Connector – Part 3

Neither had wanted to go home, but neither wanted to be alone. Which is how Jake and Paolo found themselves sitting in the dark of the greenhouse lobby, staring out at the empty parking lot and quiet main road beyond it.

They had plenty to discuss. A wealth of details and plans to go over before they could confidently wrap up their revitalization efforts.

Yet ever since his disagreement with Abi, Jake hadn’t felt up to opening any new topics of heavy discussion. Especially if it meant his income would be drying up again. Besides, something was clearly going on with the Paolo. Something else he didn’t want to get into.

The multi-layered mash of problems that had become his feelings as of late sat heavy in his gut.

“Did the last panel in the desert section get installed today?”

Jake sighs. “Yeah, Will put it up this afternoon. A few of the cactuses have been planted already.”

“Cacti,” Paolo corrects.


Something about Jake’s dismissive attitude puts Paolo at ease and he lays back onto the concrete floor. “It’s almost over.”


“I just want to wrap this up and be done with it.”

Jake turns to look at Paolo. “Why? I thought you liked working on this.”

“I do but…” Paolo lapses off for a second before heaving a heavy sigh. “It’s just…it’s just so complicated.”

A vision of Abi’s face on the verge of tears comes to Jake’s mind. “Tell me about it.”

“We’re doing a good thing for this community and there’s just been so many hoops to jump through to get the funding. All these groups talk about community involvement, greenspaces, educating people on green tech and…it’s just all bullshit self-serving nonsense.”

So much for avoiding anything heavy.

“I knew it was tough but didn’t know it was that much of a hassle.”

Paolo rolls the back of his head across the concrete, shaking his head. “It’s all just vanity projects all the way down.” He sighs again before closing his eyes and letting his mouth run away with him. “When I met Santi at that conference a year and a half ago, I thought it would be different. He knew that all that money just stays locked up in the same five groups, funneled into their projects, and then any profit they manage to make gets used to start their next vanity project. I thought for sure that if he knew that, talked openly about it, he would be different.”

Jake holds his tongue and watches Paolo from the corner of his eye. The familiar feeling of being caught between layers of his problems and others problems churns his stomach. He tries not to tense his muscles.

His jaw tightens anyway, despite his efforts.

“But this was all his vanity project.”

“Wait, what?” Jake asks, turning to properly face Paolo.

Paolo takes a deep breath and lets the confession tumble out, “Santi’s family owns Greenspace Initiative.”

“Our primary investors?”


“And he never disclosed that to you? Isn’t that…I don’t know, illegal? Conflict of interests?”

Again, Paolo sighs. “Yes and no. He’s technically not working for them, he’s working for us. But he is pulling strings to get us funding.”

“You mean asking mommy and daddy for money?”

“Mommy and mommy, but yeah, same thing.”

Jake takes the revelation in for a moment. On the one hand, he can see how much it bothers his friend to think that his principles have been compromised. On the other, without that flow of cash they never would have been able to even start such an ambitious plan.

“Have you talked with him about it at all?” He finally asks, trying to find out just how deep the secrets go. His stomach churns again, a warning.

“No. We got an email a few days ago from one of his moms that clued me in to everything.”

“That sucks.”

Paolo slaps an open hand against the concrete. “It gets worse.”


“You know the old fast food place on the corner of the lot?” Jake nods but he can already sense where things are going. “Yeah, he asked them for money to convert that into a nursery.”

“That’s great though. We could use the extra sales and it’d create more jobs for people.”

“That’s not the point though.”

“What’s the point then?”

“He went behind my back. We made that plan together, it was supposed to happen when we could finally turn a profit. Instead he just went begging to his moms and never asked me about it! Then has the nerve to say I don’t know how to ask for help!” As he goes on, Paolo gets more heated, slapping the pavement at the end of every sentence.

Jake’s stomach churns as layers and layers of stress all collide together. He feels sick, the churning sensation bringing up stomach acid and little more.

The desire to commiserate with his friend is strong. It would be easy to do, so natural to continue to let Paolo dump his miseries out and not challenge him. After all, it’s all anyone wants him to do.

He punches his inner thigh, startling Paolo. Why can’t he just not care? Just let it all slide off his back?

He punches his thigh again. His stomach churns again, a fresh wave of stomach acid forces an uncomfortable burp from him.

The thought of Paolo abandoning the project at the finish line infuriates him. Abi comes to mind, then Will with his busted hand, and Charlie sobbing about how it isn’t his fault. They all look to him to be the strong one, to carry them forward when they can’t anymore.

He doesn’t even feel like he can carry himself anymore. He shuts his eyes as another bubbling of acid eats at his throat.

It’s no use. The more he tires to push his feelings down, the more they demand to find their way out. It’s either say something or deal with the pain of heartburn.

“I know you’re upset,” he finally says through gritted teeth, “but we all need this project.”

Paolo raises himself up onto his elbows. “Are you ok?”

