Part 4 – focusing on the present

I’ve tried calling you all night. I wanted to tell you in person, but I haven’t been able to reach you. I’m minutes away from flying to the mainland to start a new job.

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Van deflates onto an old, wooden bench just outside the resort. He had been so focused on the blackjack table, that he missed several calls, voice mails, and texts from Benita. She had been trying to reach him for hours. Her last message was a voice mail recorded about an hour ago,

Van, you are my dearest and closest friend. You know me better than anybody. That may explain why this hurts so much. I pray that you will understand. I have been blessed with an employment opportunity I simply cannot refuse. I will be away from the island frequently and for extended periods of time. This means I won’t be able to give our relationship the attention it requires or give you the time you deserve.

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Van is not an emotional sim, but he feels the uncomfortable pain of tears stinging his tired eyes and the empty feeling of loss encroaching upon his belly.

This opportunity can provide the future we’ve prayed about. However, we need to be apart for awhile… maybe a long while. I need to focus on the present without becoming too distracted with our future. I know this is a terrible way to handle this, and I’m sorry.

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Just like that, she’s gone. No different than those bastards Mitch and Wade, searching for their non-existent El Dorado. One of life’s little cruel jokes, it seems.  Van lifts his head to regard the ocean; the only constant he’d ever known.  It has been more than a day since the last time he slept. But his exhaustion seems irrelevant right now. The bigger problem seems rather obvious. He has no job, no money, and no way to resolve the debts that aren’t even his to begin with. He inherited them simply because he wanted a place to finally call home. Now it’s only a matter of time before he loses that as well.

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He sits for a long time like this before realizing he is not alone.  Removing the tears from his face with the back of his hand, he sits back on the bench. Skyler had run away from the resort with him. Van assumed she had gone home. Clearly she had not, because he finds her nearby in the pre-dawn light, sitting on the ground and sobbing. Setting aside his own problems momentarily, he quietly approaches her. Without looking at him, she apologizes profusely, adding that she really knows how to *expletive* things up. Van sits next to her in the sand, reassuring her that it wasn’t her fault. This was all Omar.

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Still working to avoid eye contact with Van, Skyler shakes her head, explaining how Omar set the whole thing up. Skyler is relatively new to Isla Paradiso. She’s only been here a few months and has only been an adult slightly longer than that. Her parents kicked her out of their house back in Pleasantview shortly after turning nineteen. Skyler stops to gather herself before continuing. She doesn’t blame them, really. There is no denying that she is a total *expletive*. Both a liar AND a thief – two awesome qualities that make for a super-happy life. She’s fallen into a lot of trouble since becoming an adult and thought she could move away from her troubles. She wanted to leave the “bad” Skyler Gilscarbo in Pleasantview. She knew better. But she literally had nothing to lose.

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She had seen a lot of hype about Isla Paradiso on the internet. So she stole the money she needed to fly here. Not exactly a great start to a new life. Her outgoing personality and “hot body” got her the job as a hostess at the casino. Then, as the opportunity presented itself, she did a great job of *expletive* everything up again. Easy access to money and a little bit of trust seemed like the perfect formula. And it was… for getting *expletive*. Omar found out about it and threatened legal action unless she returned the money. He agreed to take half her salary until she paid it off. Then tonight happened.

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Van remains silent as she continues. For whatever reason, Omar picked today to snap. He threatened to file charges against her unless she found a way to persuade Van to cheat in the casino. It seemed like a really weird request, but she was afraid of what would happen if she didn’t cooperate. So she agreed. Having spoken to Van all this time without facing him, Skyler finally regards him with angry and defiant eyes.

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She’s only been on Isla Paradiso for a couple of months, and already she is in more trouble than she can handle.  Omar had evidently called her landlord as soon as they were kicked out of the resort. It’s  the middle of the *expletive* night. The little *expletive* spilled everything about what she had done at the casino. The landlord didn’t even have the courtesy of calling to see what had happened. All she got was a text message notifying her about the eviction,

You’re out. Don’t come back here.

