The Difficulty of Growing Up

Chapter 17

Blake was just sitting at his desk studying for his history final like he has been for the entire week when the intercom buzzed unexpectedly with Winston's voice close behind it. "Master Blake, I am dreadfully sorry to intrude but you have a visitor who had made his way through the door. I tried to explain but he refused to accept it." Blake seemed confused, he specifically told Winston that he wasn't to have visitors around finals week. There was a sudden rhythmic knock a second later. Blake sighed heavily and got up to answer the door to find Brandon Higsby giving him his usual happy grin.

"Hello there, Sof." Brandon said nicely, Blake rolled his eyes. "How are you this afternoon?"

"I'm awfully busy, Brandon." Blake drawled.

"Oh, I know. Your butler told me but this is urgent, I'm afraid." Brandon said as he let himself inside Blake's room. "I have something to say and I am not leaving until you hear me out."

"..Get to it, then..." Blake responded with much indifference as he sat down on an armchair while Brandon swayed his weight as he gathered his thoughts. Whatever this issue was, it was bothering Brandon very much. Blake examined his nails as he waited for him to start talking.

"Okay, it's like this." Brandon started. "You became friends with your sworn enemy and we barely hang out anymore because of it. We use to be such good friends before Carl Foutley came around. Well, I miss you and I haven't been this lonely in the longest time. I want to know the truth about Carl, Blake."

"The truth?" Blake inquired. "Whatever is that supposed to mean?"

"There is something more between you two… I can sense it. I'm not a moron, you know! I hung around Carl to see his mannerisms with you and as much as he tries, it's not hideable! The same goes for you, mister!"

Blake shot up from his seat and roughly covered Brandon's mouth with his hand, He was practically shouting. Blake didn't need things to be revealed prematurely. "Stop the commotion! My parents are in the house!" Brandon said something but it was muffled by Blake's hand but the look in Brandon's eyes were a tell-all. That smug, knowing look taunted him. "..Fine, I will tell you but it mustn't get out to the public, Okay? No one can hear this but you. I would like for it to remain that way. Understand?" Brandon nodded, Blake contemplated on releasing his mouth but decided against it. "Carl and I... are together." Blake whispered in a barely there voice. He watched as Brandon's eyes grew and he said something loudly against Blake's hand, Blake was glad that he didn't release him for that reason exactly. After a few seconds he released the boy and he crumpled into the armchair, Brandon just smirked at the blonde for a minute as he let the info sink in. Blake was exhausted from this visit and just wished for it to be done with.

"I knew it." Brandon said joyfully. "That explains it all... Say, is he any good?" Brandon asked with a curious gleam in his eye that was way too familiar to Blake.

"Why on earth would you ask something like that?" Blake scoffed in repulsion. "That is extremely personal. I wouldn’t know anyway."

"I see." Brandon giggled. "You haven't done anything. That's a total let down but by knowing him for a while, he seems to be the rougher type… if you know what I mean."

"You disgust me." Blake muttered. Brandon was always the bad influence, believe it or not. Carl is actually tame compared to Brandon. He was the one that helped introduce Blake to the wonders of alcohol years ago and he has reason to believe that Brandon is thinking about turning to harder substances out of boredom.

Brandon just giggled once more, "Yay! We're friends again!" Blake just sat quietly as Brandon twirled a bit out of joyfulness. He really thought he had cut Brandon out due to his toxic nature, but here he was watching Brandon as he wiggled himself into his life once again. "Let us celebrate, yeah?" Blake sighed as an overwhelmingly terrible feeling washed over him.

Carl has been in his room studying on and off, playing video games and dwelling on the fact that he had succeeded in keeping Blake clean from alcohol for a few months now. He felt rather good about himself but he would never say so out loud in fear of jinxing the situation. Carl absentmindedly tapped his pen on his book as he stared at the clouds as the sun was setting slowly in the distance.

"CARL, Blake is on the phone." Lois called up suddenly, making him jump slightly. Blake had told him specifically that he was to not be bothered this weekend.

"I got it up here, Lola." Carl said as he left his room and picked up the phone in the hallway only to be greeted by a weird, continuous giggle. "Uh… Blake? Is that you?"

