The Difficulty of Growing Up

Chapter 12

"..So what you are telling me is that you and Blake Gripling were in a relationship, then you broke up because he has self-esteem issues he needs to get through..." Noelle asked after Carl had just explained the entire story to her.

Carl nodded. "That would be the jist of it, yeah." He replied.

"You are a crazy man." Noelle said in false disbelief. "You let Blake go because he needs self-esteem. When you were the one holding his confidence in the first place.."

"He needs to learn how to love himself before he can actually know how it is to love me.. Do you understand that?"

"I do but I also understand that he has loved you for so long that he has basically built his own life around you, Carl. He doesn't know how to do anything different." Noelle explained. "If you won't take him back right now... then at least help him out a bit."

"I would if he would let me in..." Carl said weakly. "He spent the entire day basically shutting me out. I try to talk to him but no."

"Because you had hurt him deeply, He does not know how to deal with it." She said as she shook her head a little. "Just keep letting him know that you are there for him even if he won't respond to you right now. Just keep being there. He will come around to it eventually."

"Eventually. " Carl repeated quietly. "What is it about that word that makes it sound so far off..."

"Because in most cases… It is." Noelle answered calmly. Carl just groaned and covered his face with his hands. He thought about it for a little bit but then a brilliant idea hit him. He uncovered his face and smiled brightly, much to Noelle's surprise. She never saw that look before.

"I’m sorry, guys but I just had an awesome idea.. I'm going to have to cut this meeting short. I need to get on this right away. Why did I not think of this before?!" Carl said hurriedly. He ushered his two guests out of the house and rushed back up to his room. This was so simple and it might just help him keep his ties to Blake.

He took out his binder full of clean lined paper and his box of white envelopes. If this doesn't work then he would be at a total loss. Time to get to work...


Blake sat at his desk in his tree house staring at his extra notebook. Nothing was written in it and he was supposed to list the things he likes about himself. This was harder than he thought it would be.

"I suppose I could start with the most obvious things.." He muttered to himself.

He took his pen in his hand for the millionth time that night and wrote at the top of the page, 'Things I like about myself...' He sighed at it and closed his eyes, searching himself inside and out.

'My creative talent, My strong jawline, My vast vocabulary…’

That was a start.. He looked down at his list and he felt unsatisfied.

'The way my hair grew out, My height, My taste in literature, My crystal eye color, My rational thinking, My honest speaking, My long neck, My fairly clear complexion..."

"Well… I don't like the physical facts. I feel as though Courtney had rubbed off on me." Blake said to himself as he reread the list through. Sadly, they were all true. He has to keep them. Just don't think of Courtney. This is about Blake Sofia Gripling.

'My proportional figure, My cunning, My cleanliness, My slightly perfectionist ways, My adaptive behavior...'

Perhaps this wasn't as difficult as he thought it would be...

'My professional demeanor (Given the circumstances.), My sincerity, My sensitivity..'

Don't start thinking of Carl Foutley... This isn't about him either..

'My taste in music, My party hosting skills, My taste in décor, My personal style of clothing...'

"That pretty much sums it up." Blake said as he examined is list. It filled half a page. That was reasonable. "I guess I'll show Courtney tomorrow..." Just in case he has thought of more things later, he put the notebook away and pulled his coat tighter around him as he left the tree house.

He walked into his room, thawing out from the more-than-brisk fall weather. It seemed to have gotten colder this week and miraculously enough it matched his feelings quite well. He felt saddened. Maybe he pushed Carl away too hard. He seemed bothered by the sudden attitude change. Carl didn't seem like he was going backwards anymore. It might have just been the sudden adjustment for Carl when he acted that way towards him the night before... And the fact he lost against him for once. Carl doesn't normally take well to defeat. It might have been his way of getting over the entire fiasco that happened yesterday. Whatever the reason, He shouldn't have snubbed him off that much. He is going to have to remember to apologize to him tomorrow morning. He finished that book he had taken out from the public library and it had some interesting points in it. Apparently for him, the source of his poor self-esteem is the direct symptom of his father's nonexistence. It made sense and he was going to change that. It won't be overnight but he was determined to change this. For him. In all his eleven and three quarter years, this is the first thing he has done for himself. It felt kind of liberating! He always did things for his parents. His sister. It was his turn.


After being up the entire night, Carl was passed out and snoring on his bed when Lois poked her head into his bedroom. She was calling him for the past ten minutes with no apparent response from him.

"Come on , Carl." Lois said loudly over his last snore, He bolted up at source of the highly recognizable voice. "Get ready to go. You're going to be late if we don't leave now. I have to get to work early today so no diddle-doddling... Meet you in the car."

He just groaned and rolled off the bed when she shut his door behind her. When he was done getting ready, He grabbed one of the many envelopes off his desk and shoved it in his bag before running out the house and hopping in the car. They sped off until they came across Hoodsey walking down the street. Carl rolled down the car window.

