The Difficulty of Growing Up

Chapter 14

The past week passed by with a blink of an eye and soon winter vacation was upon them. Blake and Carl's status was still undecided even though Carl was still pretty persistent in his efforts, still leaving Blake notes anywhere he could see them. Around the Foutley household, everyone was putting up the last of the decorations for the party that was to happen the next day. Carl was starting to feel a bit run down at this point. He really tried his best at Blake's party but he seems like he is still not ready to take him back. But Carl being Carl.. He won't give up just yet. He just hoped that Blake would make an appearance tomorrow.

"Hellooo? Carl Foutley, King of weirdoville.. Earth to Carl?" Ginger's voice rung through his consciousness, snapping himself out of whatever train of thought he was on. "I've been talking to you for like five minutes but obviously you weren't listening.. Mom said you need to go take out the trash and grab some firewood. We're out." Carl looked at Ginger and shrugged as he turned to the front door, pulling on his snow boots and coat. "Hey, are you okay? You've been out of it recently. Is something bothering you?"

"No." Carl said calmly with an eye roll before heading in the other direction to the kitchen.

"Hey. Carl. Talk to me, you aren't acting like yourself." Ginger persisted following him through to the kitchen as Carl gathered the trash and went into the garage. Ginger was still at his heels.

"Nothing to talk about. Really. I was just thinking, Get off my case." Carl said roughly as he tossed the trash into the tin trash can. Ginger quickly disappeared when he snapped and he just rolled his eyes once more before dragging the trash can to the curb. He wasn't sure as to why he felt annoyed at his sister. He just did. Sometimes when he is alone, he feels completely void of a soul. No feelings. He is just there. He often wondered if he was depressed, himself. He concluded that sometimes he is but only when he thinks about it. Hoodsey hasn't been over in about three days, probably because JoJo was holding him hostage for family decorating and tree trimming like they do every year. Blake is probably doing his family's version of holiday traditions because he too hasn't been around or even contacted him at all since break began. It was starting to get lonely around here for him without his friends around for sure. It wasn't a feeling he would like to get use to either.

He shook his head at the thought and walked around to the shed in the back yard and gathered a large arm full of logs before locking the shed door and heading back to the garage. He felt a snowflake hit his nose on the way back. This halted him and he looked up at the oncoming snow flurry. Weirdly enough this made him feel a little better but he didn't know why. He drew a deep breath before entering the open garage and setting the logs in the metal container next to the door. At this point, all he wanted to do was lock himself in his bedroom and just watch the snow flurry pass by. He had no interest in commuting with his family right now.

"Hey Mom… I have a request." Carl said when he found Lois, chopping up carrots and celery.

"What could it be this time?" Lois asked in amusement.

"Could I have my dinner in my sleeping quarters tonight?"


"I am afraid that information is classified." Carl said calmly, Lois just searched his face for any tell-tale signs of mischief but like usual she couldn't pin-point any.

"No putting plots of revenge to action, Carl! Which means: no water gun shooting, egg throwing, hair dying, invention testing or eavesdropping of any kind in this household, Ya hear?" Lois said in a very stern, solid tone. "Your sister went through enough this summer so we don't need any repeats around here..."

"None of the above, Lola. No worries and I totally agree. One reaction is plenty." Carl said gently shaking his head, shooting her a smile in the process. "I can assure you that I am not planning anything drastic." Lois just pursed her lips at him for a second before caving in.

"..Alright, Fine.. but don't be up at all hours of the night, okay? I need your help rearranging the furniture tomorrow morning since David is working." Lois said as he turned to walk out of the kitchen. "Oh and I don't want to come across any wild animals in the house either. I drew the line at the trio of bats you had flying around here last year."

Carl mentally laughed at the memory. He thought she drew the line at the turkey that had escaped from the dog house years ago when he was on the vegetarian kick. That bird was as bad as it had gotten. Those bats he had collected last year was just another good deed gone wrong. He was trying to nurse them back to health after finding them injured and half-alive on a nature walk the month before and he definitely did. They accidentally got loose and freaked out blindly in the morning daylight, flying around the house ultimately chasing everyone out. Sure, he retrieved them and let them out that night but Lois was plenty mad at him at the end of it. He got grounded for three weeks after that. "Duly noted, Momster... And Thanks." Carl said before exiting the kitchen and heading up to his room only to be stopped in the hallway by his sister. "What?" He asked her when she grabbed his arm in passing.

"I am not sure what is going on with you right now but I need you to know that I will not tolerate you being rude to me. You will not take your frustrations out on me. I am not a target or a punching bag for you to use whenever you have these moods... So do you want to talk about what is bothering you or not?" Ginger asked sternly.

"Not." Carl said returning the tone. "You aren't mom. I don't need you to lecture me. So just leave me alone and we won't have any problems." He turned around and slammed his door shut behind him with a heavy sigh. He heard Ginger sigh dramatically in anger before stomping down the stair case. He felt slightly guilty for doing that to the only person he could possibly talk to, he didn't know what was going on with him. He just wanted to be left alone. He made plans to apologize later.

Carl plopped himself down in his desk chair and laid his head in his arms. The note he was going to deliver to Blake tonight was staring up at him an inch away from his gaze. Maybe after dinner, He should walk to the Gripling's for a visit. Some fresh air could do him some good anyway. This sitting around here all night isn't really going to help him any but he felt relaxed being away from his family, as bad as that sounds. He just needed to be around Blake or Hoodsey.. His friends.

After about twenty minutes of just mindlessly staring at the note in front of him. It was just waiting to be delivered to Blake. There was a quiet knock at his bedroom door, Lois sent David to bring a tray of food to Carl's room. At which time he opened a nearby book and covered the envelope with it before opening the door.

"Here we are, Carl." David said as he set the tray next to his desk after he opened the door.

"You didn't have to fully deliver it on a tray and everything." Carl said, slightly confused as he looked down at the nicely prepared tray. David just patted his shoulder.

"It's no problem at all, son." He said before quietly exiting the room without any conversation, closing the door behind him. Leaving Carl on his own once again. He wanted to be alone but he didn't at the same time. His moods were quite perplexing at times. Carl sat at the edge of the bed and stirred the prepared hot chocolate softly with the peppermint candy cane that was slowly melting into the warm refreshment. That made him feel a little better as his mother knows that his favorite hot chocolate always cheers him up. It's basically fool-proof. He felt a warm, happy moment of childish nostalgia wash over him as he took a sip. He still felt alone though.. Maybe a visit to the Gripling's would do him good. He just missed him too much and he wasn't sure as to whether Blake was going to make an appearance at the part since he wouldn't give Carl a direct answer. It was always 'Maybe I will...', 'We shall see, now shall we?', 'Patience, Carl, is a virtue.’ It was maddening. He couldn't tell if Blake was playing with him or not. Carl stared at the full plate of food before noticing he wasn't hungry at all. He took another sip of the hot chocolate before standing up, grabbing the envelope off the desk, and walking out of his room. Slipping out the front door without anyone noticing, after grabbing his coat, scarf, and boots on the way out. He needed to see Blake.