"Oh? Oh, Caaarl. I kind of require your help here..." Blake said hurriedly as the giggle got even worse in the background. "I have a bit of situation.. Kindly, get off me! … Brandon is over here and he has gone a bit wacky."

"Wacky? What do you mean?" Carl asked in a hushed voice, careful not to have anyone think something is wrong but if he hadn't been mistaken, Blake was slurring his words as he talked. "Blake..."

"I shall tell you more information when you come over, okay?" Blake said roughly before the phone went dead on Blake's end. Carl sighed into the phone before he placed it onto the receiver. He eventually gathered himself and told his parents he was going to Blake's house for some help studying writing formats.

"I promise to be home for dinner. We're having ham tonight, right?" He asked as he pulled his shoes on.

"Yeah." Lois said from the open kitchen.

"Right on. I'll be back before you can finish saying 'Modern Language Association Format'." Carl said calmly as he walked out the door. That would buy him an hour, maybe two tops. The walk there was rushed of course but when he arrived, he tried to make it seem normal.

"Master Carl!" Winston said happily. He seemed oblivious as to what was going on upstairs. "What can I do for you?"

"Blake had called me over. You see, I have a book he needs for the finals. He is studying this weekend so he had asked for it." Carl said as he held up a book he had carried over here. Winston nodded with gentle smile as he stepped aside.

"I'm sure if Master Blake asked for you then it is alright." Winston said. Carl smiled at him politely before rushing to Blake's bedroom. He could hear something that sounded like a hysterical giggle and a shushing sound from the other side of the door. Carl burst through the door quickly and closed it behind him. He turned to see Brandon sitting on the ground, leaning against Blake's wardrobe just giggling away. Blake was just kneeling in front of him slapping his cheeks lightly and shushing him. It was a confusing sight but when Blake looked up he jumped to his feet as soon as he saw Carl just witnessing the event in front of him.

"Carl! Thank god you are here!" Blake exclaimed as he made his way over to him, tripping a little in the process. Blake was definitely under the influence, as Carl had feared. "Carl, Okay.. Uh.."

"Blake, sit down." Carl ordered. Blake stood quiet as a pink hue appeared to his pale face as he nodded and complied. Brandon was just moving his hands around in front of him as he stared at the ceiling, totally unaware of everything. Carl raised an eyebrow at him before standing in front of Blake and bending down to look him in the eye. Blake blushed further. "What is going on here?"

Blake looked down at his lap to avoid eye contact but Carl pulled Blake's chin up roughly and looked him in the eyes.

"Brandon came over, unannounced, and... and well… He is aware of our relationship... But he had brought some stuff and well he over indulged and then some. I am pretty sure he took something… a pill, I believe. He went off his rocker. Lost his marbles. So, I called you."

"He's high?" Carl asked, shocked. "He's HIGH! Did you..?"

"No. No. Never." Blake said wide eyed. Carl peered at his eyes and they were as normal as ever. At least he told the truth. Carl walked to Brandon who was humming something unrecognizable and swaying happily as he sat. Carl sneered at the sight but he grabbed Brandon's chin and made him look at him. All he could see was his pupils and his eyes couldn't focus at all. This was nuts. Brandon looked at him and everywhere else around him before releasing a smirk that Carl had never seen before.

"Hey! Hey, Brand-o... Snap out of it will you?!" Carl said slightly shaking Brandon by the shoulders, making Brandon notice he was in front of him.

"CaAarl." Brandon sang before leaning towards him but Carl pushed him back and he grabbed his shirt in his fist, holding him still at arms length. He could have sworn that Brandon tried to kiss him. He shuddered at the thought before he swiftly slapped Brandon across the face making an almost deafening crack in the now quiet bedroom. Brandon turned his head to look at Carl once more with a weirder look on his face. He couldn't put any words to it. He erupted into a fit of shrill giggles and Carl backhanded him on the opposite cheek with the same hand the first slap landed. The room went quiet once more. Brandon hummed approvingly before turning his head to face him again with that crazy smirk once again, "Hm, Kinky."

