Connector – Part 1

The sound of the key in the lock could only mean one thing. Abi was here.

It had been a long day on site and normally he’d be looking forward to time with her, but today he was just exhausted. The day had been muggy and hot which made tempers run higher than needed. Jake hated to admit that it got to him.

“Hi ho!” Abi calls as she bursts through the door, letting it close with a slam. Jake winces.

“Hey, Ab.” He replies, stepping out from the dark hallway and into the living room proper.

They kiss their hello’s quickly before Abi flops down onto the couch. She slips off her shoes before propping her feet up across the cushions, and turns to face the kitchen as Jake walks off in that direction. He smiles at her while he grabs out his cannabis supplies from the “junk drawer” in the kitchen island.

“How was your day? You were at the greenhouse, right?” She asks as she stretches her arms out over head.

“Yeah, greenhouse day.” Jake begins fiddling with his rolling papers, getting one ready on the counter. “It was so fucking hot today.”

“Uh, seriously. We didn’t get to take the kids out for a walk, so they were antsy all afternoon.”

“Daycare packed today?”

She shakes her head. “Thankfully, no. But it was just me and Carla today.”

“How’s Carla doing?”

“Ya know.” She shrugs and looks up at the ceiling. “The kids are still a little unsure about her, but they’re warming up. She and Yun are getting along. Which is a feat, that kid seems to not like anyone, but she’s managed to get him to be compliant on just about anything.”

“Wow.” Is all Jake can muster before he holds up a bag of marijuana towards her. “Did you want any?”

“Nah, I had some before I came over.” Abi sighs and shifts to sit up. “I wonder if our kids will be as picky as that.”

Here it is, the Children Conversation, as Jake had taken to mentally calling it. He quickly loads an herb grinder with some buds, trying to distract himself from the conversation, not at all interested in getting into it again.

Between her and her parents, the conversation had begun to wear him down. It had only increased since he took over the supervisory position with Paolo’s greenhouse project. Everyone seemed to assume he was going to stay in town forever.

Jake tries not to press too hard into the grinder out of irritation.

“They probably wont,” she responds, almost for him. “Maybe they’ll be more like you: easy-going and good natured.”

Jake smiles to himself, more amused by the description of himself than with the thought of having kids. “Who knows,” he offers in response, trying to stay noncommittal as he finally begins the rolling process.

“What do you think?”

Shit. He lightly licks the edge of the paper, getting it to stick to itself. “About what?”

Abi rolls her eyes at him playfully. “About having kids.”

He shrugs. “I think, right now, I just want to go out back and smoke this. It’s been a long ass day.”

“Oh, yeah, sorry. I’ll just be here.”

The dejected look on her face makes Jake hesitate for a second. “Hey, I love you, you know.”

“I love you too.”

He blows her a kiss from the sliding glass door that leads out into a modest backyard. She returns it before settling back in on the couch, closing her eyes and resting her hands on her belly. For a second he just stares at her, a touch of guilt rising in his stomach, before he heads out back and towards the edge of the yard.

Just beyond the official lot border is an unincorporated piece of land that had been designated a protected area. It was mostly just overgrown forest as far as he could tell.

Over the last year, Jake had turned it into his hiding spot whenever he felt the need to be alone. He didn’t need to wander too far in to find that the forest absorbed not just the sound of the outside world, but also his stresses. As if this the trees themselves could take in and transmute everything into clarity.

He’d been out here more and more as of late.

As he settles in on a dead tree trunk, he lights up his joint and takes a deep inhale. The smoke sits in his lungs for a second while he gazes up at the dark looming tree tops above. He exhales forcefully and the smoke obscures the upper canopy as it drifts away.

He takes another desperate drag, once again holding it until his lungs force him to exhale again. While the rhythm of his breathing settles into the well-worn pattern of joint smoking, his mind begins to race. And with it, his mouth begins to spew all the things he wished he could’ve said.

“Look, Abi,” he begins with a sigh, more smoke drifting out with it. “We’re just not in a place to have kids right now.”

Jake frowns, sticking the joint back in his mouth.

It’s not that they’re ‘not in a place to have kids’, he knows that her parents would help with everything if given half the chance. Hell, even his parents would crawl out of the woodwork if they ever caught wind of their having children.

The thought of them turning up unannounced makes him shudder as he exhales again.

“I just don’t want to have kids.”

The statement hangs there for a moment, as if caught in the smoke slowly dissipating in front of him. A wind blows through the trees and wipes it all away before he even has a second to contemplate it further.

Even that doesn’t feel quite right. Jake sticks the joint back in his mouth and begins pacing, taking smaller drags as he does. Does he even really want to have kids?

“I just don’t want to have kids right NOW.” Better. “I know we’ve been together for ten years and everything but…”

But what? He frowns as he looks down at the ground, hesitating on what he really wants to say. On what actually matters.

Ten years. From 17 to 27. Though, really, it had been longer than that, he just hadn’t had the courage to properly ask her to be his girlfriend at 15.

He finally stops in his tracks, taking a longer drag on the joint now. Ten years ago. A memory resurfaces from the depths as he exhales.

They had been young but he promised her that they were going to get out of this town. Move to the city. Get good jobs. Be real upstanding citizens or something. Not stuck in the middle of nowhere with no real prospects and dwindling hopes.

All the plans they had made to put money away never panned out. They found a house to rent, that was nice, but the furthest they had gotten was the edge of town. Rarely, if ever, had they taken the train into the city and the commute was far enough that no one had wanted to hire him.

He sighs, sitting back down on the rotting tree, finishing off the remainder of his bud.

Working at the cannabis farm had been the best work in town, outside of the industrial farm on the other side of things. Just the thought of being there made his skin crawl, stuck driving a tractor or being an insufferable field manager. Unbearable.

But he got bored of the work at the farm. Sure, he had a really understanding boss, all the bud he could want to smoke, and fairly flexile hours. It paid the bills, but advancement felt limited and he wasn’t sure about it anymore.

When Paolo had mentioned transforming the strip mall, his boss was happy to let him take a sabbatical – with pay – to help get everything together. Since it was to help the local economy, they had said, it was worthwhile to their business to have him do this. They even invested a bit in the project to get things moving.

Still, it hadn’t gotten him a step closer to leaving and that was really the problem.

“Abi,” Jake’s voice is soft, almost whispering to the night sky as he looks back overhead at the darkening sky. “I made you a promise ten years ago and I haven’t kept it. I don’t want to be here. I want us to get out of here before we think about children.”

He sighs, closing his eyes for a moment. That’s it. If he could just say that, maybe things could start getting better.

Jake looks down at the last bit of ash still hanging on to the end of the joint. He takes one last drag before putting it out in the hidden ashtray wedged into a hole in the tree trunk.


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