The Difficulty of Growing Up

Chapter 4

Carl and Blake sat in silence for a little over a minute until Blake finally spoke. "So what kind of ideas were you thinking about for this year's annual prank?" he asked pleasantly.

"I actually have no ideas." Carl shrugged. "I am lacking inspiration lately, as we discussed at lunch."

"Wow." Blake said in a low tone. "I really thought I would never see the day that Carl Foutley would be having a creative block!"

"Oh, Shut it." Carl muttered. "It's just that I've sort of lost it through the years. I have run out every prank in the book and I'm not even thirteen yet..."

"Well… If you had some assistance, then maybe you could get your inspiration back."

"Are you offering your assistance, Gripling?" Carl asked slyly.

"Perhaps." Blake said as he examined his nails. "Are you, by any chance, asking for my help, Foutley?"

"Maybe." Carl replied. "I can't hold anything against you since I agreed against blackmail and all. So force is out of the question."

Blake snorted inwardly. "As if you have anything against me, Carl."

"Don't be too sure, Blakey-boy." Carl said crossing his arms.

Blake stared at him in his sideways glance. "What ever are you talking about, Foutley?" Blake asked sternly, raising his eyebrow in interest. Carl just grinned at Blake knowingly. The limo stopped and soon the door had opened.

"We have arrived." Winston stated as he held the door. The pair grabbed their book bags and climbed out of the backseat.

"Thank You, Winston. My man!" Carl said patting Winston's arm before walking up to the front door.

"I shall ring when I am all done here, Winston. Thank you!" Blake said with appreciation.

"No problem, Sir." Winston said as he bid Blake goodbye. Blake waved at the limo as it pulled out soon after it was gone Blake turned to Carl and walked up to him as Carl held the door open for him pleasantly. Blake glared at him as he walked inside the Foutley residence. Carl closed the door behind Blake and grinned at him tauntingly. This was going to be fun.

"Hey mom! I'm home!" Carl called loudly. "And I brought over company!"

Lois came into the kitchen and smiled at Blake. "Well Hello there, Blake. Long time, no see."

"Hi, Mrs. Foutley." Blake greeted awkwardly. He has only met her when his family, stricken into poverty, bought her previous house and once or twice the year before.

"Just call me Lois, please and you are more than welcome to stay for dinner." Lois said. "Is Hoodsey popping by as well?"

"Um. I don't think so. Just us as far as we know."

"Alright, you boys have fun. I'll call when dinner is ready."

Carl nodded as he walked up the staircase with Blake following behind him. Carl unlocked and held his bedroom door open for Blake. He walked through cautiously with Carl close behind him, He disabled the alarm trap and switched the bedroom light on.

Blake looked around for a few seconds then turned to Carl, who was writing down the coordinates to their communication line. Blake crossed his arms and glared at Carl until he turned around to give him the coordinates.

"What?" Carl asked innocently. "Here take it."

Blake pursed his lips and took the piece of paper. "Tell me what you know, Carl." he said in an irritated tone.

"Why should I?" Carl asked crossing his arms in front of him.

"Carl! Seriously?" Blake blew up. Carl tried not to laugh at Blake's facial expression making his face all twisted. "What's so funny, huh?!"

"Why are you so worried about your friends knowing some details about you?" Carl asked with a laugh. Blake's face turned bright pink but he didn't look angry anymore.

"You consider me a friend…?" Blake asked quietly.

"Duh… If I didn't you wouldn't be here, right?" Carl said as he walked across the room to sit on his bed. Blake sat down on one of the two beanbag chairs next the dresser. "And plus… I was picking on you. Why are you so touchy?"

Blake shrugged and relaxed. "Not use to the fact that we aren't fighting anymore, I suppose."

"Sometimes, neither am I." Carl said indifferently. "It's something we have to get used to if this friendship thing is going to work."

Carl glanced at the two jars above his headboard. "I guess we have to start trusting each other." Carl added. Maybe he could try trusting him. Carl climbed up on his bed and walked to the two jars, disabling the hidden alarm and taking them down from the shelf. He lightly blew off the dust on them and climbed off his bed, walking towards Blake, who was just staring at him the entire time. "I’m trusting you. Steal them again and we will be right back at square one. I will tear up that treaty.” He threatened Blake.

“I already promised that they were your possessions. I honestly wouldn’t dream of stealing from you again.” Blake assured him as he looked at the jars.

“I’ll hold that to you.” Carl said before he gingerly placed the two jars in front of Blake. He sat down next to them as well. They sat in silence as they watched the body parts dance around in the jars.

