The past few months were as calm and as perfect as Carl could have hoped for. School work was minimal and easy after finals. Hoodsey started dating Macie sometime around February and Carl couldn't have been happier for his best friend. Blake still hung around the Foutley residence every few days. High School Orientation was during the last week of school and everyone got their class schedule after the walk through the school. Carl and Hoodsey had opposite schedules except for the last class of the day, which was biology. Carl and Blake had homeroom and AP Lit together but other than that Carl was solely on his own, with the exception of lunch period.
Carl, Hoodsey, and Blake decided to rig the school hallways and the statue with the confetti bombs Carl purchased the month before. So, they were set off on the last day of school at the last hour. It was a huge hit with their class mates. The loud sound startled them but to see colorful confetti everywhere, everyone cheered loudly. Carl smirked as he saw the display. When Milty came running down the hall, he was beyond shocked at the display. He was speechless, which is a thing that doesn’t happen much. “Foutley..” Was the first word out of his mouth. When Carl realized that the principal was hunting him down, He took Hoodsey and Blake and hid in the janitor’s closet for the rest of the hour. They made their escape when the bell rang, blending in with the crowd as everyone ran out of the building towards the freedom of summer vacation. Every one graduated from the eighth grade with no problems at all. The class representative was this girl Carl didn't know but she gave a very nice speech nonetheless... Even though the butterfly speech Ginger gave three years ago was still the best speech he has ever heard in regards to moving on in life. Noelle went back to live with her family after the graduation, saying that she was no longer needed here but she gave her address to Carl if he wanted to drop a line. Carl was definitely relieved that Junior High was over with. Summer ended as soon as it came though. Hoodsey turned thirteen but spent it with his family who chose to take him out on a shopping spree as a birthday gift since he had grown at a rapid rate after graduating. Carl went with them and helped pick out some stuff (and buying some of it as a gift along with the new radio system he already gave him.)
Blake was in Europe with his family all summer but Carl talked to him on the phone every three days or so. From what Carl gathered, Blake was insanely bored most of the time since it just consisted of following his Mother and Sister around as they shopped and had meetings with designers. He was thrilled for Courtney for getting some recognition in the fashion industry before she even graduated High School but Blake himself had nothing to do and his father was always busy with his European coworkers to take any time to spend with him at all. It was very 'typical' as Blake put it but Carl still felt a little sad for him, even if Blake thought it was normal. It was very clear that he wasn't enjoying himself at all. The week before school started, Blake did return home and the first place he went to was to Carl's house and it was very clear that he was upset.
"I can’t take it anymore!" Blake said in very infuriated tone, walking into the family's living room, leaving Carl at the door kind of surprised to see Blake.
"It's nice to see you too, Blakey-boy." Carl said, closing the door and joining Blake in the living room. "What's going on? Your father again?"
"Correct." Blake said in a bleak tone as he sat down on the couch. "I feel like I am walking on eggshells around him and even then he is just so ...Ugh! I don't know but he judges my every move!"
"So he went from ignoring you to putting you under a microscope." Carl said, simplifying the situation out loud to himself. "One extreme to another... Would you like some iced tea?"
"Please." Blake said softly. Carl disappeared into the kitchen for a moment but reappeared with two tall glasses of iced tea. He had ran off as soon as they got home. He couldn't wait for Winston so he just ran and ended up at Carl's place. He had gotten into yet another verbal altercation with his father on the plane home. "Thank you... I honestly don't know what to do.. It's like he is trying to pick fights with me. Like on the plane he started asking about what I was planning on doing after high school. When I told him, he blatantly ignored my response and said he has been looking at colleges for business and banking. Banking! Nothing even close to what I want to do. Who wants to be a bank owner? Sure the money is good but I don't care about that."
"He said he wanted you to be a bank owner?" Carl asked with a small laugh.
"You find this situation amusing?" Blake asked with a slight sneer directed at Carl.
"Nope. No. Not amused." Carl said trying to cover himself. "But a bank owner..? That seems random."
"I agree but the point is that he is trying to control my life! It's downright maddening!"
"It sounds like you need to make it a point that you are your own person."
