Rebuilder – Part 2

“Hold it right there.” Will commands, folding a scrap piece of cardboard quickly and shimmying it into place. “Ok, perfect. I think we got all the spacers right.”

From behind him, Aura’s clear alto voice calls out, “Looks even from here.”

“I’ll trust you on that. Hand me the caulk?”

Though he knows better, Jake can’t help himself but chuckle a little. Aura, however, takes the high road and hands Will the caulk gun already loaded with a fresh tube. Though the panels could easily be installed alone, he still finds himself grateful that the artist herself was available to supervise.

“These are going to look amazing on opening night.” Aura softly says as she watches Will begin to fill in the gaps with caulk. “I appreciate the time you’ve taken to make sure they get installed well.”

“Yeah, no problem.”

“How is your hand healing up?”

While the question is well meant, it still sends a ripple of anger through Will’s body. He squeezes a little too hard on the caulk gun trigger, sending a glob out of the tube and down the top of the panel. He quickly tries to wipe the excess away and smooth things out.

“Stitches are out,” he tries to say nonchalantly, waving his still bandaged hand in Aura’s direction. “Doctor still wants it bandaged over while I’m on site though.”

“No loss of function?”

“Nah, it wasn’t that deep.” Will climbs down the standing ladder, caulk gun hooked on a belt loop as he does.

He takes a step back, once on the ground, and admires the positioning of the panel. After years of seeing old and faded ‘Going Out of Business’ signs in the windows, the twin Tree of Life murals were a welcome sight. Some much needed color added to an otherwise boring space.

Will moves the ladder towards the other corner of the former front display window. Despite being nearly six feet tall himself, the top of his head barely manages to brush the bottom of the boughs of the design.

Climbing back to the top, he begins lining the other half of the panel. “This is a beautiful design.”

Aura blushes, her brown cheeks turning a light pink underneath, though Will is too focused to see. “Thank you. I hope it inspires everyone to feel connected to things again.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well,” Aura takes a breath as her voice shakes a little, “it’s a little awkward to talk about my inspiration.”

“Why? You made something really beautiful, you should be proud to talk about it.”

“I suppose.” Aura watches as he finishes off the top edge and begins filling in along the sides. “The Tree of Life is a symbol of connection between the over and underworlds. Of how things that seem dead are really connected to the process of living. And vice versa.”

“Kind of like this place.” Will offers as he slowly moves down the ladder, caulking in his wake.

“Exactly! It was a chance to take something that seemed dead and breathe life back into it.”

“How did you come up with it?”

“I didn’t, really. My mom used to tell me stories about it to help me get to sleep at night.” As Will moves to the floor to caulk along the bottom, Aura moves in to move the ladder out of his way.

Will gazes up at the complex root structure of the tree, following it as it twists into a trunk and then expands into the fruit laden branches overhead. For a moment he feels like he’s seeing it again for the first time. As if it really were a beacon of life being infused into what was once discarded.

“Your mom sounds like she had an active imagination.”

“They were tales from her tradition, I don’t really know much more than that.” She smiles softly at Will. The sun shines through the panes and seems to sparkle across her face. “Did your mother ever tell you stories like that?”

He shakes his head — and the sight of her smile — from his mind before returning to work. “Not really. Unless you count watching the different Pride and Prejudice adaptations as our traditional stories.”

“Can’t say that I do, but if it brings you comfort then I suppose that’s all that matters.”

The two lapse into silence as Will continues his work along the outside. It doesn’t take him long to meet up with the spot he first caulked, having become a pro at the process since he started working on the greenhouse. Within a matter of minutes he has everything sealed and smoothed.

With the help of the cardboard spacers, Will strategically lays tape across the panel to hold it in place overnight. “Hey, Jake,” he calls, “can you lock the doors and let people know to come in through the community garden? This needs to cure overnight.”

“No problem.” Jake drops the paperwork he had been reading over and latches the two front doors shut. “I’ll go make a sign real quick.”