"You can pick them up if you want. Just respect them. No shaking, 'Kay?" Carl spoke quietly as he got up off the ground. Blake nodded with a childish smile on his face. He looked like a four year old in a candy shop. Carl grinned when he turned his back on Blake to look for some tunes. It didn't take long for the two of them to warm up to each other. Soon, they were having conversations that they wouldn't normally have like what their favorite movies and where they like to go on their free time, and things they would like to accomplish in life. They shared secret info about their sisters to each other and shared stories of their families. Who knew they would become such fast friends? He found out that Blake had a passion for painting abstract designs and creating model boats. He would like to be an owner of a major art gallery when he grows up. Carl was quite certain that he was growing fond of Blake Gripling as a person. Blake admired the eyeball and tonsils once more before handing them back to Carl. Everything seemed to work out. They were bonding seamlessly. Carl enabled the alarms on the jars. Hoodsey opened the door and walked in closing the door behind him. He sat down next to Blake on the beanbag chairs. He waved to Blake politely.

"Sup Hoods?" Carl said as he plopped down on the end of the bed.

"Nothing much. Just was bored so here I am." Hoodsey said with a slight shrug. "How is everything?"

"Great!" Blake piped up.

"We are getting to know each other, it’s interesting." Carl said in a relaxed tone.

"Well this is great." Hoodsey grinned. "I'm glad you're finally relaxing."

Blake raised an eyebrow but didn't seem too concerned. He was fiddling around with a Rubik’s Cube Carl had under the stereo system. "You did seem off today.." Blake commented. We were back to this. Why is everything circling around his bad day?

"Everyone has bad days every once in a while." Carl said slightly exasperated. "That's all it was. Seriously."

"Okay." Hoodsey said. "I'm just worried about you."

"I know, Hoods. But it's nothing major. Nothing to worry yourself over." Blake peaked up at the pair from his meaningless Rubik’s Cube twisting.

"I can never figure these things out." Carl said motioning to the cube. In attempt to change the subject. Blake wasn't trying to solve it, he was just letting them talk to each other. Blake bit his lip and stared at it.

"Watch this." Blake said and he started to work the puzzle out. Twist by twist, the colors were coming together. In less than three minutes, Blake solved the puzzle and tossed it to Carl with a proud smirk.

"Very nice, Blakey-boy." Carl said as he held the cube up in front of him examining the sides.

"Thanks." Blake said shrugging.

"I've been wondering…." Hoodsey started. "Carl, what are you doing for your thirteenth?

Carl shrugged. He hadn't thought much about it. "I dunno. The usual lame party, I suppose."

"Oh come on, It’s a big milestone. It's your thirteenth birthday in… like almost a month and a half, October thirteenth." Hoodsey said.

"Way to count down, Hoods." Carl said with slight laughter.

"It's sort of a big deal. You're going to be like the first of us to become a teenager."

"Big Whoop." Carl said in a sarcastic tone. "I don't like the idea of being a teenager. Too many problems and changes."

"That's what life is full of." Hoodsey shrugged. "It's not like you can hide from growing up, Carl."

"Ain't that the truth?" Carl muttered mostly to himself adverting his eyes elsewhere from his friends in front of him. Hoodsey just stared at him for a little bit before having a conversation with Blake. Carl tuned out real quick and excused himself to the bathroom. He locked himself in the bathroom for a while. Contemplating about today. He splashed his face with cold water hoping to get himself out of la-la land. Unfortunately, this brain fuzziness was permanent. It has been since after lunch period. He was fully aware now that he was starting the teenager process early and it kind of sucked! He doesn't like this confused feeling at all. He found out that he was a totally different person in front of Blake than Hoodsey. Those two separate situations don't mesh well. Who is this new personality coming into play inside of him? Usually he treated everyone the same, even his parents. But it was always different with Blake. He was an exception for some unknown reason. Maybe he does need to talk to someone about this. His mom? Maybe.. She offered.. Hoodsey? Not quite yet… But he will definitely notice something odd if this is going to be a new thing to his personality. He looked at himself in the mirror, He wasn't the same carefree Carl anymore, that's for sure. Shaking his head at himself he walked out of the bathroom and back into his room where Hoodsey and Blake were laughing at something. Carl grimaced at them feeling as though they were laughing at him even though he knew they clearly weren't. Something about Blake's sister tripping on the beach in front of some boy she had her eye on.

"And – And the look on her face was priceless!" Blake laughed and he tried to imitate the face in all seriousness but he just laughed and covered his face with his hand trying to calm down. Hoodsey looked at Carl incredulously. Shocked that Blake was this comfortable with them already. All of a sudden, there was a knock on the door.

"Identify yourself and state your business." Carl said protectively. Blake ceased laughing.

