The Difficulty of Growing Up

Chapter 11

The next morning, Carl had woke up from the strangest sleep he had encountered and yet he couldn't remember a lick of the dream that had passed him seconds ago. It just had the strangest feeling. He shook it from his head as he got himself ready for school. Since Blake's sister obviously knew about everything or at least she suspected it from the way she was talking to him last night anyway, Carl was going to unwillingly abide to Blake's wishes and start dating girls. As if it would change anything... He didn't know Courtney that well but from the things Ginger has told him, she is completely relentless. He said nothing during breakfast, it's not like he had much to talk about anyway. Everyone chatted normally around him though like normal. Ginger was putting some finishing touches on an essay that was probably due that morning. He was in no rush this morning and Hoodsey wouldn't mind if he was two minutes late. He really didn't want to be bothered with school today but if he skipped today than it would not go unnoticed... and Hoodsey would morally tear him a new one after school. He was very good at doing that. He always has been. Like he said in the past, Hoodsey was indeed his moral compass.

"Carl, You barely touched your bacon.. Don't tell me your going vegan again?" Lois asked as she picked up his plate.

"It was vegetarian. I do understand the confusion though... But no, I'm not. I'm just not that hungry this morning." Carl explained as he picked his stuff up by the back door and left the house with his usual, "Good day!" He hurriedly met up with Hoodsey down the street. "Sup?"

"Not much... Just.. I ran into Macie at my house last night." Hoodsey said with a small smile. "She was just leaving from a study night with Dodie. She smiled at me!"

"I think that she might like you, Hoods my man." Carl said as he happily clapped a hand on his shoulder.

"Y-You think so?" Hoodsey asked with wide eyes. "I mean, you don't think she's just being.. polite?"

"It's starting to seem that way. But we could find out for sure in a few weeks... unless things move along faster than we planned." Carl shrugged. "But I definitely think she is showing interest in you! There is no reason she shouldn't. You're a great guy, Hoods."

Hoodsey laughed in response, "Thanks, Carl. On a different note.. Are you okay? .. You’re looking a bit pale..."

"I'm fine. I just had a really weird dream.. I can't remember it but I woke up feeling.. weird, Like.. I just feel out of place... I can't seem to shake it."

"Huh.." Hoodsey said in thought. "That's weird.. but not too weird for you.. you always have strange feelings.. Like remember a few years ago, when you had a near panic attack at my house before calling home.. only to find out your sister's appendix burst and was rushed to the hospital... And that stupid time capsule incident after you had a nightmare. Yeah, you have weird hunches all the time.. You're like half psychic or something."

"Yeah, but I can't really put my finger on the cause of all this. It doesn't feel like a hunch..."

"I dunno, Carl.. Everything is normal around here. Same November weather.. Same classmates. Same Higsby. Same Gripling... Oh… I didn't mean to bring up Blake. I'm sorry..."

Carl just shook his head as he felt his stomach drop slightly before reminding himself that he isn't going to concern himself with it yet. He was the same old Carl Foutley. They walked inside the crowded school and towards their lockers. Apparently, everyone didn't want to be outside in the cold. After gathering his necessary books, he locked his locker and turned around to meet a group of four girls smiling and giggling at their own conversation.

He smirked at them, "Ladies..." He drawled politely before passing them. They all giggled at him, this was slightly amusing. He didn't understand why they were all just right behind him when there was room in the hallway. Oh well… He didn't concern himself with it. He just continued to walk to his homeroom after receiving a questioning look from Hoodsey, He just shrugged.

Was Hoodsey thinking that he was sworn off of girls? How interesting. He thought about it as he sat down in his usual spot next to Hoodsey and Blake, who was there since they walked in so he probably got here early. Blake seemed like he was busy reading a thick book so Carl didn't bother him with conversation. As Carl thought about gender preference he realized that he didn't really have a preference... Well, he preferred Blake but since he was dealing with a task at the moment and probably won't be done for at least a few months. He would rather wait but since Blake insisted he go out and date, he will humor him for the mean time and think about asking that Tilly twin out to a movie or something. She was alright looking. He didn't know her enough to decipher whether or not she was one of those annoying types. He didn't like gabber-mouths… What guy does? It's not like it will last long anyway. He couldn't help but feel like he was downgrading by a ton of levels, making this decision.