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Van invites Skyler to stay at his place long enough to find another apartment. He explains that he’s most likely going to be looking for somewhere else to live as well. The debt collectors have already started threatening repossession. And now that he has no job, there is no way he’ll be able to keep what little he has. They arrive at the house just before sunrise. Van is fast asleep in his bed a few seconds afterward.

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He wakes with Skyler sleeping in his bed next to him. The pile of clothes at the foot of the bed suggests that she is not wearing anything at all. Van does his best to quickly make a quiet escape, but she stirs just as he throws back the covers. She asks what kind of dude would pass up the opportunity to *expletive* a smoking-hot girl laying naked in bed next to him. Van shrugs. Doing his best to avoid what could turn into a real messy situation, he chuckles and says he’s not good for much of anything before his morning coffee. He stands and is about to ask her to get dressed when she throws off the covers then poses suggestively on the bed for him.

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She wasn’t kidding when she said smoking-hot. Van swallows a gulp of air, then compliments her. He quickly pulls on a pair of pants, then somberly explains what had transpired between him and Benita last night. He’s’ just not in any frame of mind to jump into another romantic relationship. Skyler quickly redirects him, clarifying that she only wants to *expletive* him, not marry him.

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Skyler’s foul mouth has already begun to wear on Van. He smiles, taking in eyefuls of her beauty, then asks her politely if she could try to tone her language down a little bit. He agrees that any warm-blooded guy would have leaped at the chance. He’s probably insane for not doing so himself. But it just doesn’t feel right. Not yet, anyway. She nods while bearing a disappointed smile. She doesn’t understand him, but she will respect his space.

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Van breathes a relieved sigh. He’s happy to have her hang out here with him until the bank kicks him out for not paying the mortgage. Unfortunately, that may be a lot sooner than either of them are ready for. Van rubs his eyes, then the back of his neck, and adds that his offer has only one condition…

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Please go put some clothes on.

Part 3 – no debt too small

Van lays sleepless in bed staring intently at the pile of unpaid bills cluttering his dresser, determined to somehow think them out of existence by way of pure tenacity and willpower.

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His confrontation with Omar a few weeks ago had resulted in less work at the resort and fewer simoleons going into his pocket. The reduction in hours is a clear retaliation for some perceived slight on Van’s part toward the petty and histrionic manager. Van’s replacement has already struggled with the high number of rescues and nearly had to be rescued himself after becoming fatigued. If Omar was attempting to make a statement, he was doing so at the risk of his guests’ safety.

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Reduced income from his lifeguard job translates to fewer dives and less money from his salvage work. Scuba tanks and gear rentals are expensive. On a good dive, he can typically cover his cost plus a nice bonus for himself. The dive shop has given him a few discounts since his demotion. But he stopped short of actually going into debt to continue his salvage work. In all likelihood, Omar’s power play will end with Van losing the property Mitch and Wade abandoned when they left Isla Paradiso.

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Finding a new place to live is not a problem. He can think of half a dozen different families on the island who would gladly take him in. His primary concern is one of self-sufficiency. Any future with Benita depends solely upon his ability to find steady work. Van’s willingness is certainly not lacking. He would pick fruit fifteen hours a day if it meant he and Benita could be together sooner. But there just isn’t any work. Benita has fared much better than he has in terms of employment. She works nights at the tiki-bar mixing drinks and serving food, then cosmetology and massage therapy at the spa during the day. She’s already started building a base of wealthy clients who ask for her by name.

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Unfortunately, the more she works, the less time Van has to spend with her. And now that he has more time on his hands than ever, he finds himself becoming very restless. Catching and selling fresh seafood is one of the few remaining opportunities available to locals. Van finds himself having to compete with friends and neighbors by way of selling his daily catch – the one thing he resolved he’d ever do.

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Van finds only a few hours sleep before his instinct tells him that dawn is approaching. Fortunately, his own backyard offers as good a fishing spot as any on the island. Facing his friends at the fishmonger is awkward enough without having to spend hours on the same beach competing for fish. Van makes his way slowly to the shallows before regarding the ocean and its ponderous expanse. He baits the hook, then casts his line into the water, desperate to find a better way.