There was a familiar groan of impatience from the other side of the door. "Ginger Foutley, Sister of Carl Foutley. Hoodsey's mom called, she wants him home to clean his room and get ready for dinner. Carl, Blake, Dinner will be ready in about 20 minutes." Ginger said.

"Okay, Thanks for the notice, Ginger." Carl said. Hoodsey sighed and got up.

"I guess I will see you two tomorrow." Hoodsey said shrugging.

"See ya later, Hoods." Carl said.

"Bye, Hoodsey." Blake said.

Hoodsey walked out the room and closed the door behind him. Carl glanced at Blake and slid down to the floor in front of him, relief plastered on his face. Blake sighed rather loudly in the silence causing Carl to look at him.

"What’s up?" Carl questioned.

"Nothing." Blake shrugged. "Force of habit. I don't mean to .. uh.. sigh like that."

Blake examined Carl's expression. "What’s up?" Blake asked back. For a second, Carl thought about spilling all he had been dealing with out in front of him but then remembered that Blake is one of the main causes. It's best he doesn't do anything. Carl shrugged and he picked up the CD case that was just sitting idly on the floor next to him and he pretended to read it. "You're looking rather upset and stressed out." Blake said hoping to have Carl open up. Damn, He is trying to pry. He needs to say something to satisfy him.

"I dunno." Carl started. "Just my birthday. I'm wishing I could reset time back to where things in life were simple."

"Like back in fourth grade or something?" Blake asked.

"Those were the days..."

"But if you did then we would still be fighting."

"Yeah, sorry but it was enjoyable." Carl scratched the back of his head after he threw the CD case over with the others.

"No offense taken." Blake said with a smile. "I rather enjoyed it myself. Believe it or not."

Carl got an idea. Carl smirked at Blake causing Blake's smile to fall a little. "Well…" Carl said interlocking his hands together and laying them on his stomach as he sat back, leaning into the side of the bed. "We don't have to stop the fun just yet."

"Whatever are you talking about, Carl?" Blake asked in suspicion.

"We could… Do bets, like we used to do to challenge each other." Carl said grinning at Blake.

"Oh…" Blake said as he ran a hand through his blonde hair looking relieved. This motion was strange to Carl. He never saw Blake touch his hair in anyway. He was sure that it had mass amounts of gel in it every day but it just looked… soft. Blake was talking but Carl didn't hear him. Carl did notice his face was heating up though. He diverted his gaze elsewhere trying to hide a possible blush. So random, what the hell is going on? "Did you hear me?" Blake asked tapping Carl's shoulder. "Carl? Are you in there somewhere?"

"Huh?" Carl asked his voice cracking badly, He turned his head and Blake was sitting on his knees. He had an amused look on his face. Carl cleared his throat to correct his voice. "No, I didn't sorry. What'd you say?"

Blake chuckled a little. "I said 'Sounds like a grand idea. I don't mind bets at all.' It seems that you checked out momentarily." Blake examined Carl's facial expression. "Are you feeling alright? You look a tad feverish." Carl looked at him weird and he felt his face a little, he was blushing still. This made him blush even more.

"BOYS, DINNER IS READY." Lois called up from downstairs. Carl absolutely loved his mother right now giving Blake a distraction while the blushing ceased. The pair got up and went downstairs to the dining room and took their seats with everyone else at the table. "'Bout time." Lois said with a raised eyebrow. "I called up there about ten minutes ago."

"We had music on upstairs. Couldn't hear you, sorry, Lola." Carl said as he dug into his slices of grilled chicken.

"Uh huh." Lois said and she smiled at Blake, who was politely eating his steamed asparagus. "So how is your family now a days, Blake?"

"Oh, we are doing very well. My mum is working as an interior designer now. Courtney is taking after school courses on fashion and whatnot. My father is doing stocks and investments around the country. Keeping out of trouble… as far as I know." Blake answered.

"That sounds… well… amazing! I'm glad you all are doing much better." Dave said. Blake smiled pleasantly at his hosts and continued eating his provided meal.

"Carl, do you know what you would like to do for your big 1-3 yet?" Lois asked her son. Carl swallowed his rather large mouthful of food and looked at his mother passively.

"I haven't thought about it…" Carl muttered. "I've been too busy to think about that stuff." He lied about the busy part.

"I see." Lois said glancing at the boys. "Well let's see here. Let's do something different… We always hold your birthday at home…." Lois thought for a while.

"We… could…. Go bowling?" Dave asked the table. Carl and Ginger made a face at him. "Nope, okay. That's a no."

