The Difficulty of Growing Up

Chapter 10

The ride was quiet. Carl and Blake exchanged looks every now and then leaving Hoodsey on the side just gazing out the window. Hoodsey was in his own world thinking about his latest conversation with Ms. Lightfoot, no doubt. Carl was at war with himself about what had happened before his best friend's sudden arrival, and Blake was making a mental note about how he could transfer his most recent feelings onto an empty canvas that was waiting for him in his tree house. Carl was the first to break the silence by clearing his throat half way to their destination. Blake gave him a small smile, the same one he offered Carl a moment before the kiss that made him a wreck in the first place. Carl thought for a few seconds and shot him a smirk, making Blake flush a delicate pink almost instantly. Carl took a little pride in that at least. Why he enjoyed making Blake feel a little uncomfortable was unknown to Carl. He just did since he blushes so easily around him. It has always been that way between them. It was sort of like a favorite past time of his but now he could even enjoy the fact that seeing Blake slightly embarrassed was kind of adorable and Carl Foutley doesn't usually use that word lightly. He gazed out the window and frowned a little at himself. As usual his mind was racing a hundred miles per second and he couldn't stop it even if he tried. Sure, he put this on himself but it was against his will. It was the only way to help Blake understand himself and have him feel comfortable in his own skin. It's not like he wanted to put a screeching halt on their relationship. He was quite content in it once they got past the little problem for all of three seconds.

When they finally arrived, Blake quickly let his two friends into the house, halting one of the staff members to go retrieve his father so he could get the introductions out of the way right quick so they could continue hanging out. In a matter of two minutes, a tall, dark-haired man strolled into the foyer with a small smile directed towards Blake.

"Ah, Father." Blake greeted. "How are you doing today?"

"I am doing very well, son." Mr. Gripling said before glancing happily at the pair behind Blake. "Who are these fine gentlemen?"

"These are my friends, Father." Blake said turning around to face them. Carl and Hoodsey smiled at the poised adult before them. "Allow me to introduce you... This here is Carl Foutley..." Blake said directing a hand towards Carl's direction momentarily before directing it towards Hoodsey. "And this is Robert Bishop."

"Very nice to finally meet your acquaintance, Mr. Gripling." Carl said holding a hand out politely.

"Nice to meet you, Mr. Gripling." Hoodsey said awkwardly.

"The pleasure is mine, Boys. Please call me Prescott, Mr. Gripling is my Father." Prescott said with a low chuckle before firmly shaking Carl's outstretched hand. Blake rolled his eyes at his father's joke as he stood behind him, hands behind his back. "It is very nice to finally meet Blake's friends as I have heard so much about you both."

"We can say the same, Sir." Hoodsey said politely before shaking his hand as well.

"I won't keep you boys away from your socializing activities." Prescott said stepping to the side with a pleasant smile. "I would like to extend an invitation to dinner, however."

"That would be great, Prescott. Thank you!" Carl said happily, He never had dinner at with the Griplings before.

"Thank you!" Hoodsey echoed.

"No problem at all, Boys. We shall call you down when the meal is expected to be dispersed. Casual attire, of course."

"Thank you, Father." Blake said dismissively before heading up the staircase with Carl and Hoodsey following him closely. As they turned down the second floor corridor, Courtney's high pitched giggle could be heard beyond her closed bedroom door. She was probably on the phone since no secondary voices could be heard. As they walked into Blake's room, a warm fire greeted them. As Carl sprawled out on the sofa with his eyes closed, He silently took in the warmth as if it solved all his problems. His mind was empty. He cared about nothing. Blake sat on his large bed watching Carl as if he had morphed into the wallpaper, not noticed. He was reminded of the many times Carl was in his room in that same spot. He felt his face grow warm at the memories, which he pushed to the back of his mind before turning his attention on his other friend, Hoodsey, who was in front of the fireplace looking at the model boats on display on the mantel.

"You know what I have always wanted to ask?" Hoodsey said breaking the silence. He looked at Blake who shrugged, half paying attention. "How many model boats do you have? I see them everywhere."

"Let's see here... I believe I have about.. Twenty model boats, give or take a few." Blake answered slowly as he pondered. "I am currently working on a few more in my tree house."

Hoodsey let out a descending whistle at the information. "I knew you had a lot but twenty? Wow."