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Weekends are the most challenging and difficult shifts for Isla Paradiso lifeguards. The volume of guests doubles over the weekend, as does the number of adult beverages consumed. The combination never amounts to any good. Van has told resort management as much.  Their response was to promptly open a second bar so guests would not have to wait as long for beachside service. In addition to having his lifeguarding hours cut, Omar has obstinately scheduled him for long shifts both Saturday and Sunday. Van had specifically asked for Sunday mornings off to attend church with Benita. Since the confrontation, however, those two days have been his only scheduled shifts – including Sunday morning.

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The result is a physically and emotionally exhausting schedule. He works from sunrise to sunset with a long enough break in between to sleep. The income generated by the new schedule is barely sufficient to keep the utilities running. Although Van has attempted to fix whatever he had done wrong, his efforts have gone unnoticed. Evidently, this is about more than just showing up late for work a couple of times.

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Van is very popular at the resort. Both guests and employees alike often greet him by name. News of the rift between Van and Omar spread through the grapevine quickly. Isla Paradiso is a rather small island, so most of his acquaintances are also quite familiar with Benita and the details of Van’s relationship with her. It’s not unusual for him to stop and talk with near strangers. Most of the time they simply want to offer their encouragement. When a resort hostess named Skyler Gilscarbo calls him over to the commons area after his shift late Sunday, Van doesn’t think to wonder why.

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Exhausted from many hours of heat and physical exertion, Van considers avoiding her. But she seems fairly intent upon talking with him. After a bit of small talk, Skyler’s mood changes abruptly. She moves closer to Van, making no effort to prevent chest from pressing firmly into his side, then whispers so that nobody else can her. Van listens to her somewhat suspicious proposition. She (and just about everybody else) knows all about Van’s feud with Omar. She hates that he’s treating Van so unfairly, and she wants to help him. She works tonight at the blackjack table and is willing to play a few bad hands in Van’s favor. He could make up all the simoleons from lost work, plus some.

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Van nearly dismisses the idea without giving the matter any thought. Skyler manages to inveigle her way past his better judgment, however. Her rakish, outgoing manner and warm, sympathetic smile provide the opening. Although it hadn’t come from Benita, the gesture is not entirely unwelcome. It has more than a week since Van last spent time with  Benita. Their most recent conversation was by phone, and it ended in frustration over Van’s Sunday morning schedule. He smiles in return and agrees to meet her in the casino.

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Now running purely on herb-infused, caffeine energy drinks, Van finds Skyler’s unoccupied blackjack table. It’s already a slow night thanks to a big horse race at the track and a match between the home team and a hated rival at the stadium.

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Casino slot machines have always been a much bigger draw for low stakes players than the card tables. Van sits, barely acknowledging Skyler, then sets his chips on the table. He knows absolutely nothing about gambling, past the basics he’d learned from watching visitors lose small fortunes in the casino. He hesitates for a moment and considers how the pitiful pile of chips represents his last remaining monetary assets.

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Van and Skyler say very little to each other as the small pile begins to grow. They’ve established a pattern where the house would win the smaller bets, but she would draw too many cards and bust on the larger bets. It is very early in the morning when Van reaches the agreed upon winnings.

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In what would be the last hand, Skyler’s hands begin to shake nervously. An odd sensation of being watched washes over Van a few seconds later. Then he senses the unmistakable stirring of air that precedes a sim invading his personal space. Skyler’s hand, which is still trembling, drops the card she had been holding – a Queen.

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Omar’s quivering, effeminate cadence sends a shiver down Van’s spine and  causes him to startle out of reflex. He congratulates Van on his winnings while sliding into an empty seat across the table from the young lifeguard. Using his best, practiced pleasantry, Omar instructs Skyler to deal another hand. He produces a stack of chips five times the size of Van’s pile, then places them on the table. Van takes a deep and nervous breath. His flight instinct kicks in and he hurriedly rakes the chips into his cupped hand, excusing himself to get some much-needed sleep.