"Sorry I'm late. Hop in, Hoods." Carl called out. Hoodsey took the offer and rode of towards the school grounds.

"Now, I won’t be home until dinner time so I left money on the counter for a pizza or something... It's gotten so busy at the hospital so when I get home tonight, I don't want any rough-housing... Okay?" Lois said as the two boys climbed out of the car.

"No sweat, Mom." Carl said through the car window.

"Love ya." Lois said as she rolled away. Carl waved as she drove off.

"So, what was this big idea you had last night?" Hoodsey asked as they rushed into the school. They stopped at Blake's locker and Carl slipped in the envelope he grabbed this morning. "Oh okay, you’re starting the notes again?"

"Kind of. Not really." Carl said as they walked to their lockers down the hall. He looked on a head of them to see if he had a mob at his locker, there wasn't. Perhaps they gave up. "More like daily reminders. I am aiming to help boost his self-esteem. I believe I wrote down maybe sixty or.. Seventy separate reminders last night… Hence the reason as to why I accidentally slept in this morning."

"Wow. This will work?" Hoodsey asked as they grabbed their books and locking their lockers.

"I'm hoping." Carl shrugged before leading the way to their homeroom class. The two of them sat down quietly and seconds later Blake basically pranced right in before the late bell rang. Carl smiled to himself when he saw Blake was rather perky this morning. Hopefully, he had gotten the little note.

As the day progressed Blake looked even happier. At lunch, he held conversation very well and he even made a few jokes. Carl was happy with this. When the school day ended, He put his books away like usual but when he was just about to leave, someone roughly pulled him inside an empty classroom. Low and behold, he was cornered in by no one other than Heather. She smiled up at him as he gave her a blank stare.

"Carl." She purred with a smile.

"Heather. What are you-?" Carl started but got cut off by a dismissive 'Shh'. Carl frowned at that notion.

"Carl, I know you know how I feel about you… You have been ignoring me since your birthday party."

"We have opposite class schedules, Its not like I see you all the time… I don't mean to sound rude but… um… What makes you think I feel the same way about you?"

"I was hoping you did a little… I'm not going to lie..." She said softly. Carl sighed and sat her down at a desk.

"I don't think I do." He said right out. "I thought about it... I will only end up hurting you and I don't want to do that."

"Wow… Not even a test date to see..?" She asked. Her face was beet red under that red straight hair. She nervously tucked a strand behind her right ear. He shook his head softly.

"It won't work out." Carl said tightly. Heather bit her lower lip and just nodded quickly. She followed that with a sudden motion of standing up from her sitting position and quickly left him in the room alone. He was pretty sure she was going to be spending her time crying in the girls room from how she was acting before the sudden leave. He sighed and ran his hands through his hair. He didn't like doing that one bit but at least he was honest. He turned around to leave but came face to face with Blake, whom had silently let himself in the room. Carl was almost startled at the sudden appearance.

"Blake! Jeeze.. Give me a heart attack won't you?" Carl said with a small smile.

"My apologies... Uhm... Why did one of the twins rush out of here?" He asked as he closed the door behind him and he looked out the door window to see if anyone was looking in.

"I guess she was under the impression that I liked her or something… I let her down as gently as I could but I guess it was no use.. Uhm why are you in here? Isn't Winston waiting for you?"

"Yes, but well... since your still here.. I figured that we must talk."

"I agree… You first?" Carl asked as they took a seat in the back of the classroom. Blake thought for a second and shook his head.

"No, you.. I insist.." Blake said politely as he straightened his posture, Carl shrugged as he searched his thoughts silently.

"I don't think this cover-up-dating thing you asked me to do is going to work, Blake. I can't do it. I thought about it but I decided that I will not go through with it. It's just not my thing, y'know..."

Blake looked at him with raised eyebrows and a smile slowly crept across his face. "Thank goodness... because I was going to ask you not to anyway. I have something to tell you."

Carl raised an eyebrow at him, "…Okay… Shoot."

"You know how my sister was acting the other night?" Blake asked and Carl gave him a slight nod. "Well… She somehow figured it all out by herself... I admitted to it and she is going to assist me in my little… project. So the dating thing isn't necessary… and I would appreciate it if you… waited… for me..?"

Carl smiled to himself for a second before directing it towards Blake. "I was going to anyway whether you wanted me to or not." Blake's face instantly lit up. "Great minds think alike, yes?"

Blake's face grew its usual pinkish color much to Carl's liking. "I-I also wanted to apologize about how I acted yesterday… I was way… way out of line.. You're still my friend… not my enemy anymore. I shouldn't treat you like you are at all."

"It's all okay, Blakey… No problem. I acted like a jerk the other night so I kind of deserved it." Carl said quietly as he remembered how he left Blake's house that night. "We're still on for a re-game though, right?"