Blake sat on the sofa of his tree house, holding out his finished project and admiring the craftsmanship of his own work. This boat was the second biggest in his collection and he had all the time in the world to do it. It says a lot when he had started it Friday and here being Tuesday completely finished. He had no traditions to comply to like everyone else's family do around this time of year. They don't trim the trees or deck the halls, His parents hire people to do that. Perhaps it was too bothersome to do as a normal family... Who was he kidding? His family isn't normal… It's anything but! Each year, Blake ends up pondering about the Christmas season and each year he depresses himself with silly, longing thoughts. And yet, it was one of his favorite holidays of all time. Presents didn't mean much because his birthday was in the same month. He just adored the sentimental value in the holiday. It was magical, to put it into simpler terms. Anything could happen… At least that's what it felt like. That's what you get when you were born a winter baby.

Blake turned on the radio and the tree house was filled with soft, promising Christmas carols. He allowed himself to be lulled into a calmness but he was still very much alone. That never settled with him… What did he always do to be rid of this sense of loneliness? He bothered Carl. He hasn't seen one bit of him since school let out but the notes kept coming. Perhaps he should pay him a visit? Would that be appropriate? Why wouldn't it be? Being the day before his family's Christmas party, Carl might be decorating the house for the festivities… No doubt he is busy.

Blake sighed before slowly picking himself up off the couch and placed the boat in his study where he had relocated his growing bundle of notes, which was spread out all over the desk. He needed to find a more efficient way to keep these together. He would feel horrible if he lost one. Maybe he could visit for a little bit tonight, it's not dark out yet so maybe he could pop by and be it appropriate.

Blake slipped on his coat before exiting the tree and he started walking off of the Gripling property. He didn't bother Winston. Sure it was snowing but it was just a nice, soft, flurry without much wind. Perfect winter weather. He could use a walk to keep him calm anyway. It's a good thing Carl's house isn't that far though.

Carl silently walked in the flurrying snowflakes, hoping Blake wasn't too busy to visit with him. His mind went back and forth to what he wanted to do and what he should do at this point in time. He should just wait until tomorrow and see if Blake showed up, for once he should be passive. What he wanted to do was to go over and see him, whether he was busy or not. Carl Foutley isn't passive... at least when he feels he doesn't need to be.

Carl stared at the sidewalk passing below him as he walked mindlessly on the path he has long since memorized. He didn't expect it when he bumped into something solid, sending him into the stop sign post next to him. He noticed it wasn't a thing, it was a who.

"Hey, watch it!" He said roughly, expecting the person to turn around and apologize. The passing person glanced up at the sudden voice in the silence and Carl realized it was Blake once he made eye contact. "Blake? What are you doing out? ...Without Winston?"

"Carl.. I..uh-I needed to get out of the house.. I was about to come see you." Blake said slowly walking towards him. Carl just stayed where he was.

"Well, that wouldn't have done us any good." Carl joked. "I was on my way to see you too."

"I'm sorry about bumping into you like that… Are you okay?" Blake asked, slightly concerned.

"You're not exactly Michael Jordan, I think I will be fine." Carl said with a light smirk. Blake silently grinned back. "Could I walk you back home, or would you like to just walk? I kind of snuck out during dinner."

Blake thought for a second, "Home sounds well enough." He decided, turning around and started walking back the way he came with Carl at his side. They walked in a comfortable silence for the first ten minutes until Blake glanced up at Carl, making him shift his eyes towards him.

"What's buggin you?" Carl asked lightly with a raised eyebrow, feeling Blake's uneasy aura.

"Nothing, really." Blake said softly against the subtle wind blowing at their faces.

"No, no. Don't give me that crap, Blakey-boy. There's something so spit it out." Carl said semi-seriously as the two of them entered the side yard, heading towards the tree house.

"Well. There are a number of things." Blake started before climbing and entering the tree house. Carl urged him on with a silent, twisting hand motion as they made themselves comfortable. Carl took the liberty of microwaving some water for hot coco as Blake sat himself on the sofa behind him. "First thing is first, I am wondering how long these notes are going to keep arriving."

"Getting impatient, are we?" Carl asked humorously.

"I guess you could call it that." Blake said in reply. "Just why are you doing this in the first place?"

"If you haven't figured that one out, then you aren't paying attention." Carl said in worried tone. Was he just overlooking the gesture?

"They're great. Don't get me wrong, Carl but what is the real reason? I know it has to be deeper than my self-esteem here."

"Patience is a virtue." Carl said as he stirred the coco mix in two separate mugs. When he turned towards Blake, he didn't looked impressed by the fact Carl had used his own words against him. Carl just chuckled a little at Blake's expression before handing him a mug and taking a set next to him. "What else is on your mind?"

"Just the heavy, inattentiveness that the holidays loom over my family." Blake answered in a bored, emotionless tone.

"Inattentive?" Carl asked with furrowed brows. "Your family doesn't do anything?"

"It's not that they don't do anything… They take traditions that would normally be done as a family and hire people to do them for us. I.E: Decorating the house… Cooking the Christmas meal... Stuff of that nature. I am just noticing what I am missing around this time of year... Just me wallowing, it's nothing to be worried about, honestly."

"Nothing to worry about?" Carl repeated. "I beg to differ. You are more than welcome to come over and partake in our traditions. It's not like your intruding in any way. You don't need to be alone. Especially if you have me around." Carl placed a hand on Blake's shoulder. "I also think you’re watching too many hallmark movies around this time of year." Blake shot him a swift glare and swatted Carl's leg without a word. Carl just chuckled at him before enjoying his coco.

Carl spent the past few hours talking to Blake and catching up on news around the area. Blake's distant aunt in England just welcomed her second child to the world the night before. Ginger just won second place at the town's battle of the bands last week. Blake admitted to Carl that he has been distant the past few days because sadly, he regressed into drinking the night after school let out and he has been up in the tree house most of the time ever since just working on a giant model boat. In his intoxicated state, he decided to start it so he couldn't leave it when he woke up the next morning. He was feeling pretty low on himself.

"This is why you should call me.." Carl commented. He wasn't angry but it made him feel a little doleful that he couldn't be there for him. "I am still here, you know.."

"How could I forget?" Blake said in a joking manner. "Your notes are there every morning when I wake up."

"You never complained."

"Do not take this as a complaint." Blake said right out before shooting Carl a warm smile. "Quite the contrary, I'm glad something is there to look forward to… It's like having you there to wake up to every day." He admitted quietly. This stunned Carl a little but made him smile after a second. He never knew that his idea would make this large of an impact on Blake. He just wanted to make him feel better about himself and their relationship.

"You like that idea?" Carl asked quietly. Blake didn't even try to hide his puzzled expression as he searched Carl's face for any hint that he was joking, but there wasn't any. Carl was being serious.

"Naturally, of course… But after the road we traveled together, how could I not?" Blake asked lightly.

"Consider it done." Carl said with a smirk. That was the smirk he had ever so often when he was up to no good. It made Blake's heart stop for a moment.

"...You aren't serious...?"

"Of course I'm serious." Carl said. "I'm always serious."

"I call your bluff, good sir..." Blake said with narrowed eyes, still searching Carl's expression which had not wavered.

"Okay, Okay. I'm not always serious but I am when you need me. How's that?"

"That sounds rather veracious.." Blake said cautiously. "What are you getting at, if I may ask?"

"I'm staying the night. Pretty simple."

"And you’re just going to invite yourself like that, Eh Foutley?"