Carl just threw him into the wardrobe after he said that. He never would have guessed Brandon was that type of guy. Brandon just grinned in his direction as he calmly settled himself. "..He needs water." Carl said as he rubbed his throbbing hand. "Blake, sit him on the couch. I'm sure you can handle that." Carl disappeared into the bathroom for a second and he ran the sink and looked around for a glass or something. He finally found a crystal tumbler under the sink and he filled it with the tap water before shutting the faucet off. He rushed out of the bathroom to see a wobbling Blake settle Brandon on the couch. Carl sighed as he walked up to the pair. Brandon was rambling a show tune he did not recognize and he jumped into a laying position as Carl approached him. "Alrighty Brand-o. Down the hatch." Carl said as he presented him with the water. Brandon looked down at it and sneered.

"I’m not drinking that… You're crazy coo-coo, Carl." Brandon said calmly but then he bust out into giggles probably because it sounded funny.

Carl sighed in frustration. "Drink it, or I will force it down your throat myself." Carl snarled. Brandon was silenced but he smirked in a dark manner.

"Yooou dare tempt me with a good time? You don’t know what you’re getting yourself into." Brandon said shamelessly. Carl grimaced away in disgust and shot an unbelieving look at Blake, who was standing beside him. He shrugged sheepishly. "Hey SofSof, Hey remember what I was saying? I believe I am correct.. You lucky duck, you!" Blake turned red before falling into the armchair next to him. Carl wasn’t sure what was discussed before this crisis happened but he was sure it couldn’t have been good at all.

"I think you need some water as well." Carl muttered to Blake before he took hold of Brandon's chin and messily poured the water into his mouth before clasping a hand on Brandon's mouth so he doesn't spit it out. After a few seconds of struggle, Brandon finally drank the water and Carl stepped away from him watching him sputter and cough a bit. After Brandon caught his breath, He fell silent until minutes later he let out a snore. Carl sighed with relief and looked at Blake who was staring at Brandon with an unpleasant look on his face. His face had been drained of all color leaving the blonde pale and tired looking. "Hey, Blakey-boy.. You okay?" Blake looked up at Carl seeming half-dazed and gulped as his eyes slowly grew wider. He startled Carl when he jumped up and ran pass Carl, straight into the bathroom and collapsing in front of the pristine toilet almost instantly emptying his stomach of all its contents with a loud gush accompanied by a range of dry coughs. Carl rubbed his forehead trying to remedy this pain behind his eyes before accompanying Blake in the bathroom. He filled the tumbler with cold water, presenting it to the boy after he was finished dry heaving. Blake moaned needfully as he tipped the contents of the tumbler into his mouth without hesitation. Carl silently sat next to Blake on the floor and rubbed his back slowly. "Hey now, don't chug the water. You'll make yourself sick again. Just sip it." Carl ordered with a gentle tone of voice. Blake just nodded and did as he was told. "Are you okay now?"

Blake sighed, "I am as okay as I can be at the moment..." He replied solemnly, handing the glass back to Carl who just set it on the ground next to them. Carl could see his face droop with regret and sadness. "...Carl.. I-" Carl shushed him softly, interrupting him before he slowly pulled him close. Encasing him in his arms, holding him as tight as he could without squeezing him to death.

"Don't say anything, Blake. You hear me? Don't you worry about anything... Just do me a solid and stay calm for me." Carl hushed as he smoothed out Blake's slightly tussled hair. Carl didn't want him to get worked up while in this state since he wasn't sure as to what and how much he drank. Blake just stayed put and cuddled into Carl's chest as he took a few deep breaths. Carl hugged him before picking him up from the ground and walking out of the bathroom and towards his bed. Night had fallen long ago but never noticed until now. Carl placed the boy into the bed and kindly tucked him in. Blake was half asleep but he stared at Carl for the longest time before slowly nodding off without a word. Carl stayed by his side for a few minutes, just to listen to Blake breathe making sure he was okay... until Brandon snored loudly announcing his presence, snapping Carl out of his thoughts. It was then when he decided to leave. He had to anyway due to his curfew but he would love to stay and tend to Blake even though he knew full well that Blake would be asleep until at least tomorrow afternoon. He made sure to leave a glass of water for both Brandon and Blake before he ducked out and headed home for the night.

The light in the room was blinding as a maddening headache throbbed, begging to be noticed. Blake woke up with a slight jolt, wincing at the pain at the light, pulling the covers over his head to solve the most immediate problem. He had the worst dream ever! Brandon was delirious and Carl was trying to calm him down with such dramatic measures only to make it worse before Brandon passed out. Blake dared to peak out from the covers and glanced at his couch to find Brandon sloppily sprawled out on it. His nightmare was true.

