Part 9 – built on Trust

Author’s Note: Approximately six months has passed since the night Benita left Isla Paradiso. Van has been unable to keep pace with the bills, so the bad debts amassed by Mitch and Wade continue to go unpaid. He has noticed the collection letters have been replaced by legal documents from the courthouse threatening foreclosure. If he loses the house, Van has considered proposing that he and Skyler move to Pleasantview together.

Van deposits himself clumsily onto the beach behind his house with a heavy “thud!”. Phone conversations should not be exhausting. This one was an emotionally draining, hour-long marathon of awkwardness. The timing of Benita’s decision to call him today was so precisely imperfect, Van cannot help but wonder whether it had been scripted by some merciless, omniscient observer peering into and manipulating his life.

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Irony has done its work today with impressive efficiency. After months with no communication or response from Benita, Van had grown frustrated with her aloofness and simply stopped calling. Today’s exchange was both unexpected and unwelcomed. He had finally begun the painful process of accepting the most likely outcome to this ridiculous ordeal was going to be living his life without Benita. Conversely, his relationship with Skyler has moved well past simple infatuation and physical attraction. Van’s trust is not easily won, but Skyler has shown time and again that she is not the type to fly away at the first sign of trouble. Van likes her. If that sentiment has any chance of evolving, then he owes it to Skyler to completely free himself of any lingering emotions tied to Benita. Just this morning, he finally deleted the break-up message Benita left on his phone. It was the first step in a symbolic purging that he felt was necessary.

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Whatever prompted the phone call has likely been brewing for quite some time. He did not need to see Benita in order to perceive the intense inner conflict she was struggling against. Confidence and boundless optimism had always been her strongest traits. Today’s dark pessimism and anesthetized word choice produced a poor facsimile of his coração. The cold formality of “Van” had replaced the intimate and endearing pet names she had used since the time they were children. Van smirks sentimentally recalling the oyster shell they had found on the beach years ago. It was a reminder of their mutual, unspoken belief that they were made to be together.

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Van searches for a reason why she would have chosen to reach out to him now after so much time has passed. Nothing about it makes sense. There is that matter of an odd and obscure warning she issued. It was the only memorable part of their conversation, mostly  due to the fact that it sounded borderline paranoid. Van was describing the reward money being offered for retrieving Linda DuPont’s remains. Benita seemed alarmed by this and interrupted to warn him against becoming too involved. A senior advisor to the Governor has already started asking questions about him after Corinth was rescued.

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Meaningless small talk otherwise dominated the unexpected phone call. Benita side-stepped all attempts to answer the obvious, unanswered questions regarding the status of their relationship. She filled the time, instead with talk about her job, Taxmoore’s  “important work”, and Skyler. Benita’s line of questioning regarding Skyler was aggressive and confrontational. Van ended it with a reminder of what fidelity and trust look like, and a warning that he’s started reevaluating where his belong.

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Van’s leg and shoulder have mostly healed. He tests them by sprinting from the beach to this back porch. There’s still a tiny bit of soreness, especially around the gash in his leg. The doctors did what they could to stitch him up, but he’ll still have a nasty scar. In another day or two, he will be back in peak condition. It’s been a few weeks since professional dive teams abandoned the search for Linda DuPont’s remains. Corinth has promised to provide any equipment Van needs for the dive. Van is excited to get back into the water, though it will likely to be a gruesome job. He is familiar with the area where she went missing. The entire Isla Paradiso archipelago is littered with interconnected cave systems. It is considered to be quite dangerous by most experienced divers.

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Van enters through the back patio to find most of the lights in the house have been turned on. Skyler must still be home. Turning off light switches as he navigates the ground floor, Van ascends the steps to the bedroom and sees her reclining on the bed. She’s fully clothed for once. This brings a much-needed smile to his face.