"I'm not hearing a 'No' anywhere in that sentence so… Yeah, I am." Carl said with a smart tone. Blake opened his mouth to reply but nothing came to mind. "Just as I thought. So where is it going to be? Stay in the cozy tree house here or opt for a much roomier bedroom in the house?"

"You are completely irrepressible at times." Blake sighed crossing his arms out in front of his chest as an attempt to hold any ground he still had.

"...And you haven't chosen yet so I say, Bedroom." Carl said standing up from the sofa and stretching nonchalantly as Blake stayed sitting just watching him with a slight rose blush forming on his cheeks. “A fireplace sounds a lot more cozier than staying here.”

"Need I remind you that you snuck out tonight and it is already past midnight." Blake said with a small, controlled attitude.

"What's the worst that could happen?" Carl asked with a shrug. "I'll get grounded if my folks find out. Big whoop. They never check my room anyway." Carl got a tiny idea as his wit kicked in, he couldn’t resist. “Plus, you wouldn’t want me walking home in this snow… Baby, it’s cold outside.”

Blake just stared up at him with a growing blush before Carl offered his hand to the cautious blonde. He stared at it for a second before sighing and taking it, Carl helping him up from the sofa. Of course, Blake could never deny such a request from Carl Foutley. Especially when he dared to quote his favorite Christmas song. They exited the tree house together making their way inside the dark house and maneuvering their way to Blake's bedroom successfully. Blake closed and locked the door and let out a sigh of relief, Thankful that they didn't run into anyone on the way up. Carl on the other hand, made himself right at home. Plopping himself onto Blake's queen sized bed triumphantly. Blake just watched him from the doorway. He didn't know what to make of this. He's never had anyone intentionally stay the night in his room before, much less Carl! How was this going to work? Would it be like the other time's they had dozed off together after a session of passionate lip-locking and deep conversations or would it be like a friend staying over at another friend's place just to hang out over night?

"Are you just going to stand there all night? Or am I going to have to move you myself?" Carl asked lightly, interrupting Blake's racing thoughts. "Because I have no problem with the second option at all... In fact, I think I will come over there and do just that." Carl smirked as he stood up and moved over to where Blake was standing, motionless. Blake once again opened his mouth to counter Carl but came up short of words. When Carl got to the door frame he carefully swept a strand of bright blonde hair from Blake's forehead and leaned in, placing a soft kiss on to Blake's lips. He caught a whiff of Blake's lightly scented French-milled soap and it was completely intoxicating. Blake shuddered at the sudden contact but returned the kiss, nonetheless. Carl wasted no time deepening the kiss at all, licking the surface of Blake's bottom lip and placing his hands on Blake's hips and pressing Blake against the door as Blake wrapped his arms around Carl's neck. Soon Carl was exploring every inch of Blake's mouth as Blake started walking them towards the plushy, large bed. Once again, Carl can definitely say that he wasn't anticipating this outcome when he decided to come over. They landed lightly on the comfortable mattress as they continued rekindling their rather fervid relationship. Soon enough, the kiss broke and the two just laid there in a most comfortable silence. Blake felt alive and whole once again. Hopefully this was a new, stronger bridge between the two of them. He couldn't stand the thought of being in a broken relationship anymore and it's about time they got back together once again.

Carl didn't remember falling asleep but when he woke up, He and Blake were underneath the covers and Blake was curled up next to him, leaning on his shoulder. He must have woke up in the middle of the night and covered them up when the fireplace lightened up, no longer supplying the room with heat. Carl seemed to feel a little odd sleeping in his clothes from the day before but it wasn't a big thing on his mind, He's done it before just not recently. He looked around the room and it was still dark out. The alarm clock next to him illuminated 5:28 am in bright green. Carl relaxed as he watched Blake take in deep, quiet breaths in his slumber. He wondered for a second what he was dreaming about since once again he couldn't recall his own dreams, if he had any. All he knew was that this was the best sleep he has had in months. Carl stared at the ceiling for a moment before realizing that he couldn't get back to sleep. It was way too early to head back to his house and plus, he wanted to go back with Blake any way. Blake was still very deep in his own world and Carl didn't have the heart to wake him just yet. So Carl gently lifted Blake off of him before swiftly edging out of the bed himself, placing Blake in the spot he had occupied. He lifted the comforter up and over Blake's shoulders before stretching and walking across the room to Blake's bookcase. The darkness had lightened enough for him to see the room clearly in the winter dawn lighting. Carl looked through the book titles, not seeing anything that interested him personally so he made his way to Blake's personal bathroom and proceeded to inspect his reflection before washing his face in warm water. He considered last night as a refreshing start to their relationship. This made him happy because that was all he wanted.

He walked out of the bathroom once he dried his face and located his discarded coat on the arm chair where Blake had thrown it last night. He quietly searched the pockets and located the long forgotten envelope and swiftly placed it on the bathroom counter, next to the sink. Once he was done with that, He located a small book and sat himself down on the large couch and began to read to pass time.

In about two hours’ time, Blake stirred quietly before bolting up abruptly with a short gasp, slightly startling Carl from his reading. It was completely sunny out now, making the room blindingly bright. Carl offered Blake a small smile as soon as he realized he was gazing at him in a very clear sleepy haze.

"Morning Sleepy-head.. Did ya' miss me?" Carl joked lightly, earning a small blush from the silent boy in front of him. Carl closed the book and placed it on the coffee table as Blake yawned, throwing the covers off and slowly getting out of bed.

"How long have you been up?" He questioned once he gained his senses back, sitting himself down on the couch next to Carl, mindlessly picked up the book Carl was reading and setting it back down once he found out what it was.

"About an hour and a half... maybe two hours tops. Sleep well?" Carl questioned.

Blake lazily leaned his head on Carl's shoulder before giving a light 'mhmm' in reply. "…And yourself?" Blake asked after a second.

"Yes, I did. Haven't felt this good in months. Not a care in the world even." Carl explained in a relaxed tone.

"Glad to hear it." Blake said softly before stretching his arms upwards and standing up from the couch, walking over to the bathroom. "I'm going to wash up. I shall be out in about twenty minutes and I will walk you home."

"Do me one better and stay at my place for the day, I insist. The party is today and I would still like for you to be there."

"But then I will have to take a shower and make sure I look presentable for such an event." Blake whined lightly in protest. Carl sent a smirk to him.

"You always look presentable." Carl said calmly. "Even right now, having just rolled out of bed, you look more presentable then fifty percent of the people in this town does on their best day."

"...As true as that may be... I have an image to uphold, Carl." Blake said from the bathroom door before entering.

"Ah yes, the image of the rich and famous." Carl said with heavy sarcasm. "How could I forget?"

"Rich, yes… Not quite famous yet. Though, I typically don't wish to reach that level. It's a tad overrated if you ask me." Blake countered with equal sarcasm before closing the door behind him. Carl just smirked and shook his head lightly before relaxing out on the couch since he had a feeling that Blake's primping was going to be a little time-consuming at best.

Once Blake was done with his grooming, all seventy-eight minutes of it, they both slipped out of the house and headed over to Carl's place. On the way there, He came up with the plan of having taken out the trash before entering the house so it didn't seem like he was out all night which somehow worked because when he and Blake walked through the door, Lois demanded that he help lift the couch to move it to the edge of the living room and help set up the buffet tables.