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Omar snarls angrily, instructing Van to sit back down. After the demonstration of authority fails to achieve its desired motivation, Omar continues with a disturbing edge of charming cruelty. He asks whether Van would consider staying long enough to watch Skyler being removed from the premises by security for cheating, then delivered to local authorities for theft. Van stops cold amid a fearful squeal and sob from Skyler. He turns coolly toward the sneering resort manager, realizing there is no good outcome to this situation.

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The best he can do now is minimize the damage while denying Omar the satisfaction of humiliating him publically. Van digs in his pocket and roughly counts out his winnings, then deposits them on the table in front of Omar. Despite his rage, Van remains calm and concedes that even if he were fully awake, he’s no match for Omar at the card table.  At least this way, he’s saving himself the trouble of losing at cards when he could be asleep in his bed. Omar clicks his tongue and agrees with the assessment, but stops short of allowing Van the easy way out. His next words are delivered with a bitter coldness unlike anything Van had heard.

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I want all of it …every, last, chip…

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Van’s eyes narrow at Omar’s smug and indignant grin. When Van fails to comply, he adds that he not yet reviewed the security video of the conversation between Van and Skyler earlier this evening. But he’s sure the authorities would find what they needed to implicate them both for theft and gambling fraud. Van glances at Skyler who is now breathing in gulps and wearing an expression that conveys equal measures of confusion, fear, and panic.

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Stone-faced, Van reaches into his pocket and deposits the remaining chips, every simoleon of his net worth, onto the table in front of Omar.

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Flashing a wicked smile, Omar dismisses the young and embattled sims. Then he begins laughing. It’s not a maniacal or particularly despotic laugh. It’s more the punch-line-of-a-good-joke kind of laugh. Still, it is entirely unsettling given the seriousness of the situation. Then, after they’ve covered enough distance so that his voice must carry across the entire room to reach them, he half-laughing and half-shouts after them,

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You’re fired! You’re BOTH fired! You have sixty seconds to get off my resort before I call the cops!

In Other Words – Scene 1

When I write a Sims story, I tend to think in terms of vague ideas and generalities rather than specifics of conversational dialog. Not only does this directly mimic the Sims gameplay, but also I think it suits my style of story-telling and fits well with my preferred format of captioning screenshots. From time to time, however, I do wonder what my sims are actually saying to each other.
Depending upon how comfortable become with this new writing style, “In Other Words” may turn into a feature of the Stacpoole Legacy. In this way, I get the chance to reverse the experience for readers. I take away the pictures but get very specific with the dialog and setting. Please let me know what you think!

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~ Scene 1 ~

“Do you hear that?”

“What?” Benita Gonçalves breathed an annoyed sigh as the comfortable gauze of sleep slowly unraveled from around her dark and pretty face. She had happily succumbed to a nap on her beach towel, as she had done countless times before. Her dearest and closest friend, Van Stacpoole, had again awoken her just as he had done countless times before. Van was her boyfriend in every sense of the word with the exception of intimacy, which she had staunchly withheld. Van did not entirely understand the rationale but accepted it nonetheless.

As a result, a sort of banter had evolved between them. It was an unspoken set of rules to which they both mutually abide when the anxiety from temptation became uncomfortable. He would find subtle ways to express his need to be distracted and redirected, or she would abruptly suggest a workout or a swim; just anything to change the dynamic. The times they both were weak proved especially difficult and would usually find them spending their time together with her family.

Benita smiled knowingly, playing along to ease his agitation, “Is it the fish this time, or the stone crabs?” she responded sleepily. The thick dialect particular to the locals of the region colored her words.

Van chuckled, “No, it’s definitely the gulls this time.”, he waited for her feigned exasperation, then continued, mocking the scavenger birds circling overhead, “MARRRY…HIMMM… MARRRRY…HIMMMM!

“Oh, meu lindo…”, she sighed empathetically. Something in his voice was different today. They had only discussed marriage once or twice before. Most other times he was just testing the waters to determine whether she’d retreated away from her prohibition of  intimacy. “You know what Papa says…” Benita stood, in turn helping Van to his feet so they could walk. “He likes you! He really does… and even if he didn’t…”, she paused to achieve the desired effect. “But I agree with him for this once. We are still very young and ill-prepared for marriage and family. We have no money and nowhere to live…”, her voice trailed off, as though to punctuate the reality of their dilemma.