"Yeah, I know.. I do have a lot of time on my hands. I got to do something with it."

"It's a good hobby." Carl said easily.

"Your dad is really nice, Blake." Hoodsey said as he sat down on the floor in front of the fire. Blake just let out a meaningless 'mm-hmm' in response. Nice was hardly the case but he didn't expect even his best friends to understand. Sure he liked his father well enough but he can't really say that he loves him or anything. Blake looked back into his short childhood for a moment... Blake couldn't really remember his father doing anything with him except for summer trips when he was able to. He was always just a speaker phone to him since that was his daily contact during dinner at the times he was away. Blake always had Winston to look after him like a father figure. He couldn't really recognize his face up until two years before the arrest was made, when he was given a framed photo of his parents actually together. All he knew was his father had high standards for him if he was going to 'follow in his footsteps' as he jokingly put it. It wasn't until last month his father showed any kind of interest in his life at all...

While Blake was in his own world, Carl noticed the instant silence and he dared to glance over at the boy a few feet away from him. He looked awfully pensive with his slender fingers lightly balled up softly pressing onto his lips, just staring at a particular spot on the carpeted floor. After a while, he exchanged questioning looks with Hoodsey before trying to get his attention back to the present.

"Hey Blake." Carl said with no reaction from the silent blonde, He got up from his comfortable position and walked over to him. "Blaaaake... Woohoo, Earth to Gripling!" He waved a hand in front of Blake's line of vision. Blake got startled alright, He even let out a surprised gasp before glaring up at the source of this distraction.

"Honestly, Carl, that wasn't at all necessary..." Blake said as he straightened himself up. Carl rolled his eyes at him with a short chuckle before sitting on the couch where he originally was. Blake played with the hem of his black turtleneck trying not to go back to his thought process. He never zoned out that bad before. Especially if he had company. How odd of him…

"Well, you never check out like that before." Carl shrugged. "What's eatin ya anyway? You were more than fine before we came over but now you're all quiet."

"Does something have to be on my mind when I zone out like you do every so often?" Blake retorted as he rolled his eyes. Carl and Hoodsey exchanged looks once more before saying in unison, "Duh-uh!" Blake just frowned at his two friends.

"That's a tell-tale sign that you are obviously distracted by something!" Carl said matter of factually.

"That's why Carl zones out all the time. He is always distracted by something." Hoodsey added.

"Well, I am not thinking about anything in particular." Blake huffed before standing up and walking over to his closet. "Let's play a game." He opened his closet door and shifted through all the board games on the top shelf. "How does... a rousing game of Monopoly sound, Gents?"

"Nah, Carl goes agro really easily with that game.." Hoodsey noted. Carl just shrugged.

"Hmm.. Well then.. How about Yahtzee? It is just a game with dice after all."

"Fine with me." Carl said in an aloof tone. Blake glared at his sudden coldness. He hasn't been this way since before the signing. Suppose he is back to his old self then. Blake mentally hardened his composure as he pulled the game box out and started setting it up on the coffee table. After about an hour passed, Blake and Carl were tied both had won two games each. Hoodsey took himself out of the game cycle after a round just as he looked at his watch. He shook his head at the two in front of him as they flung around their normal game talk as Carl set up for another round, Winner takes all. In the middle of the game, there was a sudden buzz ringing through the room. Blake sighed and went over the intercom on the wall. He pressed a button, "Yes?"

"Please Excuse the interruption, Master Blake. But I was told to inform you that dinner is to be ready shortly." a female voice rang and echoed the room.

"Thank you very much for notifying me, Carmen. We will be down in a minute." Blake said dismissively.

"Certainly, Sir." The voice said before the intercom clicked off.

"I suppose this game is to be continued after dinner." Blake announced.

"Right you are, Blakey-boy. Count on losing." Carl said as he stood up and stretched out.

"I most certainly won't, Foutley." Blake said as he opened the door, leading the way to the staircase down the corridor.

"Ugh, Dinner! Finally!" Hoodsey said happily. "Great, I'm starving!"

The trio walked down the staircase and took a left turn into another room away from the foyer. This room had a giant oak table with matching chairs all around it. The entire Gripling family were seated and chatting amongst themselves. Courtney smiled pleasantly as Blake and his friends sat themselves at the table.