"I was calling you for about ten minutes. I wasn't aware you were outside. How early were you up?" Lois asked as Carl picked up one end of the couch as Lois had the other.

"Since about five thirty." Carl said. It wasn't a lie.

"When did Blake show up?"

"Just now." Carl said as they placed the couch against the wall. Blake came into the living room with two small foil-covered dishes. "He wanted to help out so he stopped by."

"Well, the more people, the better." Lois said before Ginger came down the staircase to see the busy living room coming together for the party. "About time, Ginge." Lois said hurriedly as she and Carl walked over to the coffee table and moved it next to the couch. "Set up the buffet tables, will ya?" Lois disappeared into the kitchen with Blake.

"Yeah… Hey, Carl… Nice to see you out of your room." Ginger said in a heavy attitude in passing as she went into the kitchen as well. Carl just rolled his eyes and pushed the arm chair to the opposite wall from the couch. Everyone reemerged from the kitchen with dishes and platters in their hands.

"Carl, Could you go grab the firewood? It's getting ready to snow pretty hard soon. Bring it inside will ya?" Lois asked in passing before disappearing into the kitchen once again. Carl pulled on his coat and boots before going outside once more. He looked up at the sky and his mother was right. The heavy clouds did not lie. Neither did the slow, piercing wind. He rushed to the shed and gathered a large arm full of wood and rushed into the garage, placing the wood inside the tin container. He picked it up and walked it to the front door since the kitchen was sure to be packed with people and food so he concluded that the side door wasn't a good idea. Just as he got to the front door the wind started to pick up pretty well. It was blowing so hard that it opened the front door for him once he turned the knob. It slammed open, he just walked in and Blake rushed over to close the door behind Carl since the container was occupying his arms at the moment.

"Thanks, Blake!" Carl said in a rush, wanting to set the heavy thing down next to the fireplace in a hurry. It was starting to make his hands sore. Once it was set down, he fed the small fire a log and poked it, making the flames grow. Blake came up to him with a mug of coco with a perfect peppermint cane stuck in it like a stir stick. Carl smiled at him and took the mug in his hands, welcoming the sudden warmth. Another light blush appeared and settled on Blake's cheeks before he smiled back. "Thanks again. Is the food all taken care of?"

"For now." Blake said quietly as he held his own mug in his hands, He walked over to the couch and made himself comfortable, Carl followed him and sipped his peppermint infused coco mindlessly. "Just waiting for the right time to bring out the fresh foods."

"Gotcha..." Carl muttered before downing his coco. "Excuse me while I go wash up. I'll be down in twenty. Try not to miss me too much." Carl joked as he headed upstairs to his bathroom. Blake just blushed to himself before going into the kitchen with Ginger and Lois.

Carl took a quick shower and put on some presentable clothes. He listened to the faint melody of lively Christmas carols coming from the living room down below as he headed down the stairs. Not too loud but just enough to be enjoyable. Lois and David were dancing in the open space in the middle of the living room. Ginger was in the kitchen with Dodie and Macie when he walked in. Blake was at the stove, stirring a pot as it simmered lively on medium heat. Carl wasn't aware of the fact that Blake knew how to cook at all so it was weird seeing him in front of a stove… but it was nice at the same time.

"Hm. Blake Gripling cooking.. What a sight." Carl teased in a passive tone, resulting in a slightly exasperated expression from Blake but he stuck his tongue out at him, making Carl laugh a little.

"Yeah, yeah. Make fun. You're not the only one who knows how to operate these appliances... Though I wouldn't do it on a regular basis..." Blake muttered as he set the wooden spoon down and placed the glass lid on the steaming pot.

"...What would you do without me?" Carl asked in apparent amusement as he reached over to turn the heat down to low since it started to roll into a full boil as soon as the lid went on. Carl could feel Ginger watching him every few minutes as she silently pinched dough over mini pies with her two chatty friends. She obviously knew something, but it didn't concern him at all. It just made him a little uncomfortable, being watched like some kind of living experiment. He shot her a glare which she returned right back to him sevenfold.

"Apparently, burn a few houses down?" Blake asked, leaning against the counter a few feet away from Carl. "If I ever got to use such devices in the first place... Which would be fairly unlikely." Carl just shook his head lightly before the two of them put together the party favors at the dining table sharing an interesting silence. Carl tuned out the chatty trio and focused on the music in the background. Blake was humming lightly as he worked on the favor packs. By the time that task was done, the snow was now coming down pretty good but it was interestingly sunny as well. Carl took care of the pot of lightly simmering coco, adding a little bit of cinnamon syrup to the mixture and letting it simmer once again.

"Hey Carl, am I late?" a familiar voice rang out before the person burst into the kitchen.

"We got everything taken care of, Hoods." Carl said turning around to see Hoodsey was waving a little bit to Macie before taking a seat next to Blake. "Just relax and take a load off. Coco?"

"Yes please... So... How goes it, Blake?" Hoodsey asked, sparking a small conversation with Blake as Carl ladled out a mug full of coco. Placing a ready peppermint cane into the cup before passing it off to Hoodsey behind him. Blake was optimistic through the conversation, He was in a much better mood then he usually is. He was pretty happy looking for being so down for the past week.

"So what have you been up to?" Carl asked Hoodsey as he sat himself down at the table. "It's like you dropped off the face of the earth after break began."

"I was kind of helping with the decorating and stuff... My mom says we need more family values. Whatever that means..." Hoodsey said, seeming bored and making sure he wasn't heard by his sister who was across the kitchen dabbing the dough with melted butter before placing the muffin tray full of mini pies in the oven.

"JoJo holding the family hostage, huh?" Carl asked knowingly.

"Well I wouldn't exactly call it that.. I mean.. I get where she is coming from even though this is what we usually do around this time of year so it's not all that shocking." Hoodsey explained. "The only thing that has changed was that no one outside of the family was allowed to come over."

Carl couldn't help but feel a little offended by that but like he always does, He just brushed it off. It was always very common knowledge that Joanne Bishop never liked Carl at all. She always viewed him as a bad influence towards her family even though he has never done any harm to Hoodsey... or anyone else for that matter. It was just JoJo being JoJo.

"Well, isn't she a beacon of holiday spirit." Carl joked with a laugh. Blake just gave him a reassuring glance and Hoodsey didn't say anything in response but once again he knew Hoodsey was starting to feel bad by the look on his face. "It's fine Hoods. Stop doing that. We are having a party here in about an hour, be joyful!"

"I can't help it, Carl! I know it's unfair to you. You and your family have been so hospitable to me and Dodie throughout the years and my mom just shuns you with all the energy she has."

"Nothing is going to change that, we have tried many times, my friend... So just stop feeling bad and just accept it." Carl said in a very self-assuring tone. Hoodsey just sighed inwardly before nodding in agreement. The three of them roamed around the house when people started to show up. The girls were helping Lois set out appetizers on the coffee table and David brought out a party thermos full of the hot coco that was previously simmering on the stove not too long ago. Unfortunately and a big surprise to Carl, Brandon Higsby had shown up and attached himself to the three of them.

"It's nice to see you could make it, Blake. I was wondering about whether or not you were able to make it." Brandon said brightly. "And before you say anything, Carl, Your mother generously invited us last week after running into my mother at the store. It was super nice of her to do that!"

"Yeah. I bet. Hey Higsby, I just had a thought." Carl said quickly.