"This is just the beginning of a war between me and my parents... How are they going to act once they find out about... us...? My father will probably disown me since he was quoted in the newspaper speaking against 'homosexual beings' in January… Beings… We aren't even human."
"Alright. You are kind of getting hysterical, Blake. So just take a deep breath... and calm down..."
Blake just put his head in his hands in defeat, "I... can't... I can't, Carl! This is serious!"
"Just ride it out for the next four years, Blake. It's not required to tell your parents."
"Ride it out, Just wait and see... Is that your solution for everything?" Blake snapped angrily. Carl pursed his lips and thought for a second.
"You really don't need to be angry at me... I'm just trying to help you here." Carl said calmly. "Ever since that stupid article came out, you have been fighting with your father over just about everything. It is just a matter of time before everything blows up so the best thing to do right now, is to just ignore him like he has ignored you. You are who you are, nothing and no one is going to change that. Not even your parents." Blake didn't say anything but he gripped Carl's hand tightly. He was obviously scared and he didn't know how to approach this.
"I.. am sorry for snapping at you like I did.." Blake said finally after a minute or two had passed.
"It's okay.. just don't make it a habit." Carl joked. "Wanna watch a movie or something?"
"I shouldn't.. I have to go unpack. I kind of ran off after we arrived home.. but I'll call tonight, Okay?"
"Sure thing, Blakey-boy." Carl said with a playful saluting motion as Blake got up and exited the house. Carl just sighed to himself once the door closed.
Once Blake got home he had calmed down and just kept to himself the rest of the day as he unpacked. Dinner was quiet, which was fairly unusual. Even Courtney was silent, that was a rarity in itself. There was a mean tension all over the room, Blake felt trapped. The silence broke when Prescott cleared his throat and shot Blake a quick smile.
"So.. The first day of high school is coming up. I can imagine how excited you must be, Son." His Father said trying to sound upbeat.
"Yes, Father. The excitement is quite profound." Blake drawled heavily. Of course he was excited for high school but this situation at home was sort of over shadowing everything.
"I must say that Lucky High is quite fortunate to harbor two lovely members of the Gripling family at once." His Mother piped up cheerfully. Blake smiled at his mother nicely before looking down at his near full plate he has been picking at for the last fifteen minutes taking a bite of his meal every so often. He eventually excused himself after sitting in silence for another twenty minutes, He locked himself in his room and plopped himself on his bed only to be bothered by a slow knock on his door minutes after he had relaxed. With a sigh, he got up and answered the door which was of course his sister.
"I really don't want to talk, Courtney." Blake said when she walked inside his room.
"I have been ignoring this all year and I am tired of it. We are talking." She said simply before sitting down in the arm chair. "Ever since I informed you about the interview papa had done, you two have been at it left and right."
"Father rejected me without even knowing that I am the very thing he despises. It shouldn't matter anyway, He has never tried to get to know me. He hasn't even been in my life that much until now. Even you said it would be a good idea to keep my orientation hidden until high school was finished and I intend to do just that. If he finds out, then I won't even be his son. I will just be a thing he had spawned by accident."
"That's a tad harsh, don't you think?" Courtney asked.
"It’s the truth no matter how harsh it may seem." Blake said as he sat down on the couch. He felt his stomach drop as soon as he said that. It was the truth. "I'm just facing the facts before I actually have to."
"Papa doesn't despise you.. I don't think he ever could. I can't say that he wouldn't be disappointed but he surely won't hate you. Just be civil, little brother. That is all I ask. You don't have to tell him anything, just don't fight about nonsense."
"I will be civil if he doesn't try to control me anymore. You heard what he said on the way home."
"That thing about colleges? True, he wants the best for you."
"He didn't even listen to what I wanted to go to school for. He wants me to go into banking."
"That's where he started, you know. I think you misunderstood his intentions, Blake"
"That's not my path, it’s so incredibly obvious."
"I think he understands that now." Courtney said with a laugh. She stood up and made her way to the door. "He is trying to learn about you, so just keep your head." She left the room and closed the door behind her, leaving Blake to think about everything. Blake eventually called Carl and updated him on the situation.
"So you're going to be a little calmer? Or should I come over?" Carl teased.