As he finishes up taping the panels in place, Will takes one last step back and admires the work done so far. The matching panel on the other side catches the sunlight and sends a brilliant array of color across the floor; amber, green, and orange hues glowing softly. He tires to imagine the whole of the reception area sparkling with those same colors as people mill about enjoying themselves.

Gently, Aura taps his shoulder and he turns around quickly to face her. “What’s up?”

“I just wanted to say thank you for your help installing the panels.”

“Oh, yeah, no problem.”

“I um…” she hesitates a moment and looks down at the floor as a blush re-spreads across the tops of her cheeks. “I made you an apple pie. As thanks. It’s in the break room.”

Will looks at her, puzzled, but chooses to take it in stride. “Thanks.”

“If you…ever wanted to…come by and learn how I made the trees, I’d be happy to teach you.” The blush takes over her face as she says this, her voice dropping to near a whisper.

“No, that’s cool.” He can feel the disappointment emanating from her, but doesn’t understand why. “Thanks for the pie though.” The blush on her face drains away and her eyes look a little more misty than a moment ago.

“Yeah,” she whispers before clearing her throat and trying again. “Yeah, you’re welcome.”

“See you around?”

Aura nods and gathers up her bag from nearby. “Yeah, see you around. I better go get the van back to the rental place.”

With that, Aura heads out the door to the community garden with haste. Will watches after her, puzzled by her sudden change in mood and coming up short on answers.

He turns his attention back to the windows as Jake comes out from the office with a newly written sign. “Where’d Aura go?”

“To return the rental van. Seemed kinda upset about something.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah, offered to teach me how to make stained glass. Kinda weird.”

“Sounds like she was trying to ask you to hang out.” Will hands the roll of painters tape over to Jake to hold the sign in place.

“She made me a pie.” Will comments and frowns in confusion.

“I think she likes you, dude.”

Will scoffs, walking back some distance to take in the full effect of the front room. “Nah. She said it was a thanks for the help.”

Jake shakes his head at his friend’s obtuseness, briefly wondering how he ever found himself a girlfriend in the first place. “If you say so.”

Will gives his curly hair a tousle with the towel, rubbing it vigorously in an effort to dry it out. For a moment he lets his head hang with the towel covering it. Something about the weight of the cloth hanging over him feels comforting, enveloping. Consuming.

The urge to cry comes over him again but the tears just wont come.

He throws the towel off of him and stands, cold and dripping, on the bath mat. The feeling passes. He looks at the towel as if it is to blame for bringing on the sudden urge.

Shaking his head, he picks the towel back up and finishes the process of drying off.

From the other room, he hears his cellphone chime with an incoming text message. He once again abandons the towel on the floor. For a brief moment his heart flutters hoping the message is from her.

His heart drops when he sees the message is just from Jake.


Headed over. Charlie too. He has something to say.

Sent 18:48

“Fuck Charlie.” Will whispers towards the phone as he dashes off a quick reply.

He tosses the phone to the bed and falls on top of the duvet next to it. This wouldn’t have happened if Charlie hadn’t opened his mouth.

He’d still be with her. They could’ve been married. Could be spending the approaching autumn days cuddled by bonfires. So many possibilities.

The phone chimes again. The alert shows him the message on the lock screen.


Be there in 5

Will groans loudly but drags himself out of bed and into the closet. He blindly grabs a t-shirt, boxers, and sweatpants to throw on.

Once again, he grabs up his phone and replies.


Door is unlocked

Sent 18:53

He’s barely out of the bedroom when he hears Jake’s truck approaching. Will collapses onto his favorite spot on the couch in the living room.

The truck doors slam shut and Will can hear two pairs of feet making their way to the porch. He takes a deep breath as the door handle turns, trying to steady his growing agitation at the situation. If Charlie just hadn’t opened his damn mouth, had just listened for two minutes, then everything would be different.