"If you still want to... I can guarantee your ultimate defeat though." Blake said in a teasing manner. "I have gotten quite skilled at competitive games, If I do say so myself."

"Oh, don't count on it. You don't know what you are getting yourself into, Gripling." Carl teased back with a wink.

Blake sighed and rolled his eyes, "Don't threaten me with a good time.. Foutley."

Carl looked at him clearly amused and slightly shocked, that was a new one. "Bravo, Blakey-boy. You’re getting better at this trash talking thing. Bravo... Y'know… I'm going to have to remember that one."

"I thought that would be a good one." Blake said beamingly as he got up from the desk. "Would you like a ride home? The wind out there is pretty bracing to say the least. Hoodsey is out in the hallway. Standing guard."

Carl shrugged as he got up, joining Blake. "Sure, that would be great. Would you like to come over for a snack and hot tea? Video games maybe?" They walked out of the classroom, Blake shook his head slowly.

"Tempting but… I can't." He said as they met up with Hoodsey in the hall. "I have other obligations."

"Okay… That's cool." Carl said, feeling slight disappointed as the three of them walked out of the school only to be greeted with a strong, numbingly cool wind. Blake wasn't kidding. They rushed to the lone black limo and let themselves inside at once, escaping the stifling cold.

"Oh... Well. If I didn't know better.. I would say that snow will be coming early this year!" Winston said calmly as he pulled away from the school and down the road towards the Foutley residence.

"I am pretty sure you're right, Winston." Carl said lightly as he furiously rubbed his chilled hands together. Blake turned up the heat almost instantly. It was a good few minutes before anyone said anything.

"So, what is Courtney doing to help you out?" Carl asked quietly.

"I had to list things that I like about myself.. It is a rather basic exercise.. That would be all so far." Blake replied.

"Good start. Did that book help any?" Carl asked.

"Yes actually. I found out why all this happened." Blake said as he straightened up his posture for the billionth time today.

"And?" Carl asked.

"I am afraid I cannot tell you right yet." Blake said calmly. This made Carl laugh a little.

"Classified. I get it. That's cool." Carl said patiently.

"Yes, quite." Blake said with a small smile. "Eventually, I will though. So no need to worry. I just need to adapt to some things."

"You want in on this year's prank, right?" Hoodsey piped in randomly. Blake blinked at him and nodded.

"Did you figure something out?" Blake asked with interest.

"Not really. We just started throwing in ideas." Carl said.

"I might have some ideas if you're still looking for some."

"Good thing tomorrow is Saturday. We now have something to discuss." Carl said before remembering something. "Hey Hoods.. Did you get clearance for spending the night tomorrow?"

"Uh.. Yeah. I talked to Dodie about it and we convinced our mom to let us." Hoodsey replied.

"Would you like to join the sleep over, Blake? You'll be over anyway for the video game competition." Carl asked smoothly. "It's just for the weekend."

"Um." Blake hummed after being slightly blinded by the invite. He's never been invited to such an event. "Sure, that would be rather fun." Carl smiled at him before the limo halted to a stop. Carl couldn't help but feel slightly giddy at the acceptance.

"I'll see you tomorrow." Carl said before hopping out of the backseat with Hoodsey following close behind him.

"That you shall, Foutley. That you shall." Blake said airily before he closed the door on the pair that exited. After the limo drove off, Carl and Hoodsey let themselves in the empty house and made themselves at home in Carl's room.

"So… Blake is… sleeping over?" Hoodsey asked nervously. Carl slowly raised an eyebrow at him before nodding. "So… uh… You’re not going to act weird are you?"

"Hoods, I think I know how to act around him by now." Carl said as he placed a hand on his best friend's shoulder reassuringly. "We're just going to hang out like we usually do. We are going to bug my sister's room so we can catch up on everything that is going on with them. Eat junk food. Yadda, yadda all that good stuff. Trust me, nothing weird is going to happen."

"Okay. If you say so." Hoodsey said as he took a seat on the bean bag chair next to him. Carl felt intrigued by Hoodsey's sudden nervousness. He knew how his behavior is by now. Sure, they never had sleep overs together but that doesn't seem any different from the usual hanging out aside from it being in a longer time span and the fact Blake would be sleeping on the floor of his room.

Carl turned on some music on low before the two of them dug into their Math and Geography homework. Hoodsey had to leave for the night when Dodie, yet again, came over to pick him up by JoJo's orders. Since he was done with his studies, he wrote more notes make the total an even hundred before hitting the sack for the night and this time, he wasn't up until all hours of the morning to get them done.


Blake wanted to spend the evening at Carl's place but he had promised to report back the contents of his notebook to his older sister that night. He sighed in defeat once the limo pulled away from Carl's property. At least he would be there the next day.. It's been a long while since he had spent time in the Foutley household.