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She looks up from the book she was fake-reading and returns the gesture. There is an edge of concern in her voice. From what she was able to discern through the bedroom window, the conversation looked brutal. She pauses, then admits to checking in on him.  He agrees that “brutal” is an accurate description. She offers a sympathetic smile, guessing that Benita finally called. Van confirms with a nod. She asks if he wants to talk about it. Van shrugs, then adds in a more chipper tone that Benita did ask about her. Skyler’s eyes sparkle with mischevious interest, but he volunteers nothing.

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Skyler hops out of bed. He’s probably already deduced that she is not working tonight. She wants to do something exciting. Skyler catches herself, then hesitates for an instant. The last time she asked to do something exciting with him, he delivered with spectacular results. Though it did nearly get him killed and turn Isla Paradiso upside down with gossip for a couple weeks. She’ll settle for “fun” tonight, instead. There’s a new jazz lounge in town she has been wanting to check out. She asks if he’s up for dinner at the bistro, then some dancing and drinks afterward. It will be her treat. Van accepts, probably more enthusiastically than he had intended.

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Skyler shifts into a rakish stance and measures Van from head to toe with her eyes. She announces that she is going to take a shower. He’s welcome to join her if he wants. He can wash her back. She’ll wash his back as well; and his front. Van rolls his eyes and smirks, then tells her to get lost.

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Dinner out is exactly what Van needed to chase away his melancholy. A recent change in ownership at the bistro has brought a much-needed upgrade. The ambiance is slick and modern; infused throughout with Asian themes, both on the menu and in the decor. The food and drinks are superb. Still, it all seems bland compared to Skyler’s stunning physical beauty. They begin the night alone in the dining room with a lively and meandering conversation.

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As the evening progresses, they move to the bar where they mingle with former co-workers from the resort and locals curious about the rescue. By the time they leave the bistro, it is late and they’d both consumed a rousing combination of mixed drinks. Skyler opts for a more secluded and romantic walk on the beach behind the house, in lieu of the jazz lounge.

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It’s a perfectly clear summer night with a warm, seaward wind blowing off the island. Having no major cities around to drown the atmosphere with light, Isla Paradiso’s night sky is a spectacular explosion of stars.  Van hugs Skyler close and thanks her for the night. She leans into him and presses her lips against his. They walk along the shore together afterward, gazing at the stars for a time before Skyler finally speaks. There is something that has been bothering her quite a bit. And she needs to get it out into the open.

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She’s been staying with Van for several months. Before the casino, she had only known him by name. Despite this, she has unloaded more of her baggage onto him than all the sims she has ever known, combined. Their date tonight was amazing, but it emphasized one very important shortfall. She knows absolutely nothing about him. She’d like to know who he is and where he comes from. She wants to crawl into his mind and try to figure him out. She turns to him with a fascinated and curious expression. Why does he continue to deny himself the pleasure of being with her? Tonight has the potential to become explosively enjoyable for both of them. She has no concept of why he won’t share himself with her. She knows him well enough to sense his urges. She glances downward, smiling wickedly – it can be rather obvious at times. She doesn’t understand what is stopping him.

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Van’s friendship with Skyler has been built on trust. Lately, he trusts her more than Benita. He starts with the basics, explaining that he knows very little about where he came from. He was adopted by a homosexual couple who were still very young themselves and completely ill-equipped for the commitment of raising a child. All he remembers from his earliest years is moving constantly from place to place. It continued likewise throughout his youth, with Mitch and Wade growing more restless with every passing year.

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Things began falling apart soon after they moved to Isla Paradiso. Van was ten years old. He met Benita his first day on the island. Mitch and Wade had invested a lot of money into a beach-front resort. It ultimately failed. Crushing debt and back-taxes kept them both anchored to the island. With nowhere to run, their despondency spilled over about the time Van became a teen. After the resort closed, they started to travel overseas in search of fast money from ancient treasures. Van defied them and stayed on Isla Paradiso with Benita. They were gone only a few days at a time, at first. Eventually, they’d be gone weeks at a time. Then, by the time Van reached adulthood they had disappeared completely. One fact is certain, however. They left behind a crushing mountain of debt. Technically he’s free to walk away from it with no legal or financial obligations. But he refuses to give it up. He promised himself that he would not be like them. He wants a place to call home; a place where his children and children’s children may always return to say, with conviction, this is where I am from.