Bringing himself back to the real world, Carl sighed and glanced at the delicate blonde at his right. Totally oblivious, Blake was still reading his book. He looked at ease. Perhaps he was sleeping well now. That would be great, Carl didn't want him to be unhealthy and unhappy. Looking at Blake, He had his color back to normal minus the blush. He looked replenished, maybe he had a facial done hours ago before school. Carl tore his eyes away from him when he noticed Blake sensing him staring. He directed his gaze at a tacky educational poster on the wall in front of him until the bell rang for first period class. Nothing was wrong with admiring Blake from a metaphorical distance. Metaphorical because they still hung out like friends so they were as close as they could be. He smirked at that thought as he slowly filed out of the classroom behind everyone else, following Blake to their first period class, taking his usual seat diagonally from him. He did his work quietly, until the teacher called for partners on a set of linear equations. Blake shifted his gaze around the room before approaching Carl and sitting in an empty desk next to him.

"Howdy partner." Carl said flashing him a grin, earning an eye roll from Blake.

"Yes, Well. Shall we get to work?" Blake said sounding bored.

"Yeah." Carl said as he got up and turned his desk so they were facing each other. "I get evens you get odds like usual?" Blake hummed a meaningless 'mhmm' in response, not looking at him at all. Carl frowned as he started his set. "Bad morning, I take it?"

Blake sighed and tapped his pencil on the desk, giving Carl a raised eyebrow. "No actually, my morning was quite normal... It was last night that was the nightmare."

"I hear ya. But it wasn't all that bad, I have heard of worse dinner conversations. Last night was just comedic in my opinion. No need to dwell on it, Blakey-boy."

"I am glad you enjoyed yourself." Blake muttered almost incoherently. Carl grinned at him as he solved the first problem.

"That's complicated, I didn't exactly 'enjoy' myself, your sister is kind of overbearing at times." Carl said in a smart tone.

"A: I was being sarcastic and B:… I already know that fact, I live with her." Blake said returning the smart tone Carl used. Carl laughed as quietly as he could. Blake was acting so weird. Kind of like he use to before they decided to be friends. If he is going back to his usual demeanor then how would he act if he shook him a bit?

"..Just so you know.. You're looking much better than yesterday." Carl whispered, He watched Blake's cheeks grow pink. Blake blatantly ignored the comment and turned his attention to his problem set, acted like it never happened. Just as suspected. Back to his old self.. This could be fun if he decided to mess with him. Carl quietly finished his set and waited for Blake to finish so they could trade answers and double check their work before handing it in. They excelled at their group work like normal. Whether you want to admit it or not, they made a good team. After they handed in their work, Blake almost immediately went back to that thick book he was reading in homeroom, completely shunning Carl.

"So what's that book about?" Carl asked ignoring the fact that Blake didn't want to converse with him at all.

Blake sighed, slamming the book closed. "It would be none of your business, Foutley."

"Oh yeah?" Carl asked, inwardly getting fumed at Blake for the sudden shun. He was acting like Carl is pure evil now.. "Gimme." He said as he swiftly grabbed the book off of Blake's desk. He tried grabbing it back before Carl could read it but it was no use, Carl had longer arms then he did and he held it away from Blake successfully. Carl glanced at the title. Healing Your Emotional Self... a self-help book… Suppose this was a step in the right direction. Carl smiled and calmly set it down in front of Blake. He gave him a smile and took his seat quietly. He wasn't going to pick on him. He was one of his best friends after all. Blake muttered something under his breath so Carl couldn't hear but it didn't matter much. Carl was happy he was trying. He thought it would have taken a little while for Blake to warm up to the idea. He didn't understand though, why he was clearly keeping it from him. They had talked about it before, what's with the cold attitude now? Carl never noticed how hot and cold Blake is. It's so weird.

Lunch period was quiet. Blake still had his nose in the book for the most part, only to stop for a small conversation here and there. When he did talk he did actually seem happy. His tone was pleasant. He actually smiled sometimes as well. This satisfied Carl to some degree, though he was still bothered by his cold attitude in first period today. He wasn't use to that anymore but if he wanted to play the reverse game then he was all for it. Whatever Blake preferred, he supposed. If he was comfortable putting a little bit of distance between them then he could live with it, just as long as it wasn't a permanent fixture to their friendship.. He never thought this relationship would have gotten this difficult. It's craziness. Sure, Carl liked crazy but this was totally different. Noelle showed up at the table suddenly half way through lunch period.