Once the limo parked it's self on the Gripling driveway, Blake had let himself out and ran into the house with Winston at his heels because it was still so very chilly outside and the wind was just getting worse by the hour.

"Do you require anything else before I retire for the night, Master Blake?" Winston asked politely as Blake started for the staircase. He faced Winston and gave him a small smile.

"Nope, that will be all, Winston. Thank you once again." Blake answered kindly.

"Have a pleasant evening, Master Blake." Winston said before leaving for his quarters for the night. Blake also rushed up to his room to prepare himself for his sister's 'training' as he put it now. Her help did mentally exhaust him sometimes so it sounded appropriate.

That would be the usual exchange of words now a days between the two of them after school hours, Unless Blake really wanted to have a chat with him. Winston had to at least be in his early fifties now so He went to bed early now instead of spending some off time with Blake. He was growing up and he often felt like he didn't need Winston around at every minute. So in that kind of way, He felt a natural independence about himself. That's a good thing! …But of course on the downside, he felt slightly lonely without him.

He grabbed his notebook and read through his list, it had grown to a full page and a half now after adding some stuff while in a good mood this morning. He also pulled out the interesting little note he had found this morning, He placed it in a drawer where the other letter from Carl resided. He wasn't sure why Carl had wrote that… even though he had explained in the said note... But it definitely made him feel… good..? Is that the word he was looking for? At least, anyway.

After a quiet and gloriously uneventful family dinner, Blake and Courtney made their way to her bedroom for the meeting, notebook in tow. Blake closed the door behind him and plopped himself on Courtney's bed. She was in front of her vanity mirror brushing her hair out before scooping it up into a bun.

"Okay, First thing's first… Notebook please." Courtney demanded after evaluating her bun in the reflection. Blake held it out to her as she carelessly passed by him, she gently grasped it and sat on her pink plush hope chest at the end of the bed as she opened it and read through the list. Every few seconds, she looked up at him expressionless. Blake straightened his posture ever so slightly when she did. When she reached the end of the list she inwardly sighed at it before giving it back. Blake raised an eyebrow at her before she went into her bathroom. "Sit tight, I'll be back."

Blake just rolled his eyes and mulled over the conversation he had with Carl hours ago. Why he made that stupid decision to have Carl go out and date was beyond him... And he didn't even want to! He could admit that he can be incredibly daft at times… Not frequently but it still happens.

"It's not a bad start. I was actually expecting a much smaller list." Courtney said as she took her hair down from the high bun. "But of course I would like for you to progress soo.. Keep writing. Only it doesn't have to be what you like about yourself. Make it your goals in life."

"..You’re not doing this because you want to spy on me, are you?" Blake asked cautiously.

"How many times do we have to go through this, Blake?" Courtney asked calmly as she brushed out her hair once more. "I am doing this to help you. Not to try and find out what you’re thinking or something like that. I'll tell you what though... After next week, I won't look in the notebook. You can use it as... a journal or something.. But promise me that you will keep using the notebook as a tool to help improve your self-esteem."

"…Alright." Blake said with an eye roll. "So… Goals, right?"

"Correct." Courtney said brightly as she eyed herself in the mirror.

"Absolutely stunning, Courtney!" The vanity mirror spoke loudly, Courtney just smiled at herself before turning away from it.

"Is that all?" Blake asked as she sat herself on the edge of her bed next to him.

"Would you like more of a challenge?" She asked with slight caution.

"No, thank you." Blake sighed. "I think this is more of a challenge then anything right now. I'm just double checking."

"Don't worry yourself. It's easier than you think." Courtney said placing a hand on his shoulder. "You just need to actually think about what you would like to accomplish, doesn’t matter how small the task is, Just as long as it is something you want to work towards."

"Alright then." Blake said as he thought about the task, He stood up to excuse himself. "Good night. Thanks for the help, again."

"No problem. Same time next week. That seems to be my only open time frame now a days. Sweet dreams, Blake."

"Yes. Right." Blake said as he saw himself out of her room. He made his way to his own room, feeling a little bit apprehensive but he didn't need to think about it at the moment. He had Carl's sleep over to look forward to!


The next day, Carl quickly cleaned up his room and started to tinker with the micro-bug right before Hoodsey's arrival sometime around noonish. Ginger's friends showed up at the same time.

"Well.. That was embarrassing..." Hoodsey said once he walked into Carl room, slamming the door shut and placing is over-night bag next to the stereo.

"What's up, Hoods?" Carl asked as he placed an adhesive to the bottom of the bug. Hoodsey just sighed in response. After a few seconds he seemed to have gathered himself enough to talk about it. At this point Carl had stuck the bug under the tray and turned to look at him.

"I didn't know that Dodie was carpooling here, I guess Macie came by this morning and she just hitched a ride with us."

