It is late in the day, with the orange orb of Isla Paradiso’s setting sun hanging low in the sky when Louis and Phillipe relax with Van on the front porch of the Gonçalves home following Natalia’s teen birthday party.
A lively flamenco number buzzes over the radio while the men enjoy local brews and listen to Louis reminisce about Isla Paradiso during his youth. Van’s mind wanders, thinking about his own childhood, and by association, Benita. Benita’s overly conspicuous campaign to avoid Van has caused quite a bit of friction inside the close-knit family. Van has respectfully kept his distance until today; and only then after Natalia insisted he come to her party.
Van had only just arrived on Isla Paradiso and was still a child himself when Natalia was born. She was the baby of the Gonçalves family. Benita, being the oldest, shared a maternal bond with her youngest sibling. As they grew older, Natalia looked up to Benita with an unrealistic level of esteem. After Benita became an adult and left Isla Paradiso, that pristine image started to tarnish. It is no secret that Natalia cherishes Van. Benita’s recent, unexplained animosity toward him has worked to further enhance Natalia’s growing feeling of reproach toward her sister. Now that she has become a teen, the cold realization that Benita possesses completely human flaws seems to weigh heavily upon her quiet and restless spirit.
Benita’s frightening episode in SimCity inexplicably failed to temper her political ambitions. If anything, her ambitions have intensified and started resembling something closer to obsession. Her new job at City Hall has provided unlimited opportunity for urgent, unannounced business trips. She has wielded these opportunities with great finesse and has managed to completely avoid communicating with Van. The truth of the matter is that Van has neither seen nor spoken to Benita since her return from SimCity. Van did not expect that Natalia’s birthday would change the trend. As predicted, Benita was already gone before Van and the other guests arrived for the celebration. Benita had spent morning shopping with Natalia before catching a flight out of town for an important, albeit impromptu, work-related commitment. Natalia was understandably furious, but Van managed to calm her down enough to enjoy the party.
Natalia has become a bit of a loner and sometimes appears aloof and brooding. Gabriella, the next youngest Gonçalves, occupies the diametrically opposite end of the personality spectrum and enjoys a large social network. On the surface, it might seem natural that Natalia would fit right in. Upon watching her interact with Gabriella’s friends during the party, however, Van worries the situation might not be quite so simple. Natalia made a valiant effort to mingle during the party, but after a few socially awkward misfires, she wandered off with her mother toward the beach. They had only just returned a short while ago with clear evidence suggesting that they both had been crying.
Van is not alone in noticing the tears. Louis clucks his tongue and shakes his head in disapproval, vowing to give Benita a thorough tongue-lashing when she returns from her business trip. He cannot understand why she has come to be so full of spite and anger. She had always possessed a strong drive to succeed, but never at the expense of family. Louis says this while looking directly at Van, silently conveying his unconditional acceptance of Van as a Gonçalves and lamenting that her treatment of Van has been both heartbreaking and irrationally cruel. He continues sharing his observation that Benita now seems possessed more by irrational political motivations than a desire to excel. Louis expresses a deep regret over speaking with her about the documents in the private museum Van had mentioned. Doing so has only further provoked Benita’s restless angst.
Van thanks Louis for the encouragement then shrugs and reassures his would-be father-in-law there was no way of knowing Benita would react so drastically. Phillip draws a deep swig from the bottom of his bottle of pilsner then belches loudly. He states flatly that both men are forgetting how she was practically evacuated from SimCity witness-protection-style. She’s spoken about two deaths, at a minimum, since returning. Odds are she would have been a third. Thanks to Skyler and Van, Natalia was spared the fate of becoming a possible fourth. Who’s to say those same people aren’t still looking to finish Benita off?
Louis curses quietly after a short pause. Van had never thought to look at the situation from Philippe’s perspective. Van drains the contents of his own pilsner then exhales sharply, asking whether Philippe thinks she is still in danger. Both Louis and Van look toward Benita’s next eldest sibling, whose only response is a concerned but unknowing shrug. Luisa, Natalia, and Gabriella eventually join the three men relaxing on the small porch. They laugh together at stories from Natalia’s childhood and marvel at the prospect that Gabriella will soon become an adult. She has already chosen a university and hopes to become a veterinarian. Her first love is taking care of animals, but she hasn’t ruled out medical school and becoming a doctor.