"Curses!" Blake whispered to himself before pulling the blankets off, automatically shielding his eyes from the light that had filled the room. In his blurred vision, he located a glass of water on his night stand. He drank it gently as he remembered Carl telling him not to drink too fast. His stomach leeched. "Ugh.. Heaven's wrath has poured down into my dreadful existence once more." He groaned before he dragged himself to the bathroom. He looked over at the mirror and was shocked at how he appeared. His face was uneven in tone, the bags under his eyes could go on for miles! He sneered at the sight and turned his back to the oversized mirror before stripping off and stepping into a hot, forgiving shower. Once he was done washing up, He at least looked a little better with color in his face again. He put on a robe and went about with his usual morning routine before asking the kitchen staff to prepare two cups of coffee. Brandon was still asleep, at least the boy had moved a bit and was not snoring anymore. Carmen silently brought up a tray of the coffee with sugar and milk to the side along with basket of muffins. She stared at the sleeping guest before placing the tray on the coffee table. With an awkward smile towards Blake, she left just as silent. She has seen this sight once before, but last time he was in the guest bedroom, not on his couch because Blake was possessive about his privacy. So it didn't surprise him that she thought it was strange.

Blake sighed and prepared his coffee in silence as he stared at his supposed friend. It wasn't until Blake had taken several sips, he decided to wake the brunette from his slumber. He kicked him gently several times, shaking him awake. "Honestly, Brandon… at least show some dignity for yourself." Blake said coldly as Brandon stirred. "Drink your coffee. You’ll need it to survive the trip home."

Brandon stared at him after blinking several times due to the brightness of the room, "Wha- Blake… oow…"

"Shut up and drink." Blake said not fazed by Brandon's innocent glances. Blake sat down in the armchair as it was the farthest from Brandon. It was apparent that he was fairly angry at Brandon... More so at himself, he was just taking it out on his jaded friend like he usually did after nights like this. He stared out the window as he sipped the caffeine filled liquid as he attempted to remember last night's events. Brandon slowly gathered himself as he prepared his coffee to his liking. "You don't remember anything that happened, don't you?"

Brandon snorted before he took a long sip from the mug, "Oh goodness no. My face hurts a bit but no, not a thing. Must have been a decent go…"

Blake stared at him for a small moment, "A decent go?! Is that all your worried about? I had to call Carl because you were so.. GONE!" He exclaimed.

Brandon looked over at him calmly, "You had your boy toy contain me? How interesting."

"He is not a 'boy toy', Brandon. He is... My boyfriend.. And apparently, he is the only person I can trust in this god forsaken world. I sure cannot trust you." Blake hissed. Brandon went still and silent as he looked over Blake's expression. "Your only worry was how well the high was for you.. You are... I don't even know what you are.. But you are not a friend at all."

"..You might be over reacting just a teensy tiny bit."

"Over reacting? You tried to get me to take an illegal drug. You haven't changed much at all."

"Of course I haven't, silly, but with how much you drank... Neither have you." Brandon smiled, Blake just sneered at him with heavy disdain. "If you keep doing that, you'll get awful wrinkles, Sof." Blake promised himself to keep Brandon Higsby at arms-length at all times from this point on.

Hoodsey had finished his punishment long ago but was still on a short leash held by his mother. They have both come to terms with the changes each of them faced recently and were at least civil to each other. He had gone on a few dates with Macie this month but something seemed off to him. Something was different and each day that passed it became more and more apparent and this bugged Hoodsey to no end. They were perfect as far as he knew. They didn't fight. There was no tension until now and it confused him. He had called her about an hour ago to set up a date in the park, He wanted to talk about this. He was on his way to the park right now, He had promised to meet her there. He sat on the bench he usually sat at and she showed up about five minutes after he did. She smiled and he greeted her with a loving peck on the lips that made her smile. That smile didn't last as long as it usually did.

"Let's walk." He said seriously but accompanied it with a smile as he wrapped an arm around her shoulders, leading the way down the path. He had this bad feeling as they walked in silence for a minute before Macie ultimately spoke up.

"Hoodsey.." Macie said softly. He looked at her and saw the sadness become apparent on her face.

