Originator – Part 2

Thunder rumbles in the distance and Paolo sighs.

From the other room, Charlie calls out, “Hey. Jake says a storm is coming. He’s on his way.”

Paolo looks up from his monitor and nods, now intent on finishing all the emails in the inbox. Storms always have the potential to take the power out. Best to try before it arrives.

He quickly reviews the progress newsletter for the investors. Pictures of a busy community garden and of the group adding new glass panels to the greenhouse paint a picture of a thriving and growing community center. Hopefully it’ll help convince the investors to keep giving them money, especially after how much they spent for those glass panels.

He hesitates for a moment, silently asking his ancestors for their support, and hits send.

Over the sound of the skylight motor whirring he hears another roll of thunder. Closer this time, he thinks.

Three more emails to go. Two look like spam from a couple suppliers they bought from, letting them know about an upcoming sale on mulch and fertilizer. Easy ones to discard into the trash folder.

It’s the third one that gives him some pause. Already from the preview he can tell something is off.

FROM: Greenspace Initiative Fund

TO: Santi Rodriguez; Greenhouse Museum Project

SUBJECT: RE: Additional Funding

Paolo’s eyebrows pull in together and he frowns slightly. He hadn’t remembered asking for additional funding from Greenspace. Nor did Santi say anything about reaching out to them for more.

Hey Santi!

The informality of the greeting is strange. In every correspondence he’s had with the fund, they’ve always addressed him formally and gotten right to business. He keeps reading, growing more confused.

We got your email the other day and had to think it over. You know we’d do anything to help you see this project through. We’re incredibly proud of you for taking on this mission and finally finding a cause you could really get into.

A nursery would be a great idea.

Paolo re-reads the sentence. He hadn’t told anyone but Santi that he wanted to turn the run-down fast food building on the plot into a nursery. It was a secret plan for a few years down the line, when they could turn a consistent profit and buy it with their own funds.

A nursery would be a great idea. We completely understand that you’d like to keep this as an anonymous donation, but we do think you ought to talk to Paolo about your plans. It’s best to not keep secrets from your partner and he needs to learn how to ask for help, something you’ve never had a problem with, haha!

His body goes cold. Hurt, confusion, sadness, and anger all mix in his chest until he isn’t sure what he feels.

We’ll talk about it more this weekend over dinner. Bring Paolo with you this time! We want to meet him too, you know!

There is no signature. No indication of who over at Greenspace sent the message.

The lights flicker and the thunder rolls through the quiet space like a giant’s footsteps, threatening to crush Paolo beneath its heel. He hears Jake throw open the front door and begin talking to Charlie. For a moment Paolo can only stare off at the far wall, his body unresponsive as he processes what he just read.

He watches as Jake shepherds Charlie off to close the rest of the skylights, the door slowly closing behind them. Santi, off to his left, continues to hurriedly type a post for one of their many social media accounts. A gentle tap tap of rain on the roof overlaps with the tap tap of the keyboard.

“Hey, Santi?” Paolo feels bad about interrupting but his mouth moves on its own. “Could you take a look at this?”


No hesitation. Santi comes over behind Paolo and leans over to get a good look at the screen. Normally it would feel comforting to have him so close. At the moment it feels oppressive.

Paolo turns to watch his face as he reads. Immediately Santi’s face seems to drain of color before a profuse pink, bordering on red, flushes across his cheeks.

“Shit.” Is all he says.

Paolo stares at him, unsure what to say or do. The confusing morass of emotions swirls again, compelling him to speech. “Care to explain?”

Santi’s mouth opens to speak, then shuts again. He paces back to his chair instead and stares at the laptop screen. Paolo swears he can hear the gears in his head turning, trying to formulate a good excuse.

Neither speak as the sound of the rain on the roof begins to pick up.

“I just want what’s best for the project.” Santi finally says, though he never turns to look at Paolo. “I wanted it to be a surprise, something special just for you, because I know you’d never ask for the money.”

“We agreed we’d wait until the greenhouse was profitable to do this.”

“I just…” he hesitates, turning to Paolo. “If you had the money, you’d build the nursery, right?”

Paolo frowns and crosses his arms against his chest. “That isn’t the point. You went behind my back, over my head, and into the woods without me. I thought we were a team.”

“We are! Just…”

“Just what? Just thought I needed the help? The charity?”

“No! I just want this project to be a success as much as you do!”

Paolo can only shake his head, disappointment temporarily in charge. “How long have you been asking them for money?”

Santi’s face turns white and he freezes, staring at Paolo with large eyes. Caught.

“Please don’t get angry…” Santi tries to ease the situation but Paolo cuts him off.

“It’s too late, I’m already mad.”

Another rumble and now the sound of water hitting pavement joins it. The door to the community garden opens again. Charlie swears.

Paolo sighs and gets up from his chair to go investigate the damage. As he does, he shuts down the computer he’d been working at, just in case.

“Explain it to me tonight. There better be a good reason you did this beyond the good of the project.”

He walks off, leaving Santi to his thoughts. The chaotic emotions wont let up but he throws himself into the cleanup as a distraction. It’s easier than accepting his partner, in business and in love, would go behind his back for money.