"Not at all necessary, Carl. But thank you."
"No problem, so tell me about your last week in Europe."
"Nothing special happened. I got a few new books and I learned that I am quite fond of espresso after I wandered around the city for a day."
"Wow, espresso.. I couldn't see you liking any type of heavy caffeine for another two years at least.. Just don't get hooked to the stuff, I've seen what it does to people and it isn't pretty." Carl said with caution. "Now, what books did you pick up? And would they interest me?"
"You don't need to worry about me, Carl. I think you would enjoy at least two of my selections, How about you come over tomorrow and take a look.. say around noon?"
"I can make that happen." Carl said smoothly, Blake could definitely tell that Carl was smirking on the other end of the phone. "I'll see you then."
"Of course. Now.. Good Night, Carl."
" 'Night."Blake hung up and set his phone on his nightstand and just stared up at the ceiling with a little bit of a smile. He could always feel a little better after talking to Carl, no matter how stressful his life was at the moment.
Carl skimmed over the book he had borrowed from Blake last week as he waited for everyone to arrive at the high school. When he closed the book, He spotted the Bishop vehicle parking a few feet away from him. Carl just watched JoJo give Hoodsey a quick lecture before he got out. When she was done, she drove off quickly after she saw Carl politely waving to her from the steps. Carl just grinned and walked up to his best friend, who met up with him on the sidewalk.
"Sup, Hoods?" Carl greeted as he slapped a hand on his shoulder.
"Not much, But I am proud to announce that Macie and I just celebrated our seven month anniversary last night." Hoodsey said confidently.
"That's great Hoodsey! Way to go. So what did you do?"
"The usual. I took her out to dinner but on the way back to her house, we stopped at the park and watched the stars for a good hour and a half before calling it a night." Hoodsey said with a smile. "I think she's really into me."
"Well, she hasn't been with anyone this long before. She usually stops the relationship at around three months on average... At least that's what I noticed." Carl said casually, shoving his hands into his pockets.
"All right, Winston. I shall meet you back here at the end of the day." Carl turned around at once after he heard that very noticeable voice. Blake straightened his jacket out before joining the two of them in the middle of the sidewalk. "Good day." He greeted. "I trust that you had an enjoyable summer, Hoodsey."
"I normally do." Hoodsey shrugged. "The only thing different about this year is that we stayed home the entire time. Thank you for the watch, Blake. It was extremely generous of you."
"Oh? Well that's a shame. I quite enjoy your entertaining tales about 'roughing it' in an area entirely void of any means of civilization." Blake said with ease before shooting him a small smile. "I felt really terrible about not being here for your thirteenth birthday but I am happy to see you enjoy your gift nonetheless." He said as he looked at the shiny gold watch on Hoodsey’s wrist.
"...He went to England this year, didn't he?" Hoodsey asked Carl in amusement.
"You guessed it." Carl said with a grin before the three of them walked into the school building to start their new chapter in life.
By lunch period, Carl was already knee deep in homework assignments, book reports, and class projects. He even had a test to look forward to on Friday and he still had half of a day left to go. No wonder why Ginger started up on the joe when she started high school. The day before, Ginger even warned him about everything that had happened on her first day and even promised that he would be swamped in work for a month straight.
"Starting to feel the pressure?" Blake asked as he sat down at the table Carl had sat down at minutes ago. "I know I am. Two reports on two different books, three chapters of mathematical equations probably one hundred equations in all, a project on the world map due Thursday, a paper on genetic code, and finally an extra worksheet of the periodic table..." Blake listed before starting on is lunch.
"Yeah… It’s pretty crazy." Carl muttered.
"No one said it would be easy… but here's to high school, Gents." Blake said after Hoodsey finally joined the table.
"This is insanity! How am I supposed to get everything done by tomorrow?" Hoodsey exclaimed.
"By spending every moment after school dedicated to our work. As in, we probably won't be hanging out today." Carl said calmly before attacking the tray of food in front of him.
"Or all week for that matter." Hoodsey added with a tired sounding sigh.
"Not to worry." Blake said calmly. "We will all adapt with time. That is all we need to focus on right now. We did just graduate to a bigger step in life, There is no doubt that it will be a huge adjustment."
