Fighter – Part 3

The truck cabin is silent, save for the engine and road noises as the two boys head off into the night.

Charlie leans his head against the passenger window, watching as subdivisions pop in and out of existence between the trees. A few bear faded vinyl signs on their fences, flapping in the wind, promoting some rental management group’s deal on neighborhood rents.

Their existence bothers him, given how many of them sit empty. Yet no one in the community can even afford them.

Jake taps his fingers absentmindedly against the steering wheel.

“That could’ve gone worse.” Jake says, startling Charlie out of his thoughts.

“Yeah, I guess so.”

“At least you got to explain what happened.”

Charlie sighs and rolls his eyes. “It doesn’t matter though.”

Jake takes his eyes from the road to give Charlie a quick look. “What do you mean it doesn’t matter? What more do you want?”

He crosses his arms and sinks down into the passenger seat. “No one else is going to know about it,” he admits, “so it doesn’t really matter.”

Jake stops his absentminded drumming. “Dude, it’s just gossip. At least Will knows you didn’t say anything.”

Shaking his head, Charlie goes back to staring off into the night. “Whatever.”

Out of the reflection from the dashboard light on the window, Charlie can see Jake shake his head. Another fence with a ‘For Rent’ sign passes by.

“I fucking hate it here.” He mutters to himself.

“Yeah, me too.” Jake responds to Charlie’s surprise.

Trees fly past again until they break onto an open meadow. Overgrown grass and weeds stir on the side of the road as they pass.

The meadows were his favorite place to rest whenever he would bike into town. It wasn’t that far – a few miles at most, but it could be exhausting after work. Plus, it let him smoke weed away from his grandma, not that she cared all that much. He just felt weird about doing it around her.

His only method of getting out of the middle of nowhere was the bike in the back of Jake’s truck. He’d never learned how to drive, and besides, his grandma didn’t own a car he could borrow. Even though he hated having to ask for a ride, he knew it was far safer at this time of night than trying to ride home.

Another, richer, subdivision comes into view. One of the rich asshole residents had yelled at him once as he rode by one night. They had almost hit him with their large and expensive car, their too bright headlights shining directly in his eyes. Somehow it was his fault.

Just the memory alone is enough to piss him off again.

“God, fuck these rich fuckers.” He snarls, turning away from the window again and tightening his jaw.

“Yeah, I hear you.” Jake takes a deep breath and lets it out in a long sigh before asking, “Hey, can I ask you something?”

“What’s up?” Charlie turns to look at the other boy, confused by the tone shift.

Jake hesitates for a second as they pass the entrance to the walled-off community. “Do you want to leave town?”

The question surprises Charlie. At first he isn’t sure how to respond, wondering if maybe Jake is putting him on. “I mean, yeah,” he eventually admits.

“Where would you want to go?”

Charlie quickly sticks his middle finger up towards the rich community as it fades into the distance. “I don’t know. The other coast? The city? I’m just tired of being here.”

“What about your grandma?”

“Eh,” he shrugs. “My dad’s a fuck-up who basically can’t do anything to help her. She still talks to my uncle though and…I don’t know. She was talking about selling the house anyway.”

Jake sneaks a quick glance at Charlie. “Really?”

Charlie tries to keep his face neutral but his voice betrays him, cracking a little as he says, “Yeah. She’s getting older and living this far out without a way to drive into town by herself is a pain. I get it.”

Jake nods his understanding, flipping on his left turn signal to take them down another narrow road. Fewer houses are out this way, many are run-down single level homes that were built decades ago, hidden by trees and overgrown yards. They drive through a bit more slowly to avoid hitting any creature that wanders its way onto the road in the dark.

“What would you do if she does decide to sell?” Jake flips on his high-beams, flooding the dark and overgrown road with light.

“Fuck if I know. Leave, I guess. Go somewhere better for homeless people.”

“Fair. I hear the other coast will at least set you up with a temporary tiny home while you look for work. Somewhere out there is testing a basic income too.”

“Yeah, better than here.”

Silence again. They pass by a manufactured house whose siding has seen better days. Several car frames sit out front, rusting away, home to some forest creature by now. Charlie swears he can see a small beady pair of eyes peeking out at them from the frame of an old mini-van.

Jake takes a right down a long dirt driveway. Finally, the home stretch.

The truck’s shock absorbers squeak as they bounce over the bumps. “What about helping with another greenhouse project?”

Charlie looks over at Jake and tilts his head, his eyebrows drawing together in confusion. “Like, here?”

“No, just outside the city.”

“Wait, for real?”