"Well now, Blake, You're not the one to usually have dinner guests." Courtney said lightly with a small tinkling laugh. Blake rolled his eyes in dismay. "Why, Your Ginger's little brother are you not? I have seen you around Ginger's house before."

"I am and I do in fact live there with Ginger, Courtney." Carl said politely as he folded his hands out in front of him. "This here is Hoodsey. Also known as Robert Joseph."

"Ah, yes the hooded one that also hangs around the Foutley household." Courtney said with an oblivious smile. "Well it's nice to meet you. Officially, of course." Courtney winked over at Carl accompanied by that light laugh again. Carl just raised an eyebrow at her.

"Do you by any chance have something in your eye?" Carl asked with false interest.

Courtney laughed once more at the question. "Oh, you are funny!" She said. "Well done, Blake. I like him and I approve!"

"It's nice to know that I have your approval of my friends, Courtney." Blake muttered blandly.

"Uh, Uh. Blake." His Mother said loudly. "You know we don't mutter. We Griplings say what we feel or nothing at all! Muttering is so... common and uncharacteristic."

"I am sorry, Muma." Blake said loudly. Hoodsey let out a quick snicker before getting elbowed by Carl. Blake shot Hoodsey a quick glare before straightening himself out again.

"It's quite alright, dear. No need to apologize, Just remember: Speak, Don't grumble or mutter or anything of that sort. You have a beautiful voice, Blake. Let it be heard."

"Your mother is quite right, Son." His father added full-heartedly. Blake gave a small false smile to both his parents before lifting his gaze towards the high ceiling, his face almost saying 'why me?'. Carl tried to pretend not to hear any of that conversation.

"Now Carl, Please tell me you’re planning on doing something with that hair of yours." Courtney stated politely. Carl shifted his gaze back and forth before looking at her straight in the eyes, she was serious. He wanted nothing more than to laugh at her but he held it back.

"I don't understand what you’re talking about." Carl said lightly with a fit of laughter residing in the back of his throat.

"Oh If you are, in fact, going to be with my broth-"

"Courtney!" Blake interrupted loudly.

"I'm just saying! You’re going to have to do something with that hair. I'm thinking highlights not too heavy, Dark red. Yes that would do wonderfully. Maybe some layers." She finished, eying his hair from across the table. "Do you have any hobbies, Carl?"

"Uh.. So Blake, How about that essay on Hamlet, huh?" Carl asked lightly trying to change the subject. Blake was trying to hide his face with his hand.

"Yes Hamlet.. Rather interesting, indeed." Blake said nicely even though he had an almost crazed expression on his face. Hoodsey was just watching the whole scene happen before him like a comedy show on TV.

"Oh Hamlet, That's rather exciting, I'll say!" Prescott piped up. "That would be one of my personal favorites. Would you by any chance need any help on that essay, son?"

"No, Father. It's all finished. Thank you for the offer anyway." Blake said politely.

"Any time, any time." Prescott said nicely. Blake was certain that Carl was uncomfortable especially with Courtney's interrogation. Hoodsey was just amused at the sight in front of him.

"Please do tell me about yourself!" Courtney said to Carl as the food came out of the kitchen. "I am especially interested in you."

"Um.. Classified, I’m afraid." Carl said as a plate full of hot, steaming food was set in front of him.

"Ooh, Secretive... I like!" Courtney said in pure interest. "Very mysterious. You know, you don't see that around here at all. How.. not boring! I like very much..."

"Thanks..?" Carl said as he dug into his meal.

"OooH Blake! How is it that I only get the boring guys!? It's like Hello! Your predictability is downright killing me! Do something! What is it about this town that makes everyone so boring?"

"And I care, why?" Blake said idly.

"Just so you know. I’m so jealous.." She said obviously not hearing Blake at all. Carl felt a rush of heat make its way to his face in near embarrassment. No wonder why Blake thinks she knows about Carl. Because she actually does. How does his parents not see this? Blake just silently shook his head at his plate as he politely ate his meal. "I now understand why you are such a hot ticket around your school, Carl. Every time I pass the junior high, I hear your name come up a lot." Carl just arched an eyebrow at that sliver of information. He didn't understand what she was talking about. Unless she was talking about the one group of girls that hang around the flag pole in the afternoons. They were crazy about him for some unknown reason. Not that he was going to complain. At least they weren't shoving him into janitor closets. Just leave them alone and they leave you alone.. for the most part. Blake loosened up a little after everyone had fallen quiet as they finished their meals. Once dessert came along, every one chatted happily about nonsense things like current events and Paris. Courtney lost interest in Carl for a little while and before she could talk to him once more, Blake pulled him and Hoodsey back upstairs to finish their game. He had to wiggle out of family quiet time in the library in order to do it but he succeeded none the less. He sighed of relief when the door was closed.