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The affectionate smile on Skyler’s face tells him that he has done well. But it shifts subtly, then becomes more shrewd and mischevious. She reminds him that he’s still on the hook for the second part of her question. She reacts to his over-played pantomime of defeat with pure and spontaneous laughter. Van is still smiling when he delicately places his open hand over Skyler’s heart, being overly cautious to keep his touch chaste. He points to himself and then to her, illustrating the bonding moment they are sharing. This is what he craves more than anything else. He is fulfilled by the overwhelming feeling of joy derived simply from loving her. Bodily urges are easily addressed, but they can never be wholly satisfied without the accompanying bond that forges a man and a woman together into one complete whole. Skyler remains quietly awestruck and pensive while contemplating the futility he would encounter attempting to fuse together with broken and empty scrap.

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It is a long time before either of them talk again. Van’s powerful gesture has affected her profoundly. It was entirely innocent, and yet, possibly the most meaningful touch she has ever experienced. There is one last thing to bring out into the open. It’s something she’s been obsessing about for weeks. Bringing it up now will throw a bucket of cold water on what has become the perfect date. If she fails to tell him now, she risks losing everything they have built. After a moment, Skyler says his name quietly, then admits that she has a confession to make. She can feel her heart pounding in her throat and hear the blood rushing in her ears. Before continuing, she again asks for his trust. What she has to tell him can never be acted upon. It stays right here, buried in the sand forever. Van’s reluctance is understandable. It’s a rather open-ended promise she’s asking him to make. He could be agreeing to just about anything. She asks again for his trust.

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He does trust her, and he makes a point of telling her so. Whatever she wants to share will remain here. Skyler gathers her thoughts. She has not been completely truthful about the reason why she came to Isla Paradiso. Van sees her struggling to find the right words. He reassures her, telling her to let the words speak themselves. Skyler nods impassively. Following his advice, she makes her emotionless admission and Van immediately grasps why she was so hesitant. She was brought to Isla Paradiso to appear in pornography videos. She was eighteen and stupid and thought she had come full-circle. Van searches her eyes for any evidence of emotion. But it is clear she has separated herself from feelings in this matter. She continues with an almost robotic expression; lacking any hint of a frown, smile, or wetness in her eyes. It is nothing like she imagined it would be. It’s been almost two years, and she’s desperate to find a way to escape. But it just keeps drawing her back in.

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Skyler apologizes. There’s just no good way to segue into a topic like this. She’s been making herself crazy figuring out a way to tell him; and wondering whether or not he knows about them, or worse, has seen any of them.  Van shakes his head, still somewhat dumbstruck. He asks about her work at the warehouse and she quickly confirms it’s the truth. She has been working nights doing clerical work in shipping and receiving; simple grunt work for grunt pay. But every scene she films is more than a month’s pay at the warehouse. She had a scene lined up for tonight but she ditched it to be with him. Despite the gravity of her confession, Skyler remains unusually calm as she asks quietly for Van’s forgiveness. She captures and holds his gaze then speaks clearly and firmly. No more videos. It’s more a promise to herself than to him. She quickly changes the subject, reminding Van about his oath. She asks him to vow that he’ll resist giving in to curiosity. Van soberly agrees.

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Skyler takes his hand and guides him down to sit with her on the ground. She draws in a deep breath then exhales slowly and steadily. She sits in front of him with her back against his chest and nestles into him as he encloses his arms around her. She places a soft kiss on his bicep then closes her eyes. She trusts him …completely.

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