"I don't generally like your thoughts, Carl..."

"No listen. How about you pull up some information on that theater thing I'm accompanying you to next month. I would like to know what I'm watching ahead of time."

"Oh… okay... but F.Y.I., it's not a 'thing'. It's one of the most grandest musical performances in the entire history of Broadway!" Brandon said flamboyantly as he pulled out his cell phone from his back pocket to start browsing for information. "And it should be respected as such."

"Yeah whatever, just come find me when you have some info!" Carl said in complete false interest before slowly walking to the other side of the room where Hoodsey was located after swiftly dodging the bullet of Brandon's presence. Hoodsey was sort of staring at Macie from across the room as it filled up with more and more people trying to get out of the freezing snow storm. "Just go talk to her."

"I don't know if I can, Carl.. I mean I'm so nervous already! My hands are all sweaty and.. and I feel like I just ran a marathon and swallowed a pale of rocks! I can't do this!" Hoodsey said with extreme nervousness. "What if I choke!?"

"You've talked to her before.. What makes this any different?" Carl asked.

"Oh, other than the fact that I am trying to -uh- get to know her on a more personal level?"

"Exactly. You're surrounded by a ton of people. No one is going to notice your talking to her but her. You need to take this chance and run with it. What have you got to lose?"

"My self-esteem... My dignity, if I make a fool of myself... My mental stability..."

"You're over-thinking this… Just go talk to her and get it over with." Carl said roughly. He looked around and grabbed two cups of prepared coco and shoved them in Hoodsey's hands. "Go bring her one."

"Get it over with..?" Hoodsey asked numbly as he looked at the cups in his hands, which were shaking slightly. "I feel like I'm about to die from this..."

"You're not going to die, trust me.. Just go bring her some coco and strike up a conversation. She is all alone over there. Her friends are off talking to guys and she looks like she would like some company. I.E: You, Hoods-man. Go give her some company." Carl said in a low tone of voice as Hoodsey kept staring at her with a blank expression.

Hoodsey gulped and took a deep breath before nodding in agreement. "Get it over with.." Hoodsey repeated to himself as he started to slowly walk over to her.

"Go get her, Tiger." Carl said encouragingly, patting Hoodsey's back before he left to make his way through the crowd. Blake then appeared right beside him also looking at Hoodsey as he approached Macie with caution.

"He was going to back out of it once again." Blake stated before handing Carl a mug.

"Yep." Carl confirmed before mindlessly sipping the drink Blake had provided him with. Carl wasn't aware that he had tea bags anywhere in the house. "Hm.. Did you supply the kitchen with tea bags? Because I don't remember seeing any."

"I brought some over. I always do, just in case. Drink too much coco and I would be endlessly hyper for days."

"Well, I will keep that in mind." Carl said calmly before seeking some space inside the kitchen. No one was in there so he took a seat at the dining table. Blake followed behind Carl and sat right next to him. "Too many people this year." Carl stated. Blake grinned at the comment before silently sipping his tea. Carl knew this was nothing to Blake. He's been around large groups all his life. For all Carl knew, this amount of people would compare to a regular Saturday afternoon at the country club.

By the time it got dark, the party started winding down a little bit. Some people only stayed for an hour because of the storm that was looming over the town but half of the guests stayed well into the evening. The party didn't officially end until around eleven at night.

"There you are! I have been looking for you all over this house." Brandon said after he spotted him on the couch trying to relax. He was trying to spot Hoodsey in the small diminished crowd but had no such luck. "Well, I found a very well written summary about the production, I will print it out for you and drop it off tomorrow. You can't even imagine how excited I am about this! It's going to be so super fantastic!"

"I am sure I can't." Carl agreed in the nicest tone he could muster up, given his sudden need for sleep had just washed over him about ten minutes ago. It's been a very long day, but enjoyable. "Have a good night, Higsby. I will see you tomorrow then."

"Right you are! Good night!" Brandon said in a bright tone before exiting the house with his parents close behind. Blake was starting to doze off on the other side of the couch. Apparently, the day had been long for him too. Out of nowhere, Hoodsey made an appearance just as Carl stood up to help clean up some of the living room. He was looking very alert.

"Hoods, where have you been?" Carl asked suddenly waking up from his hazy state.

Hoodsey smiled, "I was walking Macie to her car two houses down."

"And?" Carl questioned.

"And I had a good time tonight. We talked and talked all night. She's more interesting than I thought. So when she said she had to get home, I walked her to her car because it's pretty dark outside, you know."

"..Did you ask her out?" Carl questioned with a grin but Hoodsey just shook his head no.

"I didn't see it appropriate at the time.. But I did get her number. So maybe this week, I'll have my chance."

"A number is just as good!" Carl said happily. "What did I tell you? You had nothing to worry about."

"It wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. I repeated myself a few times and lost my train of thought but she was surprisingly understanding about it."

"Well, Congrats! You are one step closer." Carl said with a pat on the shoulder.

"Wouldn't have gone through with it if it hadn't been for you." Hoodsey said quietly. "Thank you for giving me the push I needed."

"What are best friends for?" Carl asked with a slight shrug. Hoodsey just smiled in response before being called away by his sister. Hoodsey quickly said good night before walking out of the house. Carl looked back and Blake grinned up at him. He was still looking tired. "How about you stay the night. You look pretty beat."

"I am feeling a tad worn out.. But I shouldn't-"

"It's all fine, Blake." Lois interrupted quickly, slightly startling Carl. He didn't notice she was in the room at all. "I already notified your parents an hour ago. Make yourself at home. We'll finish cleaning this mess tomorrow morning." Blake couldn't object so he just smiled and stretched his arms out a little. Carl was mentally thanking his mother for her awesome skill of planning ahead.

"Let's go watch a movie or something." Carl said passively, leading the way upstairs with Blake trailing behind him. Carl set the TV up at the far side of the room before setting out blankets and pillows in front of it. Some kind of Christmas movie was playing when Blake walked in and closed the door behind him. He had wasted no time getting comfortable in the designated area as he watched Carl gather a few more blankets from the closet. "Is this okay? I know it's not a comfortable bed but-"

"Carl, need I remind you that this isn't the first time I'm sleeping on your floor. It's quite alright as is. Just relax already." Blake interrupted, seeming a little amused before relaxing himself. Carl grinned at him before spreading the blanket he had in his arms and claiming a spot to Blake's right. Blake had fallen asleep in a matter of minutes, once again curled up to Carl's side. Carl just admired the boy next to him. He could definitely get use to this.

On Christmas day, Blake spent the morning with his family opening a few thoughtless gifts from his parents ..or 'Santa' as his father kept playing out for hours on end. A few pair of his usual monogrammed silk pajamas. A new and complete edition of Edgar Allan Poe's works. A check for a couple thousand dollars. And a… Violin…? His parents told him that they had signed him up for Violin and his sister for Harp lessons starting next month. Blake didn't really know what to make of it, but it did show him that his parents really did not know him at all. The only meaningful gifts he received was from Courtney and Winston. Courtney, believe it or not, she had made him a complete outfit, made with top of the line fabrics and the pieces looked really spectacular. It was definitely one of a kind. A black cashmere long sleeve shirt, A mainly dark blue sweater vest with a star patch on the back near the collar, and a pair of strong but fairly flexible dark blue jeans. He was impressed by it to say the least. Her fashion classes are paying off. If she could make that as and end result of one year, who knows where she could be with the rest of the two years she still had to go.

