Fighter – Part 1

Charlie sighs as he pats the last of the loose dirt down around the roots of the new redwood tree they had been able to procure. He couldn’t help but feel sad for it, having been uprooted from all its friends and transported across multiple states to live out the rest of its life in a giant glass box. In some ways he was beginning to feel trapped too.

“Well, guess I’m your friend now.” He whispers to it, gently patting its small trunk. “Maybe one day we’ll both get out this place.”

Though it says nothing in return its silence still brings a smile to his face.

He collapses into the soil next to the tree, surprisingly exhausted from the task. As he stretches out his legs he hears the sound of the hinges to this section of the conservatory squeal. It reminds him that it was his job to oil them over a week ago.

From where he’s sitting he can see someone moving towards him but can’t quite make them out perfectly. Their broad shoulders and brown hair convinces him that it’s one of his friends, so he calls out, “Hey, Will, over here.”

As they get closer, he quickly realizes it isn’t Will.

“Charlie,” he shivers as Chris’ scratchy voice says his name with an irritated edge. “Where’s Will?”

“Man, I don’t know.” He shrugs.

For a second, Charlie thinks that’s all he’s going to ask. Chris stands there like an impassable boulder, frustration shifting across his face as he does. Something about how stupid his face looks as it contorts almost makes Charlie bust out laughing. He looks over at the redwood instead, trying to hide his snickers.

“Where’s Caroline?”

Again, Charlie shrugs. “Man, I really don’t know, ok?”

This doesn’t seem to be enough of an answer for Chris. He fixes Charlie with a stare. “Aren’t they supposed to be helping you?”

Charlie turns and squints his eyes at Chris, sizing him up quickly should anything go wrong. The other boy is larger by far, his biceps nearly ready to shred his too tight t-shirt sleeves. Though Charlie had definitely gotten stronger there was no way he’d win a fight.

Will had been the one to hand him the shovel that morning before quickly making excuses for why he needed to go help the girls in the nursery building. Charlie always got the short end of the stick while all the other guys would help the girls out. The resentment of feeling excluded doesn’t soften his attitude towards Chris or Will.

Still, friends protect friends. He gets to his feet. “Look, I told you, I don’t know. I got told to plant the new tree and no one told me anything about anyone helping, let alone those two.”

“They’re supposed to be helping you.”

“Fucking news to me, man.”

Chris scowls at him and takes a step forwards. Sensing an incoming attack, Charlie takes a step back, his boot heel knocking into the root bulb of the tree he’d just planted. He jumps downhill to his left to avoid hurting it.

Instinctively, Chris throws his fists up and Charlie knows this is about to be an awful afternoon. He tries to stand there as impassively as possible but his heart begins pounding.

“He’s fucking her, isn’t he?”

The accusation hangs in the air between them for a moment.

Everyone around the site knows Will and Caroline are prone to wandering off together for long stretches of time. Still, they both get their work done and everyone had just assumed all parties involved were okay with it. The idea that Chris had no idea begins to dawn on Charlie.

Hoping to diffuse things, he raises his hands to signal he doesn’t want a fight. “Look, I think you should discuss this with her. I don’t know anything.”

This isn’t what Chris wants to hear. “Just fucking tell me, Charlie.”

“I don’t know anything, and even if I did,” he looks Chris directly in the eye, “I still wouldn’t tell you. Will’s my friend, dude.”

Chris glares at him. It’s clear he said the wrong thing, but Charlie continues to stare him down. Even if it means getting into a fight with this asshole, he figures, it’s better to stand by his friend.

Without warning, Chris punches him in the stomach, just under his sternum. The sudden sharp pain causes Charlie’s knees to buckle as he doubles over. He fights back the urge to puke as the air rushes out of his lungs.

“Tell Will I’m looking for him, piece of shit.” And with that, Chris retraces his steps back out of the section.

“Fuck you.” Charlie whimpers from his position on the ground. Today was not going to be a great day.

At the lunch meeting, Paolo insisted that Charlie work in the front office with him and his boyfriend. No one objected, though there was some surprise that went around the group when he explained what happened. Everyone agreed to keep an eye out for Chris but it was also evident that he may have already found his target.

Neither Caroline nor Will had shown up for lunch. While that was commonplace enough since their affair started, it wasn’t every day that Abi and Jake would be missing too. Speculation among the group has begun putting some pieces together.

By the end of the lunch break whispers had begun to fly around the group that Charlie must’ve said something to Chris. He didn’t like the accusations but decided to keep his mouth shut until he had a chance to see Will. The aching from where he got punched a good reminder to stay silent, as well as an unfortunate appetite deterrent.