"Well dinner was interesting, Blake." Hoodsey said with a small smile.

"How do your parents not catch on what your sister is saying?" Carl asked.

"Oh they are completely oblivious when it comes to their children." Blake said with a wave of his hand.

"Your sister is a total riot, I’m not going to lie." Carl said with a quick nervous laugh. "I had to stop myself from laughing at her sometimes.. And what is wrong with my hair? It suits me perfectly fine."

Hoodsey laughed and Blake just shook his head. "I was sure you would have gotten scared off with her questioning. I told you, she knows. I don't know how but she does."

"I don't get scared off easily. You know that. She is just blunt and it is hilarious, by the way." Carl said as he took his seat on the couch. "Let's finish this game before we have to leave. I have a craving to whoop your butt in Yahtzee, Gripling."

"I will make you eat those words, Foutley." Blake said haughtily as he took his turn with the dice.

"Bring it on." Carl countered as the dice flew out of the cup and on to the table.

The game persisted on excitedly for the last half hour until at the end of the last round, they counted up their scores and observed them side by side. "Ha! And may I add Ha! Foutley. I win. Naturally, of course."

"Whatever, Gripling. Enjoy it because I call a replay this weekend." Carl said as he stood up and walked to the door.

"Alright, that is fine with me. I don't mind embarrassing you once more. What game do you have in mind?"

Carl thought for a second, if he is picking the game then he will pick the one he rules at. "Video game, Corrupt Battle Group two. My house. Saturday. Bring your notebook and pencil, Gripling, because I'm going to school you so hard." Carl taunted before letting himself out of his room with Hoodsey right behind him. Blake huffed as the door closed behind the two of them, leaving him alone in his room.

"Yeah well, Good night to you too." Blake said to himself sarcastically. Carl seemed to definitely gone back to his old self again.

Carl and Hoodsey walked off side by side with the sun almost completely set. They were quiet because nothing was really needed to be said. Carl just shoved his hands into his pockets and looked a head.

"I know this break up thing isn't ideal, Carl. But just tough it out for the time being. Maybe you could work on some issues as well." Hoodsey said out of the blue.

"I like myself enough. I take pride in myself. What do you think I need work on?" Carl asked.

"I think you need to just do some soul searching, you know. You can't know everything about yourself yet. You’re just figuring out who you are." Hoodsey said simply.

"I suppose I could.. no harm in it, I guess.. I do need a hobby or something to take my mind off this. I think I’m taking it a little harder than he is. What do you think? I just feel so scrambled and out of order."

"I think... Everyone has their own way of handling these types of things. His is just.. odd.."

They quickly came up to the Foutley household. "See you tomorrow, Carl. I gotta head home before my mom sends a search party."

"Later. And thanks for the advice, Hoods." Carl said before turning into his property. He entered his house and sat himself in the living room where Ginger was reading alone.

"Hey, where's Momster and Dave?" Carl asked. Ginger looked up from her studies and gave him a small smile.

"It's date night apparently." Ginger answered. "Where have you been all day?"

"Gripling's. I met his father. The infamous Prescott Gripling."

"Wow.. That's.. uh.. definitely taking a dive there." Ginger said clearly confused.

"Nope. Just a friend meeting another friend's parents. Totally. Platonic."

Ginger dropped her jaw slightly in shock. "Is.. Is everything okay?"

"No, not really. We are back to being just friends. He has some stuff to take care of before continuing." Carl said easily. "Did you by any chance mention any of this to Courtney?"

"No, I don't have any reason to do that. Why?"

"Courtney likes me. I'm funny. And Blake did well getting me apparently." Carl smiled in amusement as he remembered the bizarre dinner he had just survived. "I'm mysterious AND I have the Courtney Gripling gold seal of approval."