"What's wrong?" He questioned. She peered up at him and sighed.

"I leave for California in a week." She stated. He nodded. "It is across the country, Hoodsey..."

"I am pretty aware of the basic layout of our country." He smiled, she let out a small giggle but it sounded sad. "I am going to miss you a lot. I can’t stress enough as to how much I will miss you."

"Why?" She asked softly.

"Why will I miss you? ..Well there are a range of reasons." He said cheerfully. "I am most comfortable around you. You always know how to cheer me up. I am very happy when you are around! Oh, and most of all.." He stopped and grasped her shoulders gently and looked into her eyes, they looked sad. "I am in love with you, Macie Lightfoot." She gaped at him for a second and her eyes went from sad to stone. He was confused to say the least.

"You are... amazing... You have made me.. so happy." She said in a shaky voice that he could barely recognize. She took his arms and softly took his hands off of her, she held them and stared at them for a second before snapping her head up to look him in the eyes. "I can't... be with you anymore.." His chest felt tight all of a sudden. "You're an amazing man but I can't be with you anymore!" Everything in his life just officially turned south, He gulped and looked at her for a while as if he was memorizing her face to the very last detail. "You are going to make a special woman so.. very happy.. I can vouch!" She released his hands, they swung down to his side without him even noticing He was still staring at the woman he loved slowly step away until she reached into her pocket and pulled out something small, she reached for his right hand and placed the object into his palm as she gave him the saddest smile he had ever seen, she shook his hand and let go. All he could think was how much he loved her and how he just felt like he fell face down onto a slab of the world’s hardest concrete from an eighty foot drop. She turned away from him and started to walk away from him, from their relationship, from his confession. He heard the sound of her inhaler in the distance as he opened his hand and discovered that the object was the frog key chain he gave her for their six month anniversary. After he came to his senses, he tore his eyes away from the key chain. A sharp pang went through his chest, He attempted to ignore it but this feeling showed him no mercy when he could feel his eyes sting powerfully. He pocketed the frog and looked around him. He was alone.

That Macie Lightfoot... Master heart-breaker and the keeper of his everything... His mind went back and forth about the situation. The behavior, the terrible feelings in the pit of his stomach, and the nagging going on in the back of his mind had led up to this point. He suddenly realized he had seen this coming but couldn't put it together until it was over. It had been at least a half hour before he finally moved his feet and walked towards his home as he placed his hood over his head, shielding him from the world as he kept going through it over and over in his head.

Carl had been tossed around a lot lately but this one took the cake. The day after the situation with Blake and Brandon Higsby, He was walking up the stairs to his room before he was roughly pushed to the wall as the intruder ran passed him straight to his sister's room. It had looked a lot like Macie from what he could tell. She was never rough. Dodie, Maybe. Never her though. She always took care not to push anyone at any time so this made him think something had gone wrong.

After the door was slammed shut, Carl carefully snuck up to his sister's door and placed an ear to the seam of the hinge.

"Mace, What's wrong?!" Ginger asked in surprise. She might not have invited her over. "...Mace?"

"I DID IT!" He heard Macie yell, kind of sobbing. "I.. did it, Ginger.."

"What did you do..? ..oh.. Really?"

"It was... the hardest thing I ever had to do..." Macie's voice faltered in sadness. The familiar sound of Macie's inhaler went off a few seconds after. Ginger sighed. Carl was confused and slightly worried, what did she do?

"How.. How did he take it?" Ginger asked softly. Macie sniffed. He?

"I don't really know... I didn't stay long enough for him to.. uh.. absorb it.." She said lowly. "I was fine doing it at first but he talked before I could gather up my words and said something that got to me.. I heard it plenty of times before from other guys but I think Hoodsey actually meant it."

"He didn't! Macie! … He confessed?!" Ginger asked in a whisper. Carl gasped silently at the news.

"He was so sincere about it… I almost cracked!" Macie said, pain laced in the sentence.

"Oh.. Mace.." Carl left the house right there. He had to see Hoodsey. Had she broken up with him? Either way he was going to find out right now. When he got to the Bishop household he was about to knock on the door until he spotted Hoodsey coming from the opposite direction, He couldn't see his face but he knew the hoodie well enough to know it's him. Carl walked off the porch and walked next to him as he passed the house. They walked in silence but he was pretty sure Hoodsey was aware of his presence. After about fifteen minutes of walking without a destination, he spoke.