Eventually though everyone had wandered off to their respective tasks for the afternoon.

Tired of holding his tongue, he finally asks Paolo, “Where the fuck is Will?”

Paolo looks over at Santi who just shrugs before responding. “Jake sent me a text saying he heard Chris was looking for Will, so he was going to go find him.”

“So no one knows?”

“Haven’t heard, but I assume that’s why he and Abi are still missing.”

“Great.” He mutters to himself, heading off to the broom closet. Paolo follows behind.

“I’m sure he’ll be back soon.” Paolo tries to comfort as they both grab out cleaning supplies. “Don’t let the gossips get to you.”

Charlie tries not to grit his teeth. “Fuck em.”

“That’s the attitude.”

They clean up from lunch in silence. Despite the overhead fans working as hard as they can, the mugginess of the day settles in with the tension. The sweat already rolling down his temples from the brief five-minutes work doesn’t help his sour mood.

Thankfully the concrete floor is still cool and Charlie spreads out across it once they finish. Santi and Paolo go to work in the small front office; one answering emails on the ancient PC while the other works on social media posts from the whirring laptop that’s clearly on its last leg.

A smile comes to Charlie’s face as he watches the two from his vantage point on the floor.

His phone buzzes in his pocket.


Storm coming. Omw. We need to talk.

Sent 13:06

He quickly replies:


In front w Pao and Santi. I’ll clos skylight.

Talk abt wat?

Sent 13:06



Sent 13:06

“Hey,” Charlie calls over to the other two, his voice cracking slightly from nerves, “Jake says a storm is coming. He’s on his way.” They nod their understanding and go back to their work, rushing now in case the storm takes the power out.

Charlie quickly flips the first two switches in a bank of five. Two motors hum to life and slowly begin to lower the first two skylights.

Though the main hall skylights are motorized, the motors they had been able to salvage were fairly weak. Often they would fail to latch completely as a result. It was luckily obvious when the latch hadn’t engaged but it meant being patient.

Something Charlie found himself having trouble with.

We need to talk.

No one had ever said that to him before but something about Jake’s message felt like getting gut punched all over again. As the oldest of the group of them, Jake had an air of authority to him. He’d never had much of a dad, but for Charlie, Jake was the closest one he had.

Two windows closed. The tell-tale click of the latch engaging thankfully louder than the cracking sound of distant thunder. Charlie quickly flips the switches for the next set of two.

Did someone post something online? Why? And more importantly, how fucked was he?

He should’ve been more aggressive with Chris. Should’ve been more assertive at lunch. Should’ve shut it all down when he had the chance.

Now everyone would think he was a snitch.

Charlie groans to himself as he flips the last switch, not waiting for the other two to latch themselves. It would cause a large pull on the circuit but would get the job done faster. A risky move.

The lights flicker for a second as another rumble of thunder is heard off in the distance. The skylight motors whine as they continue closing.

Finally, Jake comes flying through the front doors. He doesn’t seem particularly pleased – a scowl on his face belying how he feels; his hair disheveled from the wind outside. Little spots of raindrops dot his t-shirt.

“Last one closing?” He asks Charlie as the doors swing shut behind him.

“Yeah,” Charlie watches as the window finally shuts. “We had a flicker a second ago.”

“I’ll get the poles out for the rest.” From the broom closet, Jake pulls out two long poles with hooks on the end. “Do you know how many are still open?”

He thinks for a second as he takes a pole from Jake. “Just the sustainable farm and community garden, I think.”

“Great, easy enough to close up. We need to hurry, it’s gathering fast.”

“Where were you guys?” Charlies tries to ask nonchalantly, his voice cracking only slightly.

Jake shakes his head and heads off, leaving Charlie to catch-up. They hurry through a door on the right that leads into a large former cellphone retail store. It’s full of dirty wooden work tables, raised garden beds and planters of various sizes filled with people’s projects, and hydroponic towers bursting with leafy micro greens and lettuce.

As Charlie looks up, a bit of rain falls through the open skylight and directly into his eye. He blinks furiously and begins rubbing at it. “What the fuck?”

“You ok?”

“No, I have the worst fucking luck today. What gives?” The irritation gone, he quickly glances over at Jake through his now blurry right eye.

At the sight of his friend’s red and watery eye, Jake softens a bit. He takes a deep breath before heading down one of the rows of planters.

“Grab the ones by the towers?” Jake points to the opposite side of the former store turned community garden. He watches Charlie slowly saunter off towards them before asking, “What happened today?”

“Man, don’t you already know?!” The outburst escapes Charlie before he has a minute to think it over. “Thought you already knew about the rumors.”

