the manner in which her roommate had so readily and selflessly flung himself toward death in a bid to save a complete stranger from it.

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Witnessing this act has caused a sort of  meditative self-assessment – something akin to a cognitive inventory of her mental stock room. In the first hours after the rescue, Skyler enjoyed an aspect of herself that she had no idea existed. It was a sense of peace unlike any she could remember. It had likely been there all along, just obscured by something more dominant. Now, as the days begin to pass, that peace is becoming clouded again. She is desperate not to lose it. Van is somehow responsible for uncovering it, but she doesn’t understand how or why.

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Van had suffered a badly torn tendon in his shoulder during the rescue. He’d been bruised all over from being flailed with scuba gear. He also received a long and deep gash on the back of his leg, running from the crook of his knee up to nearly his rump. It was likely caused by something on the scuba gear gouging into his leg as is sank to the sea floor. The hospital stitched him up without incident. Now, slightly more than a week later, the bruises have healed but his shoulder injury still prevents him from changing his own leg bandages.

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Skyler’s evening schedule at the warehouse usually finds her coming home in the earliest morning hours. She generally sleeps until mid-day. It is about that time when she wakes to she sound of Van yelping in the bathroom from a jolt of pain. She had warned him not to try changing the bandages by himself. He may be brave, but he is also stubborn to a fault. She leaps from bed and marches, still undressed, toward the bathroom. A sly smile plays across her lips as she catches him unaware, still not dressed after his shower. Van howls again, both in surprise and in pain from turning himself away from her too quickly.

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Seeing Van like this arouses two closely linked desires. The first, and most familiar to her, is the desire to forcefully satisfy an appetite that has been building since Van took her into his home. The other emotion is unfamiliar but not unknown. It is an unwelcome and violent urge to beat the living *expletive* out of him until he submits. It strikes her the same way a hammer strikes one’s thumb while carelessly driving a nail. A deep, churning repugnance overtakes both urges, causing her stomach to do acrobatics of the sort that usually ends in vomiting. The smile she was wearing vanishes and is replaced by a deep and disturbed frown.

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She will not self-destruct. Not again. This is as close as she will ever come to making herself right; of mending what is broken. Skyler takes a few, rapid, deep breaths then moves forward to help Van. For the first time in recent memory, she is uncomfortable with her own nakedness. She knows she is completely safe. Still, she has never felt more exposed and vulnerable. Skyler somehow manages to remain calm and appear serene despite her discomfort. She scolds him quietly for not listening but immediately regrets speaking at all. Her words become stuck in her throat and  are barely comprehensible. She works quickly to apply fresh bandages while doing her best to avoid any incidental physical contact. It is a deep and ugly gash, but it is healing well. She ignores his every protest and complaint during the procedure. Then, she says nothing more to him before retreating hastily back to the bedroom. She pulls on a night-shirt then hides under covers in bed, burying her face in the pillow to explosively release her stifled turmoil.

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Every guy and most girls she’d ever known wanted her body but not her baggage. Typical for Van to be the total opposite. She knew he’d come, but she still isn’t ready for him when he does. Skyler feels him resting tentatively on the bed next to her. She’s not the crying type, so she works hard to collect herself. The attempt is partially successful by the time he pulls the cover from over her head. His words are gentle and reassuring. Nothing fancy. He simply asks if she wants to talk about it. The only sound that escapes from her throat before a wave of grief assumes control is a barely audible, I’m sorry.

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He sits with her and says nothing. He just strokes her hair while she cries. It’s a good, cleansing cry. And it lasts for a long time before it finally stops. When it does, she sits up to face him, helping him to adjust and ease the discomfort from his injuries. She tells him flatly that she has never known anybody like him. She assumed she could force her way past his insecurity about …sex. Skyler prevents herself using a favorite vulgarity to describe something that should be beautiful. Before now, she thought he was being ultra-uptight about it. She figured he just needed more… exposure to loosen up and let it happen. She was wrong. She just now finally comprehends why.

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She remains quiet for a long time, dreading what might happen if she sheds light on the darkest recess of her psyche. It fights her to the point of near hyperventilation. Again, his words are strong, confident, and simple – tell me. It fights with her for a moment longer, but Van takes her hand and squeezes it gently, urging her to let it go.

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She’d been an extremely happy kid for the most part. Her parents were great sims with a lot of friends. Their only flaw was that they were very lenient about most things. They were the kind of parents who never said “no”. Skyler had begged them for a smart phone for her birthday because all the other kids had one. It was an easy win. She got “the talk” about what she could and couldn’t do on the phone. But she was just a kid and really didn’t understand what all the fuss was about.