He had got her a very sleek cream colored overcoat with a black, soft lining she had her eye on since she visited France a couple months ago and a plane ticket to New York City in Mid-February. The designer she was meeting with in France hadn't released it yet, and wasn't going to until the fashion show in February. Blake had called the designer up and explained the situation and she agreed to let him purchase it if Courtney would make an appearance in New York for the fashion show. Needless to say, she was rather surprised it wasn't from their father or rather that Blake was even able to get it in the first place. She gave Blake the tightest hug he had ever received from her. It was out of character for her to show affection in front of their parents, so it was surprising to everyone.

Winston got him a rather epic painting of a rugged Captain sailing a large boat out in the most choppiest of waters he could ever dream up.

He got Winston a yearlong membership to a very exclusive, holistic spa in town. It was very well known that the man was starting to look run down from all the running Courtney has him do now.

"Thank you sir!" Winston said in very clear appreciation. "I cannot thank you enough. You're so generous, Very generous indeed."

"You are very welcome. It is the least I could do to thank you for your kindness you have shown me through the years." Blake said modestly before Winston pulled him into a warm hug like he did every so often. "You have been my best friend for so long, I must make sure you are well appreciated on my behalf."

"Consider it done, sir." Winston said warmly before pulling away and patting him on his shoulder. "Let's not keep Master Carl waiting since everything is clearly done here."

Blake looked behind him and Courtney was pulling on her new coat and running out the door, His parents went back to their reading and Carmen, the maid, was busily picking up the mess around the area. He frowned at his parents before nodding in agreement.

Carl was enjoying the Christmas morning with his family, watching some Christmas specials and talking with his family happily while waiting for Blake to show up. Lois invited Blake over for Christmas morning the weekend before since Blake had casually explained a typical Christmas day in his own family during idle conversation over dinner. It didn't sound like much happens between opening presents and dinner so he was invited to join the Foutley Christmas after he was done in the morning. Carl had apologized to Ginger for his rude behavior after Blake left to go home the day after the party. She was thankful that he was civil to her once again and explained that she knew about him being out the entire night because she had come up to check on him after dinner was done and he was nowhere to be found. She kept it away from their mom but she stayed up waiting for him to return the whole night long. She hinted to him that he shouldn't do that again because he might not get so lucky next time around. He promised it was a total spur of the moment type of thing and it wouldn't happen again. Though he assumed that Ginger had hinted to their parents that it would be a good idea to have 'the talk' soon because recently they have been coming home from work with total horror stories from the clinic portion of the hospital.

"Isn't this kind of going against your Hippocratic Oath or something of the sort?" Carl asked in slight annoyance after putting up with it for about a week straight. Dr. Dave just stared at him. "I mean gossiping about patients isn't really right to do..."

"It is for David but not me." Lois said in a sly tone.

Carl thought for a second before remembering something, "What about your nurses code of honor?"

"Never mind, then." Lois said in a short tone, almost embarrassed that Carl would remember that small of a fact. "I guess it's time, David."

"Here we go." Carl muttered crossing his arms and leaning back into the chair at the dining room table where they trapped Carl in with story after story since they got home. He had been waiting for this to happen since he first came to Lois about his growing up complex months ago. Little did they know, He already knew all of the basic information as of last month when they had a health class devoted to this topic.

"Okay, ...uh.. well... You see, son..." David stammered nervously. "When a man and a women.. um.."

This was almost too painful to listen to. Carl sighed and raised an eyebrow at his parents whom had fallen silent until his mother cleared her throat.

"Carl-" Lois started but Carl stopped them right there.

"Mom, I already know this stuff." Carl said calmly but he really wanted to laugh at his parents. "You had to sign a permission slip for me to watch a movie all the guys in my class had to watch, Remember?"

"Alright, skip the basics and down to the point then.." Lois said in slight relief. "You should know about intercourse and pregnancy, right?" Carl nodded in an amused manner. "How about safe sex? And STD's?"

Carl nodded again only slightly more serious. "Yes, mom." He said softly.

"You are too young to be acting in it but just know that if you are going to do it, then do it safely. Use a condom every time. There are a lot of dangers out there-"

"-like HIV, Chlamydia, Syphilis, Gonorrhea..." David listed. Lois took out a laminated sheet of paper and set it in front of him, Carl looked at it and felt disgusted in the least. It was pictures and descriptions of the diseases his mom must have borrowed from the clinic. Carl sighed after staring at it for a while.

"I know. Trust me, I know better. I might be stubborn at times and maybe a little foolish but I'm not an idiot." Carl said with a small laugh, pushing the graphic piece of paper away from him a little. "I am pretty cautious as it is."

"That is good to hear, Son." David said looking relieved. Lois patted Carl's hand and smiled at him.

"You are growing up so fast.." Lois said. Here we go again with Lois's reminiscing... "It seems like yesterday I was teaching you not to bite the dog and now you are growing up to be a wonderful young man..."

"Mom..." Carl groaned with a slight palm to the forehead.

"He really bit the dog?" David asked, sounding astonished.

"I think he was playing with him, but yes." Lois said and David just raised an eyebrow.

"I take it that we are done?" Carl asked hurriedly but didn't give them enough time to answer before he escaped the dining room and disappearing for the afternoon up in his room.

That was four days ago and he was happy that it was all done with and that nothing was causing tension in the house on Christmas day. The family was saving the present opening for when Blake arrives and they were happy when he finally showed up at around ten in the morning. Carl opened the door when the doorbell rang through the living room.

"Blake! Merry Christmas!" Carl said happily but noticed Winston driving away from the residence. He was kind of hoping Winston was going to wait so he could invite him inside as well.

"Merry Christmas, Carl." Blake said with a small smile. Carl stepped aside letting Blake walk inside the house before closing the door behind him. He took Blake's coat and hung it up for him.

"How was your morning?" Carl asked as he took a seat on the couch with him. Blake just shrugged and recited the morning's event and the fact that he is now an owner of a violin. "A violin..?"

"Correct..." Blake said blandly as Lois served hot tea to everyone as the family gathered. "I don't really want it... I have never expressed any interest in the instrument so I'm not sure where my parents are going with this... But now I’m kind of forced into learning since they had paid for after-school lessons. I wouldn't have minded the piano or something of that sort... but the violin...?"

"Don't think about it too much." Carl said with ease. "Just go to a few lessons and see where it goes. Knowing your parents, they are probably trying to teach you the importance of fine arts or something that seems important in your family."

"You would think that I appreciate the Arts already with me taking up painting." Blake said.

"Or they would like to add to your skills. I know that sometimes happens in your kind of family dynamic."

"Who knows...? Honestly." Blake shrugged with a sip of his tea. "Bottom line is my parents barely realize who I have become as a person. That makes me quite wistful."

"Well, I know you. So it's not all that bad, huh?" Carl asked trying to be optimistic. He picked up a rectangular wrapped present and placed it on his lap. "This should make you feel better. You get the pleasure of opening the first present."

"Carl… you didn't need to. I mean my birthday gifts were quite enough." Blake said slowly.

"You need to have it." Carl said with a shrug. "Just open it. You shouldn't fight every time you get a gift, Blake..."