"Why is it so quiet over here?" She asked instantly.

"Nice to see you too, Ms. Sussman." Blake said politely. She had obviously startled him.

"We're just not in the mood to talk." Hoodsey covered. "Where have you been?"

"I have been eating my lunch on the roof." Noelle said simply with a slight shrug. "Something feels off.. Is everyone okay?"

"Yeah, we're all fine." Carl said shooting her a grin which she totally ignored.

"I don't believe you." She said, raising an eyebrow. "Especially from you, Carl... Did I miss something here?"

"You missed a lot." Hoodsey muttered, earning a kick to the shin from Carl. "Ow.. What?! She's our friend, too."

Noelle shook her head amusingly at the two of them, Blake was back to his book. She looked over his shoulder, reading a passage of the left page. "I know that book… Are you okay, Gripling?"

"Huh? Oh. I'm perfectly fine, just doing some studies for future circumstances." Blake said hurriedly.

"Future circumstances?" She repeated with a blank stare. "Are you planning on going into psychology by any chance?"

"I might! Who knows?" Blake said abruptly slamming the book closed and shoving it in his backpack. "I shall see you all later. I'm going to go wash up before class."

As he rushed out of the lunch room, they all stared at him as he left. Noelle blinked, "Did I say something?" Carl and Hoodsey shrugged at her but they both knew exactly what was wrong. Carl sighed after a few moments of uncomfortable silence.

"I think you should come over today after school, Noelle." He said quietly. Noelle just stared at him with her head cocked slightly to the side in question.

"..Okay.. Just after a meeting I have to go to.. I'm meeting up with my old flamenco teacher right after school. He wants to know if I would be willing to perform for the Holiday parade. I might accept the offer."

"Okay, So I should expect you at around four thirty-ish?" Carl asked. "You’re welcome to join us for dinner."

"I can do that." Noelle said, standing up from the lunch table. "Make it five, just in case though."

"You got it, Mademoiselle." Carl said shooting her a smirk out of habit. She just shook her head at him with a small smile before leaving the lunch room.

"...As your best friend, I advise you to stop flirting with your ex, Carl." Hoodsey said with caution.

"Which one?" He asked in amusement, Hoodsey just frowned at him.

"Both of them." He stated honestly. "It's not doing you any good."

"I can't help it, Hoods. It's who I am." Carl said simply as he got up to dump his and Blake's abandoned tray in the garbage. Hoodsey followed him, dumping his tray as well before leaving for class.

"So I've noticed." Hoodsey muttered. "The girls in the hallway aren't an exception either, I suppose."

"I was just politely excusing myself since I almost ran into them." Carl said in defense.

"Didn't seem like it to me." He said with an eye roll. "It's just.. Carl.. You can't cover up your feelings like that. It hurts you and it hurts everyone you flirt with. It's a bad way to get over things, you know."

"I'm not trying to cover up anything, Hoods.. I'm just talking to people."

"No. I know the difference, Carl. That tone you used with Noelle. That was not talking."

"Okay, okay. Chill. I will think before I speak next time. I promise." Carl said dismissively as they entered the classroom and the bell rang before taking their seats. The rest of their classes passed quickly and at the end of the day, Carl went to his locker to put his books away since there was no homework assigned. Why carry books you won't need? As simple as it was, Carl was happy to have a light back pack for once. It always made the walk home more pleasant. When he closed and locked his locker for the day he watched Blake pass him like he was no one. Not even a good bye for the day. This shunning thing was much too abnormal for him. He shook his head as he turned around to walk out the school, but there once more was the group of girls again. He raised an eyebrow at them, "My apologies.. We, uh.. gotta stop meeting like this.. Don't want any of you getting hurt around here, now do we?" This earned him a few giggles from them. This was starting to weird him out so he walked around them, attempting to escape the school. He met up with Hoodsey out front on the steps of the school.

"Those girls are getting a little too obsessive, I think." Carl said in amusement as they walked out the school grounds.