Ginger laughed, "She said that? In front of her parents?"

"Yeah, it’s funny. They were totally non-existent unless they either can relate to the topic or they see something they need to correct. They didn't notice anything. The dinner was total madness. I thought Blake was going to actually strangle his sister because she wouldn't shut up."

"Wow. Just wow." Ginger said shaking her head at the explanation.

"My thoughts exactly." Carl said as he stood up. "I'm turning in for the night."

"Okay, just if you need to talk... I'm always here." Ginger said as he turned away towards the staircase.

"Thanks, Sis." He called as he climbed the stairs quickly. He turned towards his bedroom and locked himself in. He plopped face down on his bed right away. He mentally killed all the feelings of being lost and confused. It was just a slip up and it won't happen again. He was going to make sure of it. He wasn't going to let this get to him at all. From now on, he was good old Carl Foutley...

As Hoodsey walked into his house, he had braced himself for a verbal lashing from his mother like he always got when he was out past curfew. He didn’t brace himself for almost running into Macie Lightfoot at the door.

“Oh!” She squeaked in surprise as he barged in. “I guess you should be in a hurry, Hoodsey. Your mom was just looking out the kitchen window for you to show up.” She said as she laughed awkwardly at him. “Out past curfew.”

“I-uh-y-yeah…” He stammered in shock. “Are… um. You’re a-alright, yeah?” He could barely form words again.

She gave out a breathy laugh, “I’m fine. No worries. The question is are you okay? You seem a little breathless… Don’t tell me you ran here?”

“I…yeah.” Was all he could manage to get out. The reason he was breathless wasn’t because he ran. He was nervous and it was affecting him to a high degree.

“Maybe you should look into getting an inhaler. It really opens up the air passages. It would be horrible to discover you have asthma though. I would even wish that on an enemy.” She said with a bright smile as she took her car keys out from her backpack. “Well, I should get going. I hope Joanne goes easy on you tonight, Hoodsey.”

“Yeah.” He said as he felt his legs slowly turn to Jell-O. She smiled a little brighter before walking around him and out the front door. He gulped as his throat dried up as he watched her hop into her car.

“Robert?!” his mother yelled from the living room. “Close that door, young man and get over here.”

Hoodsey felt his senses return abruptly at the sound of his mother’s tone. Her yelling was more than sobering. He shut the open door and dragged himself into the living room where his parents were waiting.

Blake has been laying on top of his bed, staring at the ceiling for almost an hour now. It's been two since Carl and Hoodsey took their abrupt leave. He felt oddly depressed about the entire thing. Had the fact actually caught up with him? He was afraid so. He wished he was still riding the high from that kiss, that instant slip up that happened earlier. It almost numbed him and made the entire depressing event almost like it never happened. Blake sighed and slid himself off the bed and onto the floor, sitting against his bed frame. He curled his legs up to his chest and rested his chin on his knees. How can one go from being completely happy to deeply depressed in a matter of days?

There was a soft knock on his door, making him sigh in frustration. When he actually wanted to be alone, he couldn't have it.. No, heaven forbid him to have time to think.

"Away with you, whoever you are." Blake said sternly but against his wishes, the door opened anyway revealing a slightly concerned looking Courtney Gripling. Blake looked at her feeling fury build up inside him. She was the last person he wanted to see. "Do you not understand what 'go away' means?"

"Oh, I do." She said brightly, letting herself in and closing the door behind her. "But you don't need to be alone. I have an odd feeling that you need to talk to someone. I feel I should be that someone."

"I need no such thing." Blake replied as she sat herself easily on his nicely made bed, beside Blake. "Why is everyone so interested in me now? I demand to be left alone, I say!"

"Oh hush. No need to get your hair all in a knot. Now tell sissy what is wrong." She demanded softly, placing a freshly manicured hand on his shoulder. Blake just glared up at her from the floor. "Is it that Carl character?"

Blake huffed loudly at the question. "Stop asking about him! Or me! It is none of your concern."

She cocked her head to the side, gazing down at him. "Of course it's within my concerns. You are my baby brother. I worry. Especially if you are as distressed as you seem."

"Why are you so set in the silly thought that Carl and I .. are.. well .. Together?" Blake asked suddenly and uneasily. Courtney just smiled down at him before getting up and sitting down on the floor next to him.