It is nearly dark when Luisa and Louis retire back into the house. Phillipe had gone back home to prepare dinner for his girlfriend, who was unable to take time off work for the party. Gabriella had also run off to the beach for a bonfire with friends. Having said goodbye to the family, Van is about to make his way back home, when several bright flashes over the ocean illuminate nearby clouds, creating a dramatic, meteorological work of art. He pauses for a moment to cast his gaze upward and quietly admire the awesome phenomenon. Diffuse light from the display washes the island in a soft radiance, not unlike moonlight; only richer, and with a golden rather than bluish hue. It seems to linger for a time afterward, like some manner of flare illuminating the clouds from their interior. Moments later, a warm and steady wind from a nearby atmospheric heat burst whips across the island. Light from nature’s grand exhibition had illuminated the entire yard, revealing Natalia sitting alone. Van would have missed seeing her entirely, otherwise. He detours toward the stoic and aloof, young woman; whose hair has begun flailing wildly in the exhilarating, headed wind gusts.
Earlier in the evening, Gabriella had invited Natalia to join her at the bonfire, but she awkwardly declined. Van witnessed the exchange and was left feeling bad for the hopelessly introverted girl. Now cognizant that he is approaching, she smiles weakly then stands to thank him for taking the time to attend her party. Van again wishes her a happy birthday with a hug. Then, using a tone far more parental than he had intended, he encourages Natalia to join Gabriella on the beach with her friends.
Natalia shakes her head and regards Van with a confused and frustrated expression, “I can’t.” She shrugs her shoulders and presses the palm of her left hand to her temple. Unwilling to leave her alone given her present state of mind, and assuming her dark mood is centered around Benita, Van expresses his concern and a willingness to listen. When she does eventually speak again, the topic leaves Van wishing he had just gone home, as planned.
She has been wanting to talk to him about something but was unsure where to begin. Or maybe she’s just been too afraid. Either way, something really weird has happened and she doesn’t understand what or why. Van opens his mouth to speak but no words emerge. He just simply shrugs his shoulders and shakes his head, oblivious. Natalia regards him again, her worried face betraying a deep and paralyzing incomprehension. Her voice cuts with a sharp edge. He and Benita were supposed to be married already. They were going to have a baby together …and Skyler…
Controlling his urge to become angry at having two incredibly painful wounds poked with a stick, Van interrupts Natalia. The hot, gusting wind does nothing to cool his rising temper. After a long, controlled breath, Van agrees with her. He wishes things were different too. He wishes he understood what was happening with Benita. He reminds her how easy (and healthy, at times) it can be to visit elaborate, imaginary scenarios. He has a number of those places himself, and he finds that contemplating those can sometimes be very calming. No matter how beautiful and perfect they seem, however, it is important never to confuse them with reality. That will only lead to disappointment or disaster.
Natalia smiles cynically and nods, commending his front porch psychoanalysis. Holding her hair away from her face, Natalia looks out toward the ocean and into the baking, convective gusts. Her words are unsteady and timid, but Van is able to hear them clearly, regardless. This wasn’t how things were supposed to happen. She lay awake in bed many nights worrying that Van will leave Isla Paradiso to be with Skyler. She doesn’t want him to leave …she doesn’t want to be alone. Before Van is able to respond to her uncomfortably untoward confession, she shoots a scolding glare in his direction; warning him not to take her words out of context. Natalia’s expression softens after a moment, then she turns to look back over the ocean.
The strange, warm wind has rustled her long hair into an unmanageable mess, forcing her to finally contend with it. She works earnestly to push it from her face, then eventually regards Van with serious, humorless eyes. She asks flatly what he saw that night at the church; the night he rescued her. The question stuns Van. He had actively blocked the event from his conscious thoughts. He looks away quickly, frowning. He shakes his head sharply and admits he cannot explain what he saw. There was a woman. She was… different. She had the most unusual eyes; empty …and dead. She was there one instant, then she just …evaporated into a glowing, yellow mist. Van regards Natalia again. That woman, whoever she was, was responsible for the rescue that night; not him.
She shakes her head slowly with frustration. Her memories from before that night tell a completely different story. Benita had become pregnant. She was too embarrassed to have a church wedding, so she and Van got married on the beach. At the time, Natalia didn’t understand. Now she suspects that Van probably wasn’t the father. He knew it and married her anyways. And Skyler… Natalia looks at the ground, frowning and shaking her head more emphatically. She regards Van with intense, angry, and indignant eyes; shouting. She is NOT imagining things! She was THERE! Those things really happened. Or at least it did until that night when everything changed…
Natalia’s hand presses against her temple again as she complains about some sort of noise which Van is unable to hear. She exhales a sharp, exasperated sigh. It sounds almost like …singing. As though acknowledging Natalia’s observation, a sweet, melodic voice reaches Van’s ears and dances softly around him. Colored with an unmistakable Irish inflection, its quiet after-whispers remain for a time, defying the turbulent air. The quiet, barely discernible echoes multiply a youthful, feminine voice a thousandfold; as though they had assembled for some manner of sad, Celtic chorus.