Jake is the first through the door. Charlie hovers in the doorway, something hidden behind his back.

Will tries not to let his irritation out, but it finds its way into his tone anyway. “What do you want?”

Charlie looks at him through narrowing eyes. For a second it looks like he’s about to throw whatever is behind his back. The muscles in his arms and jaw tense, then just as suddenly relax. A strange response for someone usually so hot-headed.

“He came to apologize.” Jake says for Charlie. He stands just to the side of the front door, seemingly ready to spring into action if things escalate.

The two disagreeing boys look at each other for a moment, weighing their responses. Will feels his lungs slowly fill with air, pausing as they reach fullness, and slowly releasing back out. Charlie closes his eyes and does the same.

“I’m sorry about what happened with Caroline and Chris. I shouldn’t have said what I did.”

Will’s fists clench and unclench as he holds back from saying anything he might regret. Taking his lack of response as a positive sign, Charlie continues.

“Things got out of control. I didn’t like Caroline much,” he instinctively flinches as he sees Will’s mouth begin to open, “and I like Chris less. That didn’t give me the right to say what I did.”

“Damn right.” Will crosses his arms against his chest. A part of him feels satisfied but another, less agreeable part still wants more from Charlie. “You didn’t have to be an asshole about it.”

Jake clears his throat before Charlie can say anything. “Dude, he’s trying to apologize. Chill.”

The disagreeable part of himself sulks, casting an almost comically childlike frown onto his face.

Finally, Charlie moves his hands from behind his back and holds up a rich forest green suit jacket. Instantly Will’s eyes travel the swirling damask pattern of vines and bursting flowers. It looks rich and heavy, something well outside any of their budgets, and looks like it came right out of one of his favorite romance films.

“I know how much you like those cheesy romance filcks, and I know they always have those scenes where the guy and girl make up at those fancy dances. So, I spent a little extra to make sure you could look extra for that moment.”

A blush breaks out across the bridge of Will’s nose. The thought of Caroline rushing into his arms, realizing how wrong she was to be with that asshole Chris, fills him with butterflies.

“I wasn’t planning on going.” He mutters, looking away from the offering. “It’ll just hurt.”

Charlie doesn’t accept this as an answer and marches over to toss the jacket on top of Will. As soon as his hands feel the fabric, the desire to wear it comes over him. “Look,” Charlie says, staring down at him, “even if you don’t go, could you just accept my apology?”

The frown returns to Will’s face. “You told Chris where we were. A jacket isn’t going to make it all better.”

“Fucks sake.” Charlie, clearly at his limit, paces back over to Jake who has begun to move into the room. “Told you it wasn’t going to work.”

Jake puts his hand out to stop Charlie from walking out the door before he turns his attention to Will. “Chris lied, Will. Charlie didn’t say shit.”

“Then how did he find us?”

Charlie rounds on him, throwing up his hands in frustration. “Because Caroline is a cheat.”

It registers all at once. Chris had called her that, in so many words, on the day he had found them. He thinks back to her promises to tell Chris, her promise that their relationship was open, and her promise that one day they wouldn’t have to sneak about anymore.

He knew then, and he knows now, that they were lies.

“She’s done this before.” Jake’s steady voice breaks through his thoughts, keeping him anchored to the moment. “You can ask Abi, she knows more than I do, but back in high school she cheated on Chris. It was a huge scene. Everyone in our class knew about it.”

“I believe you.” Dejected, Will slumps back into the couch. “I believe you. I just wanted to believe her more.”

The three boys let the statement hang in the air for a moment. Reality begins to set in and the daydreams Will tries to conjure up all suddenly seem very flat. As if the magic, the illusion of lies, has gone out of them.

“I’m such an idiot. I still want to be with her, even knowing that.”

Charlie shakes his head but says nothing, moving to close the front door that still hangs open. Jake places a consoling hand on Will’s shoulder. “Just give it time.”