“I definitely don’t. I know what Will told me but that’s it.”

“But you said we need to talk!”

“Yeah, cause we do. Will is pissed at you.”


The towers with their full green leaves block Jake from Charlie’s view. As he winds the skylight down, a fluffy gray tendril of a cloud begins to drift overhead. His irritated eye begins to water again from the changing daylight.

He should’ve texted Will hours ago. Now it was all fucked. Everyone was going to hate him for something he didn’t actually do.

He tries not to slam the pole down on the ground as he walks to the last open skylight in the row. Another rumble of thunder rolls through the room. Low, threatening. A warning.

The boys move on to the next two rows of open windows in silence.

“I’ll be honest, I don’t think he wants to talk to you right now. I don’t know what happened, just that he seems upset.”

Charlie sighs as he tries to not get defensive. “Fuck, I should’ve texted him.”

“Yeah, that would’ve been a good idea. I know we get shit service out here but an attempt would’ve been good.”

“Are you pissed at me?” Charlie stops between the planters and looks over at Jake. There’s a vulnerable wavering to his voice, a constriction in his chest.

Jake sighs and goes to close another window. “Look, to be fair, I don’t like Caroline much. I dislike that she’s refusing to take accountability even more. But Will is my friend and the best I can do is watch out for him.”

“You think I told Chris where they were?” More rumbles of thunder roll between them.

“I don’t know. All I know is that Will thinks you did.”


“Chris. He found them.”


Jake waits at the end of the row while Charlie finishes closing the last of the open windows. “Did you tell him?”

“What the fuck, of course not!” Realizing he’s getting defensive, Charlie clears his throat and tries to focus on the task at hand. “No. The fucking piece of shit sucker punched me and walked off. I figured Will had wandered off with her but I wasn’t going to tell Chris that.”


For some reason, Charlie doesn’t feel comforted by the flat tone Jake uses. He lets himself be led by the older boy into the sustainable farm section; a former end-cap store turned into sprawling hydroponic gardens. The immense size of it intimidates Charlie still.

“Paolo found me. You can ask him.” Again, the need to defend himself asserts itself.

“I believe you. I know this isn’t the first time this has happened.”

“Wait, Will got caught before?”

“No, Caroline did.” A smug smirk comes over Charlie’s face as Jake explains. “Abi told me that she’s done this before to Chris. Back in high school, I think.”

“They’ve been together that long?”
“Yeah, same as Abi and I. Anyway, she cheated on him back then and got caught. There were rumors she’s done it since. Whatever, it’s not my business.”

Jake moves off towards the back corner of the room while Charlie heads towards the opposite corner. There aren’t as many windows to close, but the size of the area forces them to split up.

Something about knowing this is a habit with Caroline gives Charlie a brief moment of hope. That maybe if he can use this newfound knowledge he could convince Will to believe him.

More rumbles overhead and the occasional raindrop has turned into more of a steady trickle. The boys stay silent as they move around the room, trying not to rush as they close the few open windows. As Jake shuts and latches the last of them, a streak of lightning shoots across the clouds.

“Good timing.” Jake mutters, pulling the pole away quickly. “I’d hate to get electrocuted just for closing the windows.”

The sky agrees as a sudden torrent of rain and wind lashes the building.

“Does Will know? About Caroline?”

Jake shakes his head and begins to head back the way they came. “Probably not, I don’t know. Will didn’t go to high school at the same time as us.”

Charlie quickly follows after. “So he’s pissed at me and not the girl who got him into this mess?”

Jake hesitates half-way through the community garden and turns to look at Charlie. “He just got caught by his lover’s partner. Cut him a little bit of slack for the moment.”

“What about the rumors then?”

“Just wait until you’ve had the chance to talk to Will.”

Charlie leans on his pole and sighs. “This is so fucking stupid. Is he coming back this afternoon?”

“No, of course not. Chris busted him up some before leaving with Caroline. He’s at the ER with Abi.”


“Yeah. Lay low for a bit.”

“What about work tomorrow?”

Jake pats his shoulder, trying to be reassuring. “We’ll stick close by. Just try to watch your mouth, dude.”

“Alright, sure.” It isn’t the satisfying wrap-up to things that Charlie had hoped for. Still, he doesn’t want to disappoint anyone further.

Jake gives his shoulder another pat before heading off into the main section. As Charlie follows through the door his friend holds open, he can hear the unmistakable sound of rainwater drizzling onto the pavement from an unlatched skylight. They both turn their heads to see a puddle beginning to form under it.

“God fucking dammit.” Charlie murmurs in defeat.


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