"Avoid your locker." Hoodsey said with a small smile. "I think they just want you to notice them. They like you, obviously."

"Well, they should consider themselves noticed." Carl said with a laugh. "I almost ran into them twice today."

"Girls are weird sometimes.." Hoodsey said with a slight shake of his head. "Maybe you should run into them and they will keep their distance."

"I don't want to do that." Carl said with a small cringe. "Hurting them on purpose.. That's not how I do things. Maybe I should talk to them about it... but then again, that doesn't sound all that appealing either."

Hoodsey laughed a little, "Like I said.. Avoid your locker."

Carl just shook his head in amusement. He'll find a way to deal with this. He always finds a way. Maybe he will set off a fart bomb in his locker a few minutes before his arrival so they would disperse like girls often do. The smell only lasts a few minutes anyway. "Hey. I feel weird asking this but... What do you think about the Tilly twins?"

Hoodsey gave Carl the strangest look. "I dunno. I barely know them. Granted, we do have files on all the students in the school but why would you want to know about them?"

"I'm just looking to expand my horizons and Heather has taken a liking to me recently. Since I am a free man now, Why not?" Carl explained as he jumped on a small wall in the front of someone's property and started balancing on it.

"Do you like her?" Hoodsey asked with an uncertain tone.

"I don't know." Carl shrugged as he mindlessly picked up a stick off the ground. "That's why I'm asking for your opinion."

"I don't think you should date right now, Carl. You just broke up with Blake. Give yourself some time." Hoodsey said simply. Carl jumped off the wall, landing in front of Hoodsey.

"I should.. but Heather has been prodding at me since the party. She is wondering if we could hang out before winter vacation and since that is coming up after next week.."

"It's not a good idea. What if you don't like her?"

"I end things before the second date. Simple."

"But she actually likes you, Carl. You'll hurt her." Hoodsey said sternly. Carl rolled his eyes at him.

"What I have learned in these past few weeks is that everyone gets hurt, one way or another. It's unavoidable if you have the guts to put yourself out there!" Carl said suddenly feeling angry he swung the stick at a mailbox in passing, breaking the stick in half from the force of it. "It just happens. That's life."

Hoodsey was quiet for the entire walk to Carl's place. Carl knew he shouldn't have snapped but the topic was kind of touchy for him, even though his problems with Blake were reasoned out… The memory of the pain was still palpable to him. He shouldn't dwell on the past, but it was something he wasn't quite over with. Maybe it was a bad idea. Covering it up does no good but it's what Blake wants! He has mentioned it so many times. What was he supposed to do? If he ignored it then Blake might get mad at him and tell him to get a move on. He could probably get away with it just once. They sat in Carl's room in silence until Hoodsey turned on the stereo, waking Carl up from his thoughts.

"What are you going to talk to Noelle about?" Hoodsey asked when he turned the volume down to a tolerable level.

"I'm going to fill her in on everything that has happened so she understands what is going on." Carl said quietly.

"Nothing else?" Hoodsey asked plopping down on the bean bag chair.

"What else is there to talk about?" Carl asked.

"Oh, I dunno." Hoodsey started. "You could apologize for flirting with her?"

"Possibly, if she was bothered by it." Carl shrugged. "I didn't mean to, it just came out like that. That's why I said, I can't help it. It's not like I like her or anything. We got past that point in our life. We have nothing to offer each other."

"Good." Hoodsey sighed. "I was getting worried for a little while there. Dating her again is the worst idea ever. She's nice, don't get me wrong but she isn't good for you. Anyone can tell you that."

"Calm down, Hoods. I wasn't even considering that at all…" Carl said as he sat on the floor and leaned up against his bed. "She is just a friend. Nothing more. There never will be anything more. We are done and over with in that department. End of story."

"Okay, okay. I get it. And I won't bring it up again. I was just worried about that small possibility." Hoodsey said defensively. Carl just grinned at him and rolled his eyes. Before Noelle moved, they settled things between them for good. She was afraid he was going to wonder and grow out of his fondness for her when she left. She didn't know that he already has at that time. He just didn't like her anymore. She was a great friend and an awesome person to talk to but he just didn't see her as girlfriend material anymore. He would always be forever thankful of her because she saved his life with all the energy she had years ago. He would gladly return the favor anytime. He owed her his life as far as he is concerned… But as a friend. They were just too different. They were still different. Even more so now than ever. She was a pretty girl, He would give her that but he just felt nothing for her anymore. From what she talked about to Hoodsey, She was getting tired of trying to live up to what he expected, whatever that means...