"How is that bad?.. Can you see the bug from there?" Carl asked once he flipped the tray over into its upright position. Hoodsey eyed it for half a second and shook his head.

"It wasn't bad at first... Until Macie started talking to me... I got all flustered and I.. You know how I get when I'm nervous…"

"Yeah, you talk really fast and stutter a lot." Carl answered as he knew where this was going.

"Dodie started making fun of me because of that… Macie laughed at me... AT me, Carl… and then they started joking around and I'm just sitting in the back of the car listening to all of it. I've never been so humiliated in all my natural life."

"Yikes..." Carl muttered with a frown, Hoodsey just held his head in his hands for a moment. "It's not the end of the world, Hoods. Maybe she finds it cute or something."

"I dunno, Carl..."

"Life isn't life without a little bit of embarrassment here and there. That stuff blows over in seconds anyway." Carl said reassuringly. "I say we wait until about… let's say.. six 'o clock.. then present the girls with a hot coco and brownie break from… whatever girls do… If we are lucky, they will continue to use the tray for other snacks during the night. Dinner should be over by five-ish so an hour after that will be a perfect time for a dessert."

"What's for dinner?" Hoodsey asked with interest.

"Probably Pizza. Mom and Dave are working late again..." Carl shrugged. He felt a little bad for his mother, she hasn't worked late like this since the last blizzard.

"Sweet." Hoodsey said joyfully. "Apparently, Flu season isn't taking any prisoners this time around."

"Yeah, the hospital is swamped with dehydrated and hallucinating people with the weird strand of the flu going around. They have been keeping hand sanitizer and Lysol in every room. It's pretty bad."

"CAARL!" Ginger's voice suddenly rang out from downstairs. Carl frowned at the door but he heard a loud knock instantly afterwards.

"Identify yourself." Carl said feeling slightly annoyed.

"Blake Gripling." He heard Blake's voice ring out, sounding almost nervous. Carl rolled his eyes at Blake's cautious behavior.

"Get in here." Carl said with a small laugh. Blake opened the door and closed it right behind him as he entered. "Just because you haven't been over in a while doesn't mean your rights have been revoked, Blakey-boy. You don't need to knock anymore." Blake set his small bag under the window before he sat himself down on a beanbag chair next to the empty tray.

"I was only being polite. Your sister was going to have you come downstairs but I told her I will just show myself in." Blake said with a slight shrug.

"No need. You’re almost a permanent fixture like Hoods, here. Okay. We are going to tell you our plan for tonight... We are going to eavesdrop on the girls tonight. Underneath that tray you’re sitting next to, there is a micro-bug. After dinner is done, we are going to present the girls with hot coco and brownies and listen to their conversations through this speaker..." Carl explained, patting the large radio thing next to him on his desk.

"Intriguing plan... But what is the mission? Pure sport? Or are you trying to find out something?" Blake asked.

"A little bit of both.. Hoodsey here has a thing for Ms. Lightfoot and we are going to see if they are going to talk about her boyfriend... and possibly where their relationship stands before he makes a move on her at my family's Christmas party... and it's been a year or so since we last brushed up our eavesdropping skills."

"Ah. I see." Blake said thoughtfully. "In all fair warning, from what I have heard from my sister… Macie Lightfoot is something of a heart-breaker in Lucky High."

"I know. But I can't help it… I have liked her for a very long time..." Hoodsey said quietly, looking down at his hands as he spoke. "I think I might actually have a shot with her."

"Understandable." Blake said knowing Hoodsey's reason all too well. "Don't worry, I am sure she will fall head over heels for you. You're a good guy.. There's not many of those out there." Carl raised an eyebrow at him for a second only resulting in a shrug from him. Hoodsey, on the other hand, had straightened his posture a little bit at the compliment, hopefully out of confidence. Carl just grinned and turned his attention to the large speaker on his desk. He just updated the thing with better speakers that have better volume control. Not bad for something he had found in the dump three years ago. He spent the week working out the wiring for the wireless sensor that goes with the bug.

"Okay, Shush. I want to test out the speaker quality.. um.. Hoodsey, take the tray into my closet and close the door. Wait for my verbal signal then say something."

"Why do I have to go in the closet?" Hoodsey whined. Carl sat back into the chair and shot his friends a smirk.

"Because Blake is already in a closet himself so you should too, Hoods. Peer pressure." Carl said in a passive tone, this resulted in automatic jaw-drops from both of them.

"I-Bu-wha..I-I..!" Blake sputtered trying to find a response to that. Carl just cracked up in heavy laughter.

"Carl!" Hoodsey retorted unbelievingly.