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She’d had the phone for about a year when she was invited to spend the night at a friend’s house for a sleepover. Her friend’s older sister had a couple screws loose. She was either insane,  just plain evil, or maybe a little of both. She remembers how the sister made a point of trying to ruin the sleepover from the moment it began. She was annoying but mostly harmless. At some point during the night, however, she’d grabbed Skyler’s phone and loaded a “bad” video onto it. Maybe it was just to get Skyler in trouble. Maybe it wasn’t.

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Syler’s eyes fill with tears and her face contorts to match emotions from the painful memory. She clearly remembers the decision to press “Play” rather than “Close”. Skyler is almost unable to speak between sobs but continues anyway. Within the span of ten minutes, the contents of that video had ripped away both her childhood and her innocence. Before that moment, her idea of love had been defined in terms of the prince saving the princess from a fire-breathing dragon. There are no words to describe her mental state after the video ended. She thinks she remembers throwing up. It was crushing. It was horrifying. It rewired her brain and changed the way she looked at and thought about sims.

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She kept this a secret but also kept going back for more “bad” videos. Only, they didn’t seem so bad after awhile. She hated them but did not want to stop. It affected every aspect of her personality. She eventually grew into an angry teen without any real understanding of why she was so angry. Her body and her libido had finally developed to a point where she wanted to try the things she saw. She doesn’t even remember the first time. What she does remember is wondering why the anger didn’t go away. She went into full freak mode after becoming an adult; sleeping with dozens of men and women. Never once had any of them told her “no”, the way Van had.

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The night Omar forced their meeting, she had seen Van as little more than another potential way to feed her demon. He was no different than anybody else. Later, she’d come to  associate his hesitance with weakness and a pitiful lack of self-confidence. Everything changed after witnessing Van risk his own life. Without so much as a breath of  hesitation, he ignored his own safety to rescue another sim from drowning. The words “weak” and “pitiful” are not used to describe a man capable of doing what he did. His selfless display was the catalyst for bringing her anger forward and into the light.

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She describes her first thought upon seeing him this morning. She was determined to break down that wall, no matter what the cost. He is, without dispute, the most attractive man she has ever known. She was going to MAKE him into one of those guys from the videos. It was the expression on his face as she burst into the bathroom that sparked the memory. Pain and betrayal – the same things she felt that night as a child. With the flip of a switch, Skyler no longer saw weakness. He had demonstrated incredible strength; enough to endure the trials she has put him through.

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Her anger finally makes sense. She is angry at herself for wrecking her own childhood; which was stolen from her by an unseen, pixelated thief. She screams out in defiance for her stolen innocence by robbing it, in small portions, from others. She lies because her childhood was a lie; because love was a lie; because her whole *expletive* life has become one, big  *expletive* lie. Why? Because it’s all she can do to conceal the shame she feels for choosing to press “play”. Skyler smiles a teary smile of admiration toward Van. Now that she understands it, she can finally begin to make peace with it.

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She moves in close to hug him, resting her head on his chest. After awhile, she breathes a heavy sigh, asking if he still loves Benita. Van stiffens but continues to embrace Skyler.

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Benita has her own issues to confront. Before the big resorts moved in, The Gonçalves family worked a small coffee plantation that had been passed down through the generations. Legal documents proving ownership were non-existent. This was neither unique nor unusual. In fact, may of the island’s native residents owned their own generational plots of land, but few possessed or needed proof. It was simply understood. When real estate developers discovered and exploited this legal opportunity, it turned into a feeding frenzy. The locals received nothing. That was about thirty years ago, a few years before he was born… Van hesitates, hanging on the last word as a stray thought enters his mind. He was born from a woman he does not know. It was always just Mitch and Wade. He ponders to himself, silently – how well would motherhood suit Skyler? The interruption causes Van to lose his train of thought.

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In response to her question about Benita – “love” is a very malleable thing. Romantic love is only one facet. He and Benita had approached it but never crossed into it. Love shared between friends who care deeply about each other is entirely different but equally important. At the moment, it is the only facet of love he cares about. Skyler breathes a very deep and controlled breath, then smiles a sad half-smile. She playfully informs Van that the next time she sees this Benita, she’s giving the woman exactly fifteen minutes to kiss and make nice with him. Anything past that, all her prior claims are forfeit. Van laughs, feigning defiance, then asks whether he has any voice in the matter. She leans back and casts her gaze upward toward Van. Her eyes, though tired and weary, still manage to convey a deep and smoldering intensity, None whatsoever.

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