He heard girls laughter growing outside his bedroom door, Ginger was home and decided to bring her friends. Hoodsey smiled a little when he heard Macie's voice ring out in the hallway before Ginger closed her bedroom door.

"You know.. I think we should go see what the girls are up to.. I have a left over micro-bug if you want to freshen up our eavesdropping skills?" Carl asked mischievously with a smirk.

"You want to give them hot coco again, don't you?" Hoodsey asked wearily.

"We don't put the bug in the marshmallows again but we put it under the tray the hot coco is on." Carl explained. "Longer time to listen, and if we are lucky... we get to hear what is on Ms. Lightfoot's mind... do you think you could spend the night, Hoods?"

"Only if Dodie gets to." He said. "It's not a weekend though. How about we save it for this weekend. I could talk Dodie into it by then."

"Whatever you say, my friend." Carl said nicely. "Let us brainstorm for a little while. Time is a-ticking and we still don't have a prank to do for our last year at good ol' Lucky Junior High. We need something!"

"What about the whole new leaf thing... We haven't gotten in trouble since we started junior high, Carl. I like not being in Milty's office.. He kind of freaks me out..."

"Just think of this as a big send-off... We won't do anything until the last week of school so He won't have time to hold an investigation. Report cards are already sent out by that time so he can't hold us back. The worst that will happen is a detention and that would only be if we got caught." Carl explained happily. "Extra emphasis on the word... if.."

"I dunno, Carl.." Hoodsey said quietly.

"Everything will be alright. The school doesn't have cameras so as long as we don't leave any record of anything laying around the school we are as gooood as gold." Carl said smoothly.

"Alright… If you say so… And if you are completely sure about this.. I'm in." Hoodsey sighed.

"Oh, I am more than sure, Hoods." Carl said confidently. "I have spent time scoping out different situations and I am completely positive we can pull it off easily without a hitch... We just need to figure out what to do..."

"Umm.. Okay.. I have heard of a new thing called confetti bombs.. We could strategically place them in high enough spots like at the top of the statue and set them off with a push of a button when everyone is in the courtyard of the school. It would be a pretty eventful send-off... only if it's the absolute last day though." Hoodsey explained. "Or else it wouldn't make sense."

"That.. is something. We could do that if we get the money for it. I have been saving since I bought Blake a bike for his birthday. This is a possibility."

Carl looked over at the invitation to Blake's party on his dresser. It showed up last month and he has been totally psyched about it. His tonsils and a new bike. What more could he ask for? It would be perfect even if they weren't technically together anymore.

"We could reverse all the furniture in our homeroom.. so it's all backwards." Hoodsey said. Carl shrugged, that didn't seem like a big enough splash and they would probably have to put it all back during class anyway.

"Hmm... We could hide all the chairs in the library and stack all the tables on top of each other."

"Hoodsey, that’s all kid stuff. We need something big.. Think BIG." Carl exclaimed. There was a knock on the door. He exchanged looks with Hoodsey, "Identify yourself."

"Noelle Sussman." Her voice rang out through the door. "We have a five o'clock meeting."

"Entry granted." Carl said as he checked the time on his clock. It was exactly five o'clock. The door opened to reveal Noelle in a light, flowy looking, red dress and black heels. Her hair was in a bun and she was holding a black sombrero with red beads dangling from it. Carl was speechless for a few seconds. He looked at Hoodsey and he just had his eyebrows up his forehead in mild shock.

"Wow.. Uh.. Noelle, You didn't have to get all dressed up just to talk to me.." Carl said with a small nervous laugh. She was really pretty, He never saw her in a dress before.

"Get over yourself, Carl.. I just got back from my flamenco practice." Noelle said as she threw off her heels at the door and sat herself down on the floor, rubbing her feet.

"You took the gig then, I take it.." Carl said with interest.

"Yes, I did." She said as the door closed itself shut. "Now... Talk to me. I am listening."

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