“You are too sensible.” he quipped.

“You are too eager.” she shot back, playfully.

She ran into the waves and dove into the crystalline water, emerging a few moments later, smiling. Van followed her lead, and dove gracefully into the waves, piercing the under-stuff as though he were a porpoise. The ease with which he swam, coupled with his part-time position as beach-patrol at the resort, had earned him the moniker “fin” among locals. He emerged behind her, wrapping his arms firmly around her midsection as she stood in the calm, chest-deep water.

“I love you, Benita Gonçalves. I promise you a beautiful house on the largest piece of beachfront land money can buy. Our children and our children’s children will become the Landgraabs of Isla Paridoso!”

Benita struggled slightly against his considerable arm strength, but gave up and relented to her trust in his self-restraint, “And I love you, meu lindo. But please, please be strong for me. I beg your patience until we can stand on our own two feet…”

“Four feet, technically…” he interrupted.

“UHG! YOU!” she fumed lightheartedly. Benita Abruptly shifted her balance and lifted her legs and support from the ocean floor, catching Van off-guard, and plunging them both into the water. She emerged again, laughing at him as she moved toward the shore. Van remained in the shallows, watching her as though she were a goddess emerging from the heavens.

“It is getting late,” she conceded. “I have to be to work very soon.”

“You don’t have to work two jobs, Benita. We barely see each other already.”

“I am sorry, namorado. We are blessed to have this opportunity. There are many on the island who cannot find even one job.”

Arguing this point would have led nowhere. Modernizing Isla Paridoso had been both a blessing and a curse. It was a blessing in that it brought cell phones and broadband communications to the island. But it was a curse in many other ways. Local farmers who had previously worked their own land to subsist had all been bought out by resort owners and entertainment conglomerates. After locals demanded better wages for performing menial jobs, companies simply reduced their workforce. Other industries soon followed the trend, as businesses either eliminated or automated jobs or replaced workers with cheaper, imported labor.

“When is your next day off?”, he half-shouted toward her.

“I will see you soon… but not soon enough, meu amado!” She ran backward waving goodbye, “No wrestling with os tubarões tomorrow!”

Van smiled as he watched her disappear over the rise, leading to the beach, “Don’t forget about Sunday!” he heard her shout from a distance. Van breathed a very heavy sigh before making his way to shore. One recent turn of events had seen Van attending church services with Benita at her request. At first, it was simply to remain in good graces with the Gonçalves family, who were very religious.

Reconciling this with his upbringing remained a work in progress. Actively recognizing that she would not be the same Benita without her faith had helped him tremendously. Conviction to her faith and all that comes with it had been the single most compelling characteristic setting her apart from other women. Likewise, much of what her pastor had said about love, forgiveness, and salvation did not seem nearly as crazy as the endless slough of haughty face-twit posts would have liked him to believe.

Oddly enough, he had begun to experience a quieting sense of hopeful calm while examining his own conscience over those past few weeks. Understanding had not come immediately, and frankly, may never come. What chance, with social media, blaring music, and the endless drone from television and internet commandments, does inner dialog have to surface above such overpowering noise?

Regardless, it is instances like these, where there little else but him and the wilderness of the sea that provides enough opportunity for Van to truly hear.

Part 2 – celebration and thanksgiving

Residents native to Isla Paradiso have never shied away from a day’s work. But work has become scarce. Those fortunate enough to have found steady employment, often labor in menial and thankless jobs each day just to make ends meet.

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Despite the challenges they have faced as a result of an overly swift modernization of their rustic home, the local populace continues to thrive and adapt. As a collective people, they are hard-working and uncommonly dependable. But life is hard for them. There is no debate in that regard. It was easier before; when hard work was rewarded and consequences were immediately realized.

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They have learned from difficult and unfortunate interactions with the slick talkers and business savvy predators who have descended upon their home over the past decade. With no real legal documents proving land ownership, some locals were stripped of ancestral farmlands which have since been repurposed. They are now forbidden to step foot on them. Trades and crafts that were once vital have been rendered obsolete. Skills which may have once supported an extended family have become unnecessary, if not completely antiquated.