A slow smile spreads across Jake’s face and for a second Charlie thinks he’s pulling a joke on him. “Yeah, for real. Paolo got pitched to lead another revitalization project out there and he was thinking of sending us out to supervise it.”

Excitement breaks out over Charlie’s face as he punches the seat below him. “Hell yeah! I’m in!”

Jake laughs and begins to slow the truck down as they come upon the house. “Don’t get ahead of yourself yet. It’s not set in stone.”

“Sure, sure. Still, this is awesome!”

The truck comes to a stop just shy of the front porch. Jake flips off the headlights. “Seriously, Charlie, we need to keep this under wraps for awhile yet.”

“Does anyone else know?”

“No, it’s just the three of us right now. Paolo’s got to work out the details, but he wants us to go out and survey the new site soon.”


He looks over at the little blue house in the woods. As always, grandma’s left the porch light on for him and through the thin curtains that cover the windows, Charlie can tell she’s still up watching TV. Probably working on something, if he had to guess, despite the arthritis in her hands.

“How long would we be gone for?”

Jake shrugs and puts the truck in park. “Dunno. The goal is to get it up and running, then have one of the two of us stay with it for awhile afterwards. Eventually we’d hand it off to the community.”

Charlie nods, for once actually considering the weight of the responsibility. “So, years, probably?”


“What about after that?” The question seems to take Jake by surprise. He turns to look at Charlie before shaking his head and shrugging.

“No idea, but be patient, dude. That’s too far out for any of us to know anything.”

Charlie nods. “Alright, alright. I just don’t want to be stranded out there without any way to make money.”

Jake pats his shoulder, smiling at him and chuckling a bit. “I get ya. You need to learn to chill though.”

“You’re probably right.”

He hates admitting it, it feels like weakness. Charlie leans back in his seat and looks up at the trees towering above them. A breeze sways the upper boughs and sends a rain of evergreen needles down.

“Do you really think people will forget about this Will and Chris shit?” He asks softly, still watching the needles fall.

“Someone will always remember.” Jake replies. “The only person that matters is Will. If he forgives you, what does it matter what everyone else thinks?”

“I just don’t want them to hate me.”

“So what if they do?”

It’s a question Charlie hadn’t really considered before.

His parents hating him? That was fine, he hated them anyway for all the fighting and shit they put him through. He left because he couldn’t deal with them complaining about the other to him. Even if they hated him for it, it didn’t feel like it would follow him around for the rest of his life. He could just explain it and let it be done.

Others though? It felt as if he had a target on his back. Or some sort of mark that told people how awful of a friend he was. No simple explanation could easily erase it.

Charlie shrugs and sighs. “I don’t know. Like, with mom and dad it was easy; they already hated everything and everyone. But the rest of the greenhouse? They’re ok.”

“Yeah.” Jake lapses into silence for a moment, leaving Charlie to contemplate his feelings for a moment longer. “Maybe think about it like this: if they’re willing to hold on to hating you after Will says it’s all good, aren’t the kind of like your parents? Just hating everything and everyone?”

“I guess.”

“Think about it, I can’t tell you how to feel.”

Charlie nods and moves to open his door. “Thanks, dude.”

“No problem.”

“I’ll uh…I’ll keep my head down for awhile. Just let me know when Paolo is ready for us to get shit together?”

Jake nodes as Charlie opens the door, the cabin light coming on long enough for him to see the faint smile of pride on the other boy’s face. “Yeah, will do, dude. Take it easy. I’ll see ya in a couple days for the opening?”

“Definitely. See ya then.” He gives Jake a thumbs up before hopping out of the truck.

Though it isn’t far to the porch, Charlie takes each step as slowly as possible, kicking at the fallen evergreen needles as he goes. What Jake had to say runs over in his mind. Maybe it is best to just let the gossips fall on their own.

A breeze shakes more needles from the trees. He looks up at them as they fall, some clearly dried while others are green and fresh looking. It isn’t the needles that are falling that fascinates him, it’s the countless needles still attached that he focuses his attention on, all clumped together like good friends.

Maybe, he thinks, that’s what it’s like to have friends. There will always be those clinging together against forces that would try to shake them loose.

For a second he stands on the porch and listens to the wind moving through the upper boughs. It’s soothing, something he had never appreciated before. Maybe because he had never been quiet long enough to notice.

Eventually, the muffled sounds of grandma’s show reaches his ears as it takes a turn for the dramatic.

He sighs and turns to open the screen door. “You can do this, Charlie,” he whispers to himself before going inside.


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