"That's a silly question to ask." She started lightly as she tucked a strand of her blonde hair behind her left ear. "It's because you, in fact, are together.. are you not?"

Blake thought for a second feeling his heart take a deep plunge into nothingness. "No. We are not. How did you come up with such a thing?"

Courtney's eyes grew sad, genuinely. "The answer is so very simple... I know the way you look at him, I know that look very well.. And you have been so happy this past month or so, and I know it's not because Papa is home. Call it sister's intuition. It was very nice to see for once... What happened, Blake?"

Blake furrowed his eyebrows at her. Was she telling the truth? She is notorious for lying.. He decided to give her the benefit of the doubt. "I have some self-esteem issues to work on before we can be together once more.." He muttered.

Courtney's eyebrows shot up in surprise, "Oh dear, is that all?.. Well I could help you with that. I never knew you had low self-esteem, Blake."

"I regret to inform you that you don't really know much about me anyway, Courtney." Blake said numbly. Courtney just rolled her eyes at him.

"Oh, I am so used to you saying that. It doesn't even hurt anymore." She said in a smart tone. "I'll help you... But you must actually work on it and do as I say." Blake cringed slightly at that thought. She might make him a slave like she did when he was between the ages of five and seven years. When Courtney usually tells you to do what she says that's usually the case. "Oh come now, It won't be anything bad. The first thing you should do is grab a notebook and list the things you like about yourself... Like for example, I like my flowing, glossy hair.., my flawless complexion, and my canny ability to read people like open books... You just focus on that for a week or so and report back once you have it all figured out. It would be a good start."

Courtney seemed to have gotten better with her advice through the past year or so. That wasn't such a bad idea. Blake eased up a little. "Okay.. I suppose I could.."

"Good!" she exclaimed excitedly. "I look forward to this. I think it would be a good start to bonding like actual siblings do! I am so excited, you don't even know."

"You.. are correct. I don't..." Blake said indefinitely. "...You're not going to bring this little fact to our parents’ attention, are you?"

"I would never do such a thing to you, it's not like you can control that type of thing." Courtney said seriously.

"Okay... That's definitely a relief to know..." Blake sighed easily.

"Blake, It is up to you when or if you tell Muma and Papa about.. this.. I can however, provide support for you when you need it... I am your older sister, I'm supposed to help you through tough times like this." For the first time in a while, Blake felt something like love for his sister. She was actually trying with him.

"Thank you, Courtney. I don't mean to sound harsh in anyway but now that you have met your apparent goal for tonight, I shall bid you a good night, dear sister. School in the morning and it is nearly midnight." She smiled at him and pat his hair down before getting up from the floor.

"Sweet dreams!" She said brightly before letting herself out of his room. He sighed of relief once the door was securely shut and he mindlessly fixed his hair from its assault before retracting back to his thoughts.

Suppose time alone would be good.. It didn't sound good but maybe it would put things into a sharper perspective. He hoped for that type of outcome and he also hoped this wouldn't last that long. He didn't want Carl to lose interest... But putting Carl to the side for a second.. Would he, himself, lose interest? That was certainly thought provoking, indeed. He doesn't know how that would be since he had already tried that and he failed miserably but since puberty is close to hitting him at full swing soon, the event might happen. His tastes could indeed change. That would be unfortunate. He just got what he wanted and he enjoyed it immensely so he just really couldn't see that happening. Carl was the true definition of how a guy should treat him... Well, he was up until today at least. Carl was a strange one.. But that's what Blake loves about him. You just simply cannot find another like him. He was one of a kind. Not a dull moment with him at all and that is definitely saying something because Blake does have a bad way of getting bored really quickly. Carl has a way of keeping him on his toes majority of the time and for some reason that always appealed to Blake. He was this gleam of temptation he just could not have, but when he did have it he wanted more of it. He smirked to himself as he recalled the numerous times he made Carl forget an entire conversation with a simple stolen kiss. He felt powerful during those times. Completely addicting. Carl had the same power of course but he didn't overuse it at all. Another thing Blake liked about him. He shook his head softly as he awoke from his cognitive state. He really needed some rest, something told him it was going to be a rough day of school ahead. Blake quickly got ready for bed and passed out thinking of how he was to handle himself around Carl Foutley...

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