"Calm down." Carl said with continued laughter. "I'm kidding! Bad joke but I just had to, I'm sorry." Blake just glared at him for a second before chucking an unknown object at Carl's shoulder, happened to be Hoodsey's rubber-band ball and it hit Carl pretty hard. "Ow! Okay. I deserved that." Blake shot him a smirk in response before Hoodsey stood up and took the tray into the closet, closing himself in with it. Carl shot Blake a quick wink before turning his attention to the speaker, flipping the switch to the on position and a red light beamed up at him. "Okay, Hoods."

"You know what? You can be really insensitive sometimes!" Hoodsey's voice rang out loudly through the room. Carl quickly turned the volume down before Hoodsey continued, "How could you joke with something like that? I mean Jeeze, Carl! Shoot his esteem down will you."

"I'm fine, Hoodsey. Thanks." Blake responded passively. Hoodsey opened the closet door and raised an eye brow at Blake, studying him for a second.

"..Oh… Alright, If you’re okay..." Hoodsey said as he unloaded the tray from the closet space and reclaiming his seat in the vacant beanbag chair.

"I can take a joke once in a while." Blake said before glaring at Carl once more. "Even though the joke was completely distasteful." Carl just smirked back at him as he flipped the switch to the off position.

"Speaker works perfectly." Carl announced.

"PIZZA’S HERE!" Ginger yelled loudly from the bottom of the stairs.

"Right on time." Carl said with a hint of his mischievous brand before standing up and leading his guests out of the room and to the kitchen. Carl went into the fridge and gathered the mayo, mustard, ketchup and hot sauce before picking up his serving after Hoodsey and Blake helped themselves. He layered the condiments on his slices before devouring. Blake watched him in slight disgust but he was familiar to this by now… for the most part. Still never ceases to gross him out a bit. He just looked away from Carl as he ate. The girls were taking up the living room chatting about typical nonsense that had happened at school as they watched some kind of movie on the T.V.

Carl was enjoying his condiment loaded cheese pizza as he silently watched his guests eat as well. It was much too quiet for his liking. Blake had finished before him for once and he was politely cleaning the edges of his mouth with a napkin like he does normally before taking his empty paper plate to the trash.

"Excuse me while I go wash up." He said nicely excusing himself. Carl couldn't help but feel a little bit annoyed at the lack of conversation... nothing he could do about it right now though.

"Carl?" Hoodsey asked as he poked Carl on the shoulder.

"What's up?" He asked in response as he finished up his serving.

"Nothing, you’re just quiet and it's unusual." Hoodsey said before finishing his serving as well.

"He's the one being quiet." Carl said with a laugh as he took his and Hoodsey's plate to the trash. "Let's go and set up the video game upstairs. I just remembered that was on the list of things to do today... Beat Gripling at video game. Then we can come back down and prepare the snack for the girls."

"You know.. You should just ask him to get back with you.. You’re getting weirder and weirder." Hoodsey said slightly ignoring him. They continued their way upstairs to Carl's room.

"I will eventually but I'm sort of working on wooing him at the moment while he works on his stuff." Carl said in a low tone of voice.

"The notes?" Hoodsey asked arching an eyebrow at him. "You can do that when you’re together though."

"That's not how I want to go about this, Hoods." Carl said as he set the game up on his television set he hid in his closet. "I have a plan."

"Okay..?" Hoodsey said uncertainly as he placed himself on the end of Carl's bed. "Is the plan working?"

"So far so good." Carl shrugged as he plugged in some wires from the console to the television. "I'm not agitated yet." He added with a slight laugh.

"Is this plan supposed to agitate you?" Hoodsey asked confused.

"Only when things don't work out the way I want them to. You know that, Hoods... Okay.. Now we just wait until Blakey-boy returns then I sweep the floor with him and that smug look of his." Hoodsey just sighed and rolled his eyes before grabbing a book out of his bag and taking his attention off of his best friend, leaving Carl to think about how he should present the next few notes to Blake. His locker is his go to point but he won't be at school on the weekends at all. It’s a 'one-note-a-day' thing. He is going to have to break into his room and/or tree house sometimes. The tree house is easy. There is no security at all. He is going to have to wait for Blake to go to brunch or something to do this though. Or just be stealthy. Blake eventually came through the door, turning Carl's attention to him.

"Finally." Carl said picking up the console controllers and throwing one to him. "Did you fall in or something?"

"No." Blake said in a short tone. "It's none of your business, thank you very much... What is this?"

"Did you forget our agreement already, Blakey-boy?" Carl asked a he started up the game. "Re-game time is amongst us."

"Now? What about the eavesdropping?" Blake asked as he sat himself next to Carl.

"We still have an hour to kill. Patience is a virtue."

"Alright then." Blake said with a sigh. "Let's get this done with."

Carl just chuckled mischievously as the game started. During the first round, they threw around their usual competitive talk and sometimes Carl knocked into his shoulder to scramble his concentration. It always works but this time, Blake caught on to his plan and started doing the same thing to him every time he noticed Carl targeting him. That round ended when Blake decided to stay behind a pile of barrels, ultimately sniping Carl in the head when he passed by him.