"It's over." He spoke out weakly. Carl felt his heart ache for his best friend right then and there.

"You told her... didn't you?" Carl asked.


"...Are you okay, man?"

"I don't think so..." At least he was honest.

"I know this might sound.. cliché or whatever but.. I'm here if you need someone." Carl said, feeling slightly awkward as he did so.

"Thanks, Carl.. I'll take you up on that... Want to go for some ice cream..?" Hoodsey asked softly, finally showing his face to Carl. He wasn't crying or anything, but he was pale.

"Whatever you want, brother! I'm your official tag along from now on. I follow where you go." Carl said happily.

"Thank you.." Hoodsey said with an empty, small smile. Carl pat his shoulder comfortingly. He would do anything for his life-long friend, especially now.

The finals came along and passed slowly but after they had finished, they had survived their first year in high school without incident. Aside from the broken heart Hoodsey harbored, of course. Carl did his best to help his best friend get through this but Hoodsey had recently told him that he needed to heal this on his own after several days of attempted mending. Carl respected this no matter how much it troubled him to see him shut down like he did.

Ginger and all the other seniors graduated proudly. This is the happiest he has seen his sister be in a long time. She got accepted to an arts academy in Florida earlier this year. She had boarded the plane there the day after graduation to get herself settled in the new world she was heading for. Talk about quick good byes...

The thing with Brandon was still in the back of Carl’s mind but with much convincing on Blake's part, he won't use it as any type of blackmail. Just as long as he was sure it wouldn't happen again. Blake apologized over and over because he was too weak to turn Brandon down. He promised to never touch the stuff again. Carl was okay with that but kept an eye on him for good measure. The event was now just water under the bridge.

Blake had stayed home this summer, with a lot of convincing his parents to let him stay, he had the large house to himself. He was good about it. No guests except for Carl every few days or so. He had to admit that the sudden freedom of having the place to himself for an extended time period was quite liberating. Carl was letting Hoodsey do what he needed to do, which was to spend a month watching his Aunt's farm in the sticks of the state while she was on a trip to visit a sick friend. Carl hoped it would let him clear his mind and get himself back on track. Essentially, Carl and Blake had spent the summer looking at goal schools and talking about the years to come. Blake had told Carl that he was on good terms with his father now so he could breathe easy now. From what Blake had told Carl about Brandon, he had to admit that it was a little unnerving having him around. He is working hard to keep Blake happy and away from the sauce. Brandon just wants to ruin all of that just so he has someone to accompany him on his 'trips'.

"I don't want to seem harsh in any way, but.. Brandon is no good for you. It makes me uncomfortable knowing he is around you with that stuff." Carl said softly as the two of them cuddled in the tree house. Blake sighed.

"I know, I don't like it either, to tell the truth."

"Then why don't you formally do something about it?"

"Because, I guess he still needs me. I get that feeling that if I cut him off once again, He might do something terrible to himself. I can't live with that." Blake said as he turned the stereo off with the remote. "He isn't close anymore. I haven't seen him in weeks... But it helps him to know that I'm around.. Even though he annoys me to bits."

"You think you are responsible for his life?" Carl asked. Blake shrugged silently. "You don't have to feel that way at all."

"Maybe, since after the last time... He won't do this anymore. I had gotten so mad the morning after, I had him escorted away from the property." Blake said peacefully. "I never did that before. Might have embarrassed him."

"...Kind of deserved it in my book.. You did the right thing." Carl said encouragingly. Blake just sighed before laying his head on Carl's shoulder.

"How is it that you know exactly what to say?" Blake asked after a minute passed by.

Carl shrugged as he let a proud grin stretch across his face, "I dunno.. I just speak my mind… and I guess I know what goes on in that active mind of yours, for the most part anyway."

"...I love you." Blake said calmly, it was like music to Carl's ears. Blake stretched up and placed the sweetest kiss on his lips. "Always will." He added after he gently pulled away.

"I love you too." He replied softly. This was the happiest point in his life so far, He was hoping that it would stay this way even though in the back of his mind, life wasn't so kind. Especially since his just started.

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