Van turns abruptly away from Natalia to see Moira du Pont walking casually toward them. The space around her seems to shimmer with a dim golden aura, very much like that which illuminated the sky a few moments ago. He moves slowly toward Moira; her shining, aurous hair tangibly glowing with golden radiance, each strand possessing the quality of having been spun from the purest gold. Powerful, glowing wings, or the last vestiges of them, fade from her back like dying embers, leaving Van wondering if he saw them at all. Some manner of optical illusion, perhaps? The strong, heated wind, which had crept up so suddenly, dies down to nothing again. Moira smiles sweetly toward Van, but seems more focused on Natalia, “I believe you.”
Natalia struggles with her hair and regards Van with confusion. Van introduces Moira as the young woman who discovered the documents at the museum. She is Linda du Pont’s niece by adoption. It is the same du Pont family that had financed the purchase of Van’s property. Natalia’s tired, untrusting eyes narrow as she challenges Moira’s statement about believing her contradictive memories. She asks flatly, “why?”
Moira’s voice trembles with an edge of anxiety as she affirms Natalia’s suspicion that something unusual is happening, adding soberly that it is only just beginning. It reminds her of a terrible event that had transpired a very long time ago (assuming it happened at all). The complexity of it all is rather staggering; which is quite alarming, considering (humbly) that she is no simple, silly little girl. Still, she has seen enough to know that both Natalia and Van by association have become the epicenter of something proportionally comparable in size and scope.
Moira’s unusual entrance puzzles Van as much as the curious dissertation which followed. Everything about Moira has been bound in mystery from the moment she arrived, beginning with the bizarre conversation between Corinth and Enzo at the resort, and persisting throughout her stay in Isla Paradiso. Moira is unlike any other woman, adolescent or not, Van has ever met. She is either a deranged lunatic or a transcendental savant. Either way, the stuff she’s talking about is far out of his ability to understand. That she would just simply appear during a conversation, which alone was more enigma than Van ever cared to ponder, pushes him over the edge. Van interrupts her abruptly, too confused to let her continue,
“Who are you?!”
Moira seems genuinely surprised to hear the question and she looks down out of reflex, blushing. She has been attempting to discover the answer to that unassuming question for a very long time. She moves beside Natalia and offers her a simple hug. All that can be said at this time, is that she is different. She has no desire to deceive or mislead. To the contrary, it has been a long time since she has been able to share that which is most intimate to her. It is neither the appropriate time nor place to reveal true nature, however.
After a moment of reflection, Moira admits that it is difficult for her to explain how she knows that Natalia’s memories are not fiction. She just simply knows. She also knows that Van witnessed something inexplicable the night he saved Natalia. She interrupts Van before he is able to speak. She has no more answers than he does. Even if she did have the answers, she suspects there would be no way to coherently convey them given the intrinsic constraints limiting spoken language. One thing is certain, however. He must not allow his mind to encapsulate the experience or limit explanations to only those possibilities with which it is familiar. Because there will always be truths which lie beyond the scope of human knowledge. And there will always be knowledge which lies beyond the scope of human comprehension. For what it is worth, Benita did conceive a child with another man and come to be married to Van on the beach shortly afterward. And at the same time, she did not.
Moira presses her lips together and weighs a heavy and measured gaze both to Natalia and Van. Her angelic voice confesses it was the enigma that forced her to travel here from France. Moira’s innocent expression melts away, revealing the poise and maturity of a woman many years her elder. Her eyes reveal a candor that is difficult to ignore; and her voice, steady and firm, is colored with the fire of an irritated Irish woman. The threads of possibility are being manipulated by someone or something else. She does not know by whom or for what purpose. She levels a sober glance toward Van. There was an incident, in a different time and place, when she made a terrible mistake as a result of being similarly manipulated. One brave, young man literally saved the universe from her silly self-indulgence. Van is very much like him in many ways.
Author’s Note: See Barimen Legacy Chapter 8.17 – Choire
The elusive, whispering after-echoes of her voice swirl around them again like leaves in a whirlwind; as quietly and humbly, Moira asks Van and Natalia for help.