Blake sighed and set his mug of tea down on the coffee table in front of him and did as Carl said, ripping the wrapping paper open to reveal a dark blue leather binder of some sort. He gave Carl a weird confused look before opening the cover, revealing empty sheets of thick, tear resistant paper with about four elongated slots on each page. Probably about fifty sheets by the looks of it. He looked on the inside of the cover and there was a note glued to it. He looked at every one and they were talking amongst themselves and it seemed like they didn't know what it was, well he wasn't even sure himself but he silently read the note.

'Hold onto the words of the people you love, you'll never know when you'll need them.'

Blake was still confused but it made him smile nonetheless.

"We can look at it later, so no worries." Carl whispered as he tossed a present at his sister. "Alright Sis, you’re next."

"Ooh, it’s from you." Ginger said but then raised an eyebrow at her brother. "Should I be cautious?"

"Nah. Nothing is going to jump out at you. Promise!" Carl said with a smile.

"Okaaay..." Ginger said but she was still cautious when she tore the paper and opened the small box. She winced but when nothing happened then she looked inside and smiled a little. "Carl, it's adorable!" She pulled out a brown leather bracelet that included about four different strands in all, holding small charms of some sort.

"You're welcome, Ginge." Carl said giving her a smile. Carl also got David a new stethoscope and Lois a massaging foot bath since her last one shorted out earlier this month. He and Ginger both put their money together for both gifts.

Carl received extra film for is camcorder from Ginger, an interesting reference book of weird and random information Squeaky Shoes and Gnomes on the Ice from David, and a few hanging shelves that you mount on the wall from Lois. Ginger received two choker necklaces from her mom and a new sleek purse from David. Everyone got Blake a present as well, a thick, cotton, black scarf of a long length. Blake wasn't expecting a present from Carl's family. It was quite generous. He wasn't use to being cared for by more than two people, but here he was being cared about by a whole other family. He wanted to ask why but he didn't. He did feel slightly tearful but he evaded that with a deep breath.

"Thank you… This is so kind of you all... You really didn't have to." Blake said with a smile.

"We wanted to!" Lois said happily as she prepped a trash bag to be filled with discarded wrapping paper. "It's a pleasure having you here with us today."

"Thank you." Blake repeated. Carl patted his shoulder softly and offered him a smile as well. Everyone had either turned their attention to the TV or went into the kitchen after the mess was picked up.

"Come on, let’s take a look at the binder.." Carl said getting up and taking his presents up to his room and Blake followed behind.

"Oh, wow..." Blake muttered when he flipped through the middle pages. There he had revealed all of the unopened, numbered envelopes he had grown accustomed to seeing every morning. Only these went all the way up to one hundred. These are the ones he has yet to see. Now he understood. "You wrote all of these?"

"Of course." Carl said. "I had planned to deliver these one by one until the last one."

".. It would have taken you until the middle of freshman year to deliver all of these." Blake said, obviously surprised. "Not counting summer of course."

"I know. Things had progressed faster than I anticipated... So, I thought this would make a good Christmas gift."

"It's wonderful, Carl. I love it." Blake stated gratefully, swiftly placing a light peck on Carl's cheek.

"You deserve every one of those… and thousands more but I don't know if I can do that." Carl laughed a little, Blake just grinned innocently and rolled his eyes in an amused manner.

"You are something else, Carl Foutley." Blake stated softly. That was complete truth, Carl was simply indescribable to Blake but he was certainly a powerful force in his life.

The day before Carl had to accompany Brandon to this play downtown, Carl located the envelope Brandon delivered to him weeks ago. It was swept out of sight until Carl remembered the dreadful circumstance an hour ago. He sighed and opened the untouched envelope and skimmed through its contents. Of course he was going to a musical production. It had some conflict in it so he supposed it wouldn't be too bad. If Brandon was lucky, Carl wouldn't fall asleep in the middle of it all if the conflict kept him interested enough.

"Run away with me, Sally..." Carl said to himself the stupid title of the play. He sighed and rubbed his temple. What did he do to himself? He had to add this to the bet... Stupid competitiveness.

The night of the play, Brandon arranged to pick Carl up at his house even though Carl insisted that he could just take the bus and meet him there. He really, really didn't want to ride with Higsby but he just wouldn't take no for an answer. Carl slammed the phone down on the receiver after Brandon hung up on him and he sulked up the stairs to his room to change into something more presentable. He settled on a white dress shirt with a black tie and a black sweater and basic black slacks.

A silver car pulled into the drive way at around six in the evening. Time to get this over with… Carl pulled on a coat and walked out the door, meeting Brandon out by the car. He took one look at Carl and started giggling to himself. Carl frowned at him.

"What?" Carl asked.

"You look like your about to go to a funeral." Brandon explained. He might as well be...

"Let's just get this party going, Brand-o." Carl said indifferently as he got into the car.

Brandon hopped back into the car sitting himself next to Carl. "This is going to be so much fun! I am sooo excited!"

"And you just can't hide it..?" Carl asked blandly.

Brandon just gave him a blank stare for a few seconds before smiling at him with another giggle, "How did you know?" Carl sighed and turned his attention to the passing buildings. "I haven't been to a production for about two years now. Even then, I didn't have anyone but my parents to go with so I was really, really happy you wanted to join me, Carl. We haven't really talked much this year so I was kind of surprised when you asked me." Brandon said calmly as he kicked his feet in the air idly. Carl rolled his eyes silently as Brandon kept talking. "I was actually thinking that this was going to be some kind of cruel trick to hurt me, but now I know you really wanna go with me to experience this show! And that means a lot to me! I never had a friend go to a show with me. My parents ask me why I don't ask anyone to go with me. I usually tell them that everyone in my class is either studying for a giant test coming up or I tell them that I did, it's just everyone came down with the flu all in the same week so no one could make it in fear that they would make me ill. My parents really hate germs so they go just to make sure I am well sanitized after touching anything."

"..Your parents are germaphobes?" Carl asked in a low tone, Brandon once again gave Carl a blank stare before it turned into a confused expression.

"What is that? I never heard of such a thing." Brandon asked.

"They are afraid of germs..?" Carl simplified. Brandon laughed after he understood the term.

"No! They are just super cautious, I tend to get sick reaaally easily. So what my parents do is they carry these bottles with them." Brandon said before he fished through his pockets to pull out two travel sized bottles. "See? One for you and one for me! It even has your name on it!" Brandon pointed out, Carl raised an eyebrow, noticing that they were bottles of hand sanitizer. He sighed once more before pocketing the small bottle. "Just remember that when you take your seat in the theater, you sanitize your hands and forearms."

"Seriously? It's just a theater, for Pete’s sake! Not the city dump!" Carl exclaimed.

"My mom always says 'When you go somewhere public, you are picking up all the germs that were on the person before you and the person before them.'" Brandon recited as if he has memorized it a thousand times. Carl just took the liberty of slapping his hand to his forehead in annoyance. This was going to be a long night.

When they arrived at the theater, it wasn't long until they were seated in their assigned seats. "Oh, this is a great view!" Brandon said joyfully. "Now Caaarl, Hand sanitizer! Remember?" Carl frowned before reluctantly pulling out his bottle of sanitizer and quickly slapping it on his arms and hands. Brandon took his time trying to get every inch of his arms and hands. By the time his was finished everyone was seated and waiting for the show to start. "There! All nice and cleeean!" Carl was sure he was going to have a bruised forehead from the amount of times he was placing his hand on it in a rough manner. He was so ready to get away from Brandon Higsby.