"I don't know what you all are talking about, this high school lifestyle is wonderful!" Brandon said after sneaking up behind Blake, making him choke on his water. "You are all just being silly."
"Oh yeah? How much homework did you receive today, Brand-o?" Carl asked challengingly.
"Oh, just a book report, about a hundred and fifty math problems, a project on the culture of an African tribe, and a report on music theory." Brandon rambled happily. "But I can get it done pretty easily! Two words, boys. Time. Management." Carl just frowned at the boy as he stabbed his fork into his baked potato. He secretly wished he had listened to Ginger's rant on time management better since that was obviously the key to this whole thing. When everyone fell silent Brandon just smiled and waved, "Enjoy your lunch period!" He said before prancing out of the lunch room.
"I cannot accept the fact that I am stuck with him in art class for an entire forty-five minutes for a whole semester." Blake said mostly to himself before he pushed his tray to the side, half eaten.
"Yikes." Carl and Hoodsey muttered in unison.
"What is it with you two?" Carl asked.
"Nothing is 'with' Brandon Higsby and I, Carl. He just gets on my nerves like he gets on everybody else’s. He has just been completely insufferable since that monkey of his ran away for good a year and a half ago and I seem to be the person he runs to recently for some unknown reason." Blake explained.
"I'm kind of surprised that Higsby hasn't been shoved into a trash can yet by the upper class bullies that swamp the entire school." Hoodsey said before he too had finished his lunch.
"Eh, he got lucky." Carl said passively before getting up to throw away his now empty lunch tray, Blake and Hoodsey followed suit. "It also helps that his older brother is a senior jock."
"You speak the truth." Hoodsey said. "The truth is very sad."
"That's the most negative thing I have heard from you all year, Hoods." Carl said in a slightly impressed tone of voice as they all walked out of the lunch room and into the hallway.
"Yeah, well I got pushed into the girls’ restroom on my way to third period this morning. I think I have the right to be negative today." Hoodsey said in a slightly spiteful tone as the three of them headed out to the court yard for all of the thirty minutes left before their next class.
The month passed by very slowly but when the first week of September arrived, the trio finally had a small break in their studies as their teachers were getting their teaching plans ready for state testing, which meant a teacher workday, which translated to: a free day off of school AND it was a Friday so they also had a long weekend.
"I have been thinking about your predicament, Hoodsey." Carl announced as they walked through the park on that sunny afternoon. "I don't quite understand why you are in it in the first place, I mean, your girlfriend is a senior, your sister is also a senior and ..a cheerleader. But I think I came up with a way you could decrease your bullying."
"..What is it?" Hoodsey asked in a stand-off-ish tone when he saw that Carl had that gleam in his eyes.
"I think your image could use a change." Carl said with a slight shrug.
"What kind of 'change', Carl?" Carl pulled his hand out of his pocket and held out a small gold hoop for Hoodsey to see. They stopped walking as Hoodsey stopped in his tracks when he stared at the small object glimmering in the sun. "That's an earring..."
"Thank you, Captain obvious." Carl said with a laugh, but Hoodsey didn't find anything amusing about Carl's idea. "Hoods, I know you have been thinking about it. You even asked for it as a birthday present. You turned thirteen this summer, the place at the mall doesn't need a parent signature after you hit thirteen. I think you should do it!"
"I dunno, Carl.. Now might not be the best time.. My mom and I have been fighting a lot lately and something like that could send her over the edge."
"It could show her you're not a little boy anymore.. Believe it or not, Hoods, A little rebellion is good for you!" Carl said as he handed the earring off to Hoodsey. "You have been saving your allowance for the piercing, you should do it now while you have the chance."
"Well..." Hoodsey stalled. "I'm still mulling over it. What if I don't like it.. Or If Macie doesn't like it..."
"You just take it out before it heals." Carl shrugged as they continued their walk. "You'll have a small scar but nothing noticeable. I think it will look great on you and it would pull your whole look together."
"For sure." Carl said in confirmation. "Trust me, I am your best friend."
Hoodsey sighed and paused for a second before releasing a relaxed grin, "...I am so grounded."