Jake punches his thigh again, closing his eyes as he just lets the words come out without interruption. “It was shitty that Santi hid it from you, I agree, but this project has been so important to all of us. You’re my friend, but you’re garbage about asking for help, dude. Let him help if he wants to spend the money. I don’t care if you keep dating him, that’s between you two, but if they want to invest the money in us, we should take it.”

Jake takes a deep breath and slowly opens one eye to see Paolo’s reaction. To his relief, the other boy’s face has a bemused smile on it. “Garbage at asking for help?”

“The worst. Remember that garden project we were all on in high school?”

Paolo groans, pinching the bridge of his nose at the memory. “Oh gods, the Ag Club one?”

“Yeah, that one. Will and I had to practically restrain you to keep you from trying to do it all yourself. Charlie says you haven’t got much better since.”

“He would say that. Sure, he gets the work done, but he can be so impatient and mess everything up.”

“Sure, but we’re not talking about him. The point is, Santi’s right. You’re the worst at accepting help when you need it.”

Paolo sighs and lays back down again. “Maybe you’re right. It just hurt, I don’t know.”

“I mean, yeah, it sucks that he did that but he was trying to help.”

“I know, I know.” Paolo looks up at the skylights overhead, “It’s just going to mean more work. And now we’ve been pitched to recreate this project elsewhere, so I guess I better just suck it up that I’m going to need help.”

“Wait, really?”

Paolo nods. “Just outside the city, so we’d have better access to the resources we’d need.”

“Are you going to do it?”

“I don’t know…”

“Look, if you agree to it, I’ll head out to the site immediately.”

“What about Abi though? Don’t you need to talk to her?”

His stomach churns and then feels as if it sinks to the concrete floor at the mention of her name. They still haven’t spoken since he’d walked out the other night. Jake sighs and shakes his head.

“When was the last time you talked to her?”

“I don’t know, almost a week ago.” Jake admits, his jaw tightening at the thought of having to run this idea by her.


There’s both a hint of concern and admonishment in Paolo’s tone. Jake’s shoulder slump forward as he places his elbows on his knees, staring down at the concrete floor to avoid his friend’s gaze. The last thing he needs is to feel more shame.

“She just…” Jake trails off, trying to find the words. “I just…I don’t want to talk about it.”

“You clearly do, dude.”

He grits his teeth together. Does he or doesn’t he? His head sinks into his hands.

The stomach acid at the back of his mouth reminds him what awaits him if he doesn’t talk.

“She wants to have kids. Her mom keeps pestering her.”

“What do you want?”

Jake heaves a heavy sigh. “To not be such a loser.”

“Whoah, what? You’re not a loser.”

“Yes, I am.” He sighs again. “I told her, ten years ago, that we’d get out of here and I can’t even do that. How the hell could I raise kids if I can’t even keep my word?”

Just admitting to his own sense of failure seems to take one of the layers of stress out of his stomach. He finally catches a deep breath, letting it slowly escape past his lips in a prolonged sigh.

“That doesn’t make you a loser.” Paolo tries to reassure him. Jake lifts his gaze to see Paolo’s soft, concerned, expression.

“I know, I know. I just…need a break, so I can think.”

Paolo nods and begins to sit up again. “I get that. I just don’t want her to get hurt if you do this.”

“I’ll take Charlie with me, to supervise.”

Paolo laughs at the idea. “The two of you? He’ll end up dragging you into trouble that you’ll have to pull him out of.”

“Less time for me to get into any trouble of my own then.” Jake lifts his head out of his hands.

“Yeah, I suppose so. Though he respects you a lot, so he’ll probably be too afraid to do too much.”

A faint sense of hope lifts Jake’s stomach back up off the ground. “So, you’ll tell them we’ll do it?”

“I don’t know.” Paolo looks out the front door of the greenhouse and into the night beyond. “Will you talk to Abi about all this?”

Jake hesitates for a moment, swallowing hard as his stomach rolls at the thought of upsetting her. “Fine. So long as you talk to Santi.”

He watches as the other boy considers the proposal for a moment. It’s a task neither of them wants to do.

Paolo turns and extends his hands to Jake. “Fine, deal.”

“Deal.” Jake takes Paolo’s hand and gives it a firm shake.

“You tell Charlie and I’ll work on the details with Greenspace about it. I don’t know when we’ll start but you two could go out in maybe a couple weeks to survey the site.”

Jake nods. “Thanks.”

Paolo smiles at him and pats his shoulder. “Glad you finally told me how you felt.”


“Dude,” Paolo chuckles, “if I’m garbage at asking for help, then you’re the worst at talking about what’s bothering you.”

He shrugs. “Yeah, fair.”

“Just tell Abi what you told me. She’s probably more hurt that you wont talk to her than she is about the whole kids thing.”

“You’re probably right. I just didn’t want to disappoint her.”

Paolo rubs Jake’s shoulder, trying to comfort him. “Let Santi be a lesson. Don’t hide stuff from her. Trust me, it hurts to not be included.”

Jake sighs and nods along. Though the stress still lingers, it feels less like a mix of emotions and more like separate layers he might be able to tease apart. The first layer is to fix things with Abi and work his way down from there.