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To make matters worse, the murky repugnance of moral decay has encroached upon their culture. It brings with it an absurdist mindset valuing irreverent hedonism over any form or manner of restraint. The architects responsible for manufacturing this canon of misguided ideas broadcast their manifesto throughout a friendly new media; where it is cleverly packaged then sold as progress by its charismatic proponents. It has impacted, by design, the youth of the island more-so than any other age group. Old timers talk about the recent past as if it were eons ago. In reality, it has been within Van’s own lifetime these changes have taken place.

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Van associates the arrival of Mitch and Wade on Isla Paradiso with the onset of its troubles. His perception of the situation may lead him to draw a conclusion that their presence was a cause rather than an effect. The reality of it, however, does not concur. It may be more accurate to say they were drawn here. Unfortunately, Van will not discover this for himself until some time later.

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As our narrative resumes, we find that it is early Sunday morning. It was mentioned previously that many residents work diligently every day. In retrospect, the statement may be somewhat inaccurate. What we find instead is that whenever possible, Sunday is reserved for celebration and thanksgiving.

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Van has been waking up early to meet Benita at her church, Santuário Basílica de Santo António, over the past several weeks. Van is captivated by the way it comes alive with singing, laughing, reverence, and fellowship. There is typically no seat remaining when the pastor speaks. Van gladly stands with the others who also give up their seats or arrive late.

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Van always listens when the pastor preaches. He hears the words and sometimes thinks the pastor could be talking directly to him. Van is not sure why the words fail to connect with him the same way they seem to connect with everybody else in the building. Is fear holding him back? Is he afraid of becoming one of the monsters Mitch and Wade criticized so openly during his childhood? Much had been said to him about the church, and specifically church-goers. Neither Mitch nor Wade was particularly kind in their assessment of a subculture they generally referred to as being populated by crazies and bigots.

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Van was too young to understand the ugly rhetoric infused into their comments and actions. Now that he is older, he sees the metaphorical scorched earth caused by ideological warfare irresponsibly provoked against a segment of society who promote love at the very core of their beliefs. Albeit, it is love coupled with obedience to a higher authority. As the others in the church pray in earnest, Van ponders in the silence of his own contemplation. What extremes are the instigators of this pretentious social conflict willing to justify in order to claim their victory?

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Benita sings in the choir and always looks for Van after emerging from the dressing room before the service begins. He’s made a bit of a game out of standing somewhere different each time. When she does finally find him, he is rewarded with a heartwarming smile that somehow evokes a sense of peace through to his core. After the service ends, Benita finds Van, and hey walk together talking about the sermon. She always manages to somehow harvest thoughtful insights into the homily and how it fits into her life. Today is no different. She leaves every opportunity for Van to share his own reflections. But he finds nothing to share. He sees that Benita is saddened by this, and he assures her that he is not holding anything back from her. He just doesn’t feel anything.

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They walk together toward the beach, which is a short distance from the church. After traveling only about half the distance, Benita stops and breathes a heavy sigh, then regards Van. The pastor of the church, Padre Nuno, had approached her this morning asking about him. Though somewhat surprised, Van casually asks what it was in reference to. Benita smirks while enjoying a light-hearted laugh with Van after sharing that the padre was simply reminding her of the times he would be available for sacramental Penance if circumstances required. Amused, she reassured the aged and overprotective pastor that she was still in good standing.

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Immediately afterward, and with no visible reaction to her response, Padre Nuno spoke at length about an anonymous young man who, during his youth, had nearly starved to death. This young man would come to the dinner table and engage the family in delightful conversation and charming wit. But the oddest thing would happen as serving dishes were passed around the table. The young man would pass each dish to the person seated next to him without taking any for himself. When supper was finished, he would walk away from the table unfed and still starving.

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Having nothing more to say on the matter, Benita and Van continue silently on toward the beach, each lost in their own thoughts, contemplating the plight of Padre Nuno’s starving young man.