"Camper!" Carl shouted against Blake's laughing fit. "You gotta move around."

"Nope, not always." Blake argued back. "It's a strategy, Carl. I don't do it often but it is always efficient when I do."

"Round two. But this time, no hiding yourself." Carl said with a glare.

"Okay then no more pushing me!" Blake responded in a smart tone once he stared the round.

"Deal." Carl muttered once he moved his avatar towards a gun shop and picked up a new long range weapon before going for a Blake-hunt. "I got you this time."

"In your most imaginative dreams.." Blake said in a bored tone as he made his way up to the top of a building to go and look for Carl's avatar.

"No camping, Blake!" Carl growled when he notice Blake was in one location.

"I’m not, I promise." Blake sighed as he moved his location after seeing Carl's dot on the map pass his. "Just don't start pushing me since we are playing best two out of three and I already have one win.. If I were you I would attempt to resist distracting me."

"But... distracting you is so eaaasy, Blakey." Carl said innocently, making Blake raise an eyebrow at him. Sadly, this was painfully true. At that small moment, Blake was rattled by the intense sound of a gun shooting making him look at the screen to see his avatar was dead. Blake glared at Carl who was smirking at him darkly.

"That was low, Foutley." Blake announced.

"No need to regress into last names." Carl said in a false pained tone. "But you did have it coming."

Blake just deepened his glare before turning his attention to the screen and Carl started the last round.

"This game is mine." Blake muttered defensively.

"Yeah right. Keep telling yourself that, Blakey-boy." Carl said confidently before he pressed start. This round lasted a good thirty minutes before one person met their doom... They played fair this time. "You cannot top the video game king. Try as you may." Was the last thing Carl said before swiftly targeting Blake and giving him one bullet to the head. End game. "Close game though. You had me going pretty well there, Blakey."

"Yeah. You deserve a win. Call it even." Blake said crossing his arms out in front of himself.

"I guess it is time to launch Operation Lightfoot." Carl said after patting Blake on the shoulder. "I'll grab the tray and meet you guys down stairs. Hoodsey do you mind putting a pot of water on the stove to boil?" Hoodsey put his book down and shrugged, leading Blake out of the room and down the stairs to the kitchen. Carl stayed up in his room, making sure the coast was clear... He opened the bigger drawer of his desk and grabbed the envelope labeled '# 2' and quickly shoved it at the bottom of Blake's overnight bag. He quickly zipped it closed and grabbed the tray in his hands before heading out the room and to the kitchen. The water was starting to boil and Blake took the liberty of piling about six brownies on a plate in a presentable manner. Suppose Hoodsey took the pan of brownies out of the fridge. Carl placed the plate on the tray and prepared three mugs with chocolate powder and poured the piping hot water over it.

"Marshmallows." Carl said calmly. Hoodsey grabbed the bag of mini marshmallows and handed them to him as he stirred the contents into a creamy mixture. One by one he counted an even number of marshmallows into each cup. "Alright. We are all ready to start the mission, guys. Blake, Could you turn on the speaker before we enter the room?"

"Sure." Blake agreed as he ran past the two of them and into Carl's room. Hoodsey and Carl walked down the hall and Hoodsey knocked on the door three times.

"Who is it?" Ginger's voice asked irritably.

"Thank you for the invite in. We come baring dessert and hot coco for you lovely ladies." Carl said when Hoodsey opened the door instantly and they walked right in. The girls had all their nail polish out and was about to decide what to put on. Ginger frowned at the pair as they walked in and Carl placed the tray in the middle of the room. Dodie looked at the tray wantingly and Macie just smiled and waved at Hoodsey nicely. Hoodsey waved back with a weird look on his face.

"What are you doing, Carl?" Ginger asked suspiciously. Carl just shrugged.

"My guests had dessert and we thought it would be nice to bring some up for you all as well." Carl said innocently but Ginger wasn't buying it.

"Oh yeah?" Ginger asked as she observed the contents on the tray. "Carl, If these are laced with something vile then you’re going to wake up to something not so pleasant."

"Trust me, sis." Carl said defensively putting his hands out in front of him. "I wouldn't dream of harming any of you. You all are part of the family as well! I can assure you that these snacks are completely safe to enjoy and digest. We are just being nice and making sure you enjoy some of mom's brownies before us hungry, growing boys devour every morsel."

"I've got my eye on you, Carl." Ginger growled.

"Enjoy, ladies!" Carl said as he let himself out of the room, closing the door behind him and Hoodsey. He grinned to himself as they bolted to Carl's bedroom, meeting Blake who was sitting on a beanbag chair looking up at the ceiling. The red light was on, stating that the bug was turned on.

'Is it just me, or is your brother getting more.. normal.. These days?' Dodie's voice rung out softly. Carl smirked and placed the speaker on the floor and everyone gathered around it.