Paolo looks down at the candle on the table between them. It flickers and dances in the breeze generated by the ceiling fan overhead. He sighs as he leans back into his chair, the force of his exhale nearly enough to blow the candle out.

“How long have you been asking them for extra money?” He asks, still unsure if he wants to know the answer or not.

Santi’s eyes never seem to focus on him. Instead, he looks past Paolo towards the window behind him, watching the rain streak down it. Though the thunder had ceased, the rain persisted.

“There’s something I haven’t told you.” Santi quietly says, finally shifting his attention away from the window. “Promise not to get mad?”

Paolo takes a deep breath and lets it out as a sigh. “I’m listening but I can’t promise anything.”

Santi rubs at the back of his neck. “I uh…I don’t know how to say this. I’ve never had to before.” He sighs and his arm uselessly falls to his side. “My family runs Greenspace Initiative.”

The words register but Paolo can’t seem to find a coherent thought. His mouth opens, trying to produce some sort of acknowledgment of what Santi said. Nothing happens. He shuts it again.

A sheepish, hesitating, smile comes to Santi’s face. It would’ve been cute under any other circumstances. “Are you mad?” His voice matches the hesitation on his face.

Still unable to process the news, Paolo stands and walks over to the couch a few feet away. He doesn’t know why, he just stares at the rich brown upholstered arm.

“When I graduated,” Paolo’s mouth starts before he even has a chance to realize what he’s saying, “I took a job at the cannabis farm outside of town because it was the only thing I felt like I could do. I couldn’t afford college. None of us could. Every day, Jake and I would pass the mall lot on our way out. We’d talk about how it was one of the few places we could go as kids, how sad it was to see it run down.”

A strong wind blows the rain against the window. For a second the sound of the fan motor falters before it continues humming along.

“I could barely afford to rent this place,” Paolo continues, finally turning around to look at Santi. “Still, I told him that there had to be something we could do to save the mall. I had zero fucking idea what I was talking about. But planning it and learning everything I needed to know made me feel like I finally had a purpose. Could finally maybe do something worthwhile.”

Santi says nothing and something about that begins to eat at Paolo. He taps is fingers on the arm of the couch before he starts pacing the short distance between the front door and the kitchen. With each footfall he find himself more annoyed that some rich kid could just barge in and take over.

“Did you just take pity on me? Was that why I got that email that day? You saw me not get any attention at that conference and you just called up your parents to get them to sign a check?”

Santi to throws his hands up as if he’d been caught. “It wasn’t like that. Yes, I had asked them, but I had done that long before I met you.”

“So, you just took pity on me?”

“No. Honestly. What I told you that day was true.”

Paolo thinks back for a moment. “All the other ideas weren’t actionable?”

“Right. Growing up around that space, I know which proposals are just bullshit self-serving projects. So many of these things pop up, get a bunch of money, which they then really just funnel into some other project two years later.”

“Isn’t that illegal?”

“It’s in a weird gray zone. So long as they’re paying back investors, no one cares.”

“So really our project was just low risk enough, and I was naive enough, to be worth investing in. Because it wasn’t like I was just going to use the money on another plan. I only had one to begin with anyway.”

“On the one hand, yeah, as an investor you’re really medium risk. You have no history, so you could’ve just as easily run off with the money.”

“Is that why you decided to date me too?”

Santi’s mouth hangs open for a moment. A part of Paolo feels triumphant that the usually quick-talking boy has nothing to say. The other part of him feels sick to his stomach.

“No.” Is all Santi can say, his body slumping back into his chair. “How could you think that?”

Paolo turns his back to Santi and delicately sits on the arm of the couch. With nothing but a blank wall before him, he starts asking himself the same question. Only a few hours ago he had been blissfully unaware, yet all his dreams had come true.

The friends he was closest to were supporting him, and in turn he was giving them a sense of meaning to their lives. Nothing was perfect, sure, but it felt like they were just starting to get somewhere. Real change and progress had finally come to town.

And he thought Santi, with his level-head and tender spots, was there to help it all happen. Not pull the strings and get his parents to finance away their troubles.

“I don’t know.” Paolo finally says, sighing again. “I just need time to think.”

“Are we…breaking up?” That hint of hesitation finds its way back into Santi’s voice, Paolo closes his eyes as if it’ll stop him from hearing it.

“I don’t know.” He repeats, getting up from the couch. “I know it’s raining, but please, leave. I just want to be alone right now.”

Santi doesn’t try to press his luck. He walks over to the door and grabs his jacket from the wall-mounted coat rack hanging nearby.

“I wasn’t trying to hurt or betray you by asking.” Santi’s voice is soft, it almost makes Paolo furious how gentle he’s being. “I really do want this project to succeed, with or without me in the picture. I should have told you sooner. I’m sorry I didn’t. I was too scared you’d feel like this.”

Paolo says nothing in return. He opens the door for Santi and a rush of cold evening air blows through the room. The candle on the table goes out.

“Let me know when you want to talk again.” With that, Santi slips out the door, Paolo closing it firmly behind him.

With barely any light left in the apartment, Paolo sits and watches out the small kitchen window as Santi’s headlights flood the side of the building. Just over the sound of the rain he can hear as his tires crunch the gravel of the parking lot. He pulls out onto the empty county road and heads off towards the city, leaving Paolo behind in the dark.


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