Part 1 – a surefire business venture

The equatorial, mid-morning sun shines through small windows opposite Van’s bed, waking him from a deep sleep.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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“They did NOT cover this in Lifeguard training!”

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.

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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”.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Van – Paradise with Thunderstorms

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Paradise with thunderstorms…

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The endearing moniker can sometimes be heard uttered with equal parts affection and enmity from the lips of our protagonist, Van Stacpoole. The subject of this backhanded compliment is his adoptive home, Isla Paradiso.

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Of course, it isn’t difficult to imagine that sitting for eight hours in the rain would do much to rally anybody’s dampened spirits. Nevertheless, any measure of dissatisfaction he may feel is most likely fleeting, as Van and his profession are a perfect fit. The fact of the matter is that any gainful employment opportunity found on the quaint archipelago is reason enough to celebrate. In his mind, he truly has found paradise, and the occasional thunderstorm is a relatively small price to pay for his good fortune.

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Coincidentally, the same figure of speech he uses to describe his home is also a fairly accurate description Van’s of childhood. His parents, or the rough equivalent thereof, were restless transients with lofty dreams. He had only ever referred to them by name, Mitch, and Wade. Both suffered from the same terrible case of wanderlust. As far back as Van can remember, they were constantly on the move; always taking new jobs and chasing after the next get-rich-quick idea. As a result, they lived in poverty for the majority of his childhood. Still, they were inexplicably carefree. Carefree, that is, until Van reached the cusp of his teenage years. It was around that time he had been dragged to Isla Paradiso, where the duo had envisioned building a resort empire.

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A few years and a failed business venture later, it was time to move on to the next big thing. Van, however, had had enough moving. He wanted a place he could finally call his home. With little more than the property Mitch and Wade left behind, Van decided to cut his losses and remain on the island alone while they traveled the world without him.  His decision was not completely without outside influence, however…

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Her name is Benita Gonçalves, a local girl with whom he had become quick friends soon after his arrival on Isla Paradiso.

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As he and Benita matured, so too did their relationship. When the time came, Van was quick to ask for her hand in marriage. Her gentle rebuff was not an outright refusal. It was more of an appeal for his patience while they saved money to buy their own home and start a family. With the financial status of his home in a state of flux, he was doing everything within his power to earn enough money to keep the debt collectors at bay. Benita was absolutely right. What sense was there in building the foundation of their future family on shifting sands?

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This is where we find Van as his story begins. He works everywhere and anywhere he can, mostly relying on his athleticism and physical conditioning to do what most others are only able to imagine.

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Sometimes the work is dangerous.

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Most often, it is rewarding.

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Occasionally, it can be irresistibly tempting.

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But Benita and her family are always there to support and ground him with their rich traditions, customs, and beliefs. Because of the vast gulf between her upbringing and the manner in which he was raised, there are times when Van struggles with a lack of context and understanding. Regardless, he has already become a vital part of their family in every way except the most formal and intimate.

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The gravity of all these issues combined into a collective whole has weighed heavily on Van. He’s young, attractive, and smart. Leaving Isla Paradiso behind to make his imprint on the world may seem like the only sensible thing to do. In his mind, however, it would make him just like them.  Van has no intention of becoming the thing he despised so much as a child. He intends to create his legacy right here, in his paradise with thunderstorms.

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Seeing his vision bloom to fruition, however, will not be easy. The recent arrival of the Landgraabs and their luxury resort has changed the character of the island. What was once a pristine, untouched oasis; now boasts unlimited broadband connectivity and an all-you-can-eat gourmet buffet. Glamorous shops from the mainland have replaced local merchants. Cheap, imported produce and prepackaged, processed foodstuffs pushed inside the Landgraab commissary have priced local growers out of business. As Isla Paradiso prospers, it also suffers.

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Easy or not, Van’s dream is to make a home with Benita so that their children will know happiness. The dream seems simple enough. The question now becomes, does Van possess the resolve and fortitude needed to make it a reality?

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Van Stacpoole (Athletic, Loves the Outdoors, Frugal, Irresistible, Loves to Swim)
Lifetime Wish – Grand Explorer