'He's not normal. He's adapting.. ' Ginger answered.

'Do you think these are really safe? I could really use some chocolate right now...' Macie breathed in an unsettling manner.

'But you don't usually like chocolate anything, Mace...' Dodie said amusingly.

'..There is something about these brownies that give me a craving for chocolate.. Do you think they're safe? I mean I can't really afford to spend the night in the bathroom.. I need at least six hours of sleep.. Doctor’s orders...'

'Go for it. These are my mom's so they should be safe.. Carl wouldn't dare spike those with laxatives like he did years ago..' Ginger said. 'He knows better after the last time.'

'Sweet...'

"You didn't did you?" Blake asked cautiously.

Carl just laughed a bit, "No. This isn't that type of mission."

'So back to where we were before being interrupted.. Did you see what Nancy Clark was wearing on Thursday?' Dodie asked excitedly.

'I wish I didn't.' Ginger said in a low tone earning a nasally laugh from Macie. 'Those shoes.. just.. no..'

'I know right?! I mean who wears brown shoes with white boot-cut jeans anyway? Total disaster if you ask me..' Dodie said rather loudly.

'Don't forget that gaudy turquoise belt.' Ginger laughed.

'I don't know.. I think she could rock the accessories.. She is kind of on the eccentric side.' Macie noted.

Carl sighed with a small eye roll, "I think this is going to be a long night, guys.."

"I'll get the cards..." Hoodsey said instantly, getting up and rummaging through the top drawer of Carl's dresser until he found the pack of cards. The three of them started playing blackjack as they listened to the gossip coming through the speaker. After about four or five rounds Carl was starting to get antsy.

"Hit." Carl said tapping the floor beneath them, Blake passed him a card. Seconds after looking at it, he let out a long exasperated sigh before folding his cards on the floor. "I hate cards."

'So Mace it's been a while, give us the 4-1-1 on Craig.' Dodie urged, capturing Carl's attention.

'There's not much to know really… I guess I'm just feeling unsure.. Did you know that Craig is somewhat of an over-compulsive type? I didn't know this until I saw his room. I like cleanliness and everything but he alphabetizes everything. And if something is moved he gets rather… twitchy… I don't think I can live with it.'

'Yikes.' Ginger said. 'I think you need someone that is a bit more down to earth, Mace...'

'Not too much… but calmer then Craig that's for sure...' Macie said quickly. Blake and Carl instantly looked at Hoodsey, who was sitting with his knees curled up to his chest.

'He isn't your type of guy, Macie… that's okay. It's not like you need to find someone in a hurry.' Dodie reassured.

'I'm not in a hurry, trust me. When the time comes that I find that special someone then it will come on its own accord... I'm not in any rush believe me! ...Even though something tells me I already have met him.. It's weird..' Macie said calmly. 'But I guess I should end this relationship soon before the problem festers..'

'Just don't use the football game announcements to do so this time.' Dodie laughed.

'It was the best way I could think of at the time! That was years ago, girls! Really!' Macie said defensively. 'I know how to deal with this stuff now. I'm not exactly new at this anymore... Oh, Gosh that sounds terrible...'

This sent the girls into a fit of laughter for about two minutes.

"I guess we now have all the info that we need." Carl said in a proud manner. "You are in, Hoods. You just need to make yourself known."

"Yeah I guess." Hoodsey said with a yawn. "The Christmas party isn't that far off. That should give her enough time to adjust. I'm not going to just jump in the moment she dumps that Craig dude.. There's a certain time period that I should respect... Rebounding isn't my thing."

"I hear that." Carl said. "But now you know how she feels about Mr. OCD, Mission complete.. Wanna watch a movie down in the living room? We could crash there since the girls gave it up to do their nails or whatever."

"Sounds good to me." Blake said calmly.

"I'm game." Hoodsey said with much boredom. "It's better than listening to gossip. I don't understand what is so interesting about other people and what they wear or what they do.."

"But Hoods... You watch 'La Mala Hora' almost every other day." Carl laughed when he turned off the speaker and gathered sleeping bags and pillows from his closet.

"That's different! It's full of secrets and scandals... Controversy, Carl! It's a mystery if anything." Hoodsey said defensively. "It's good stuff!"

Carl just threw Hoodsey his usual sleeping bag before heading out of the room and into the living room with his and Blake's bags and pillows. They each picked a spot in the living room and settled in while Carl picked a movie and started it up. Within the first thirty minutes of the sci-fi movie, everyone was pretty much out cold for the night. When Hoodsey started snoring, Carl was slightly startled despite the fact that he was pretty much use to it by now. He looked over to find Hoodsey on his back passed out completely. He looked at Blake who was sleeping peacefully through the snoring... heavy sleeper, who knew? Carl spent a few minutes watching Blake sleep before passing out himself.


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