Act one was incredibly boring Carl caught himself dozing off until music started every ten to fifteen minutes and even then it was this 1920's style music for dancing, so there was a lot of trumpet playing most of the time. Brandon was totally captivated every second of course. Carl had fallen asleep near the end of the act until intermission, he was startled awake when the lights came on. Everyone got up to go to the lobby or to go outside until intermission was over. Brandon jumped up when Carl slowly stood and stretched, only for it to be cut short by Brandon happily pushing him, moving him out of the isle. "Let’s go get some tea! They have this really delicious brand here!"

"Oh gee Brandon, I would love to but I only brought enough money for the ticket!" Carl said as nicely as he could before attempting to turn back around to return to his seat.

"Don't be silly! It's on me, entirely." Brandon said as he continued to usher Carl out of the now empty theater. Carl sighed in defeat once they entered the lobby. When they sat down at a small table with their tea, presented in porcelain tea cups and saucers of course, Carl sat silently whereas Brandon was excitedly and loudly noticed the fancy architecture in the lobby.

"Oh, look at the painting on the high ceiling! Isn't it just wonderful?!"

"Yeah, it’s okay I guess." Carl muttered mindlessly as he sipped the piping hot beverage in front of him. "Look, Brandon, could we just enjoy the tea and get back to the show?"

"Oh, Someone's being a little itty bitty grumpy gus!" Brandon said in an irritatingly sing-song tone. Carl just closed his eyes and rubbed his temple as a growing pain grew in the back of his head, which often happened when he was around Brandon anyway.

"'Aye there gents. Fancy seeing you two out and about. Enjoying the show?" A very familiar voice pierced his headache-induced haze causing Carl to open his eyes and meet the amused gaze beaming down at him.

"Blake..?" Carl muttered. Blake just offered him a quick smirk in return.

"Well, Hello there Blake Sofia. And yes, the show is very enjoyable!" Brandon said happily before giving Blake a quick look down, his eyes settling on the scarf around his neck he had received from Carl's family a few weeks ago. "Where did you get that thing around your neck?"

Blake sighed outwardly, placing his hands behind his back, "Brandon, how many times must I express to you that the use of my middle name is highly unnecessary in social situations. If you must know, this was a gift and I am extremely fond of it."

"Fair enough, SofSof.. Who's it from? Someone from school? Because I know your family would never, ever, ever buy you something so... common."

"That would be none of your business, really." Blake said curtly and looking irritated at the nickname Brandon dubbed him with before looking down at Carl, who hasn't spoken a peep. "Foutley, It seems like you are struck speechless since it is incredibly rare for you to, how you say… 'clam up' as you are."

"Maybe I'm just tired, Gripling. Ever think of that?" Carl asked roughly, crossing his arms across his chest. Why didn't Blake ever mention that he was planning on going to the show anyway. He had plenty of opportunities to do so when he was over almost every day. Carl was definitely a little ticked.

"Indeed, I suppose you do look a bit peckish. Think you'll last the rest of the show or shall I call you a cab?"

"I'll manage just fine, Thanks. Only about an hour and a half left any way." Carl muttered before the lights started to flicker on and off, slightly catching Carl off guard.

"Intermission is over!" Brandon announced joyously, jumping out of his seat at the table. "Come on, Carl. Let’s go! Blake, are you watching the show as well?"

Carl groaned to himself as he got up from the table and shoved his hands in his pockets before sending a smirk to Blake.

"Yes of course, but alas I am in the upper level balcony with my sister." Blake said as Carl walked away from him.

"Kay, see you at school, SofSof!" Brandon said quickly as Carl walked past him as well. "I am so excited for the second act! That’s where the entire performance hits its climax and there is this scene-" Brandon explained to Carl as they took their seats, Carl had tuned Brandon out since the rambling wasn't doing him any favors. Why had Blake showed up? Was he checking in on him? Knowing him, He would have just wanted to be sure Carl was comfortable or something but it was plenty confusing. Carl could hold his own against Higsby. He just had to get it over with and then he didn't have to hang around Brandon anymore. Piece of cake.

By the end of the performance, Carl had unknowingly fallen asleep and was once again startled by the music that had signified the end of it all. He caught Brandon sniffling to himself once the lights turned on again.

"Do you need a minute, Brand-o?" Carl whispered to him once people started shuffling out of the crowded theater.

"No, Nope, I’m okay." He sniffled in reply.

"Alrighty then. It seems like we should call it a night then… I’m beat!" Carl said after he took a quick look around them. He hurriedly got up from his seat and rushed Brandon out of the building. Brandon recovered himself and hailed his driver out on the steps of the theater. Carl wondered what the driver was doing this whole three hours and thirty-six minutes of show time but when he entered the car, His only thought was to direct Brandon's gabbing away from the play. If he heard another word about how Sally and Fred ran off in romance, only to be hunted down by both of their families only to end up accidentally killed in the cross fire of an old feud between the two, Carl was definitely going to blow chunks everywhere.

"And the part where Sally's father, Marco, and Fred's Brother, Luke, Started a brawl because Marco thought they had held Sally hostage at their estate when she wasn't anywhere to be found.."

"Yes, I know. But in my opinion, the hits looked fake anyway." Carl said passively as he gazed at the passing buildings as they exited the small city.

"Are you and Blake disagreeing or something?" Brandon asked randomly. Carl just snapped his gaze toward him without a word. "Uh... Because usually at school you're like best friends! But tonight you seemed like you were back to being enemies or something... I'm just curious." Carl relaxed a little.

"No, I just wasn't expecting him to be at the theater tonight." Carl said as normally as he could. "Caught me off guard, you know."

"Because we were hanging out for once! And everyone knows, SofSof and I aren't the best of friends, I get it!" Carl wasn't sure where Brandon was going with this, but he decided to just agree with him and let it slide.

"You never miss a beat, do you Brand-o?" Carl asked in a low tone.

"Not usually." Brandon said lightly with a much-too-happy-looking grin. "Thank you for going with me, Carl."

"No worries." Carl said calmly, turning his gaze out the window once more, letting Brandon spill his thoughts and reactions out in his endless ramble until Carl was dropped off at home for the night.

"Good Night, Carl! See you at school!" Brandon called out from the car window once he was at the front door. Home-free and free of Higsby until school.

When Blake had returned home from that horrible excuse for a Broadway production, He sighed to himself once he locked himself in his room. He pulled out the massive binder from its hiding spot in his bookcase and flipped it to the fifth page where he had left off when he was busy placing the notes he had already received in the first few pages. Now here he had all his letters, neatly organized in a binder that would keep them safe from any harm. He couldn't have asked for more. The entire binder was full of Carl's thoughts, which was a gift he just couldn't top no matter how hard he tried. The best part of this winter vacation was that they had started the year off with a new start to their relationship. He simply got everything he could ever want in a matter of a few weeks.

Blake was startled out of his joyous haze when there was a sudden and rather hurried knock at the door sounded off. He quickly hid the binder in its hiding spot before unlocking and opening the door to reveal his older sister looking rather worried.

"I need to talk to you..." Courtney whispered carefully. Blake frowned a little before stepping aside letting her inside his room.

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