"If I could inject a thought..?" Blake spoke up. Everyone looked at him. "Perhaps we could throw a bash in the lobby of my house… We have a hot tub in the porch… We could provide a DJ. My mum would love this opportunity since Cortney's birthday passed last week and mine isn't until near the end of the year." Carl looked at Blake with wide eyes. What was Blake doing?

"Well, that sounds great!" Lois said in a surprised tone. "What do you think about that, Carl?"

What did he think? They didn't want to know what he thought. He sipped his water due to instant dry mouth. "I-I…" Carl started but he didn't know what to say. "I… Okay…" What did he just agree to…. He never liked big parties like that. Blake smiled up at him.

"Good thing your birthday is on a Friday this year, huh?" Lois said happily satisfied.

Blake chortled, "Friday the 13th. I just noticed that. How fitting. Should it be themed?"

"Shut it." Carl growled. That just made Blake smirk at him.

"Be nice to your guest, Carl." Lois said as if to warn him.

"Then it is final." Blake said happily. "I shall let my mother know."

"Have your mother call me and we will start planning." Lois said as everyone finished dinner. She and Dave gathered plates and Ginger served dessert.

Everyone talked about random things during dessert while Carl only injected one syllable answers, barely paying attention. That was becoming a habit now a days. After everyone finished and everyone was excused, Carl and Blake went back upstairs. Carl looked at Blake incredulously. "What did you just do?" Carl asked.

"I'm just giving a dear friend the best birthday ever." Blake explained as he picked his teeth a little. Carl grimaced almost angrily at him. "Hey, I know you don't like the fact that thirteen is coming up but it is. It might as well be brought in with a bang." Carl crossed his arms in front of him and glared at Blake who grinned at him and glided towards him with the grace of a swan.

"I bet you that you will enjoy your thirteenth birthday party." Blake said with that smug smirk of his.

"What are the stakes?" Carl said in a low tone looking down at the slightly shorter blonde.

"If you don't enjoy yourself, I lose and I would have to tell you a secret of mine. If you do then it's vice versa. What do you say, Ol' Chap?" Carl frowned at him. What is he getting at? What could he have to offer that is interesting news?

"That is stupid, Gripling." Carl said disguising his interest for his own protection. Blake 'tsk'ed at him and waved a finger at him. "How about we add something." Carl said quickly.

"What would you like to add?" Blake asked.

"The loser has to go to the theater with Brandon in January. He has been griping about not having anyone to go with him for weeks now." Carl replied.

Blake rolled his eyes. "Fine. Deal." He held out his hand.

Carl took it and shook once. "Deal."

After a while of talking, Blake grew tired and called Winston to come get him. When the limo got here, Winston called Blake and told him he had arrived. "Yeah, Okay. Thanks Winston." Blake said into his cell phone. He hung up and turned to Carl. "Well I'm off for the night, Carl." Blake announced as he hoisted his backpack on his shoulder.

Carl looked at him and nodded. "Okay then, Blakey-boy."

Blake blushed slightly but he stood up taller and looked up at Carl. "You coming to see me off?"

Carl simply smirked, "Yeah, sure." Carl walked by Blake and opened the door and the pair walked out to the front door. Carl opened the front door and let Blake pass through. Blake walked out and turned to Carl.

"Good night, Carl."

"See ya later."

Blake grinned and walked off towards the limo where Winston stood waiting for Blake. He opened the door and Blake climbed in. Soon the limo sped off and Carl went back inside and sat at the kitchen table alone as the sun set outside. Lois randomly walked into the kitchen and Carl noticed instantly.

"Mom, do you have a moment?" Carl asked without thinking.

"I have all the time in the world." Lois answered. She sat down next to Carl and looked at him. Carl didn't look at her. He just stared at a crumb on the table. "What's up, kiddo?"

Carl hesitated and thought for a moment thinking about dismissing the thought but decided against it. "I have been avoiding birthday plans for a while because I don't like the idea of becoming a teenager. All the moods… the voice changing… the confusion… but I have realized that even if I don't do anything, I'm still growing up to be a teenager either way. I have started already." Carl started. Lois just sat there and listened. "I'm confused about a lot of things… I am feeling things I never thought existed and it is scaring me. Really badly." Carl looked at his mom and she looked at him, wishing she could solve all his problems for him.

"Oh, Carl…" Lois started, she thought for a little bit. "You're just growing up. Right on time too.. This family is full of early bloomers, believe me." She laughed, Carl just looked up at her thinking that this was a mistake. "I know you're scared… This isn't fun but I can tell you it's not all that bad either. You're finding out who you are, so you should embrace it. Not run away from it." Lois put a hand on top of Carl's hands. "You're so brave already, you came to me and whatever is confusing at the time, it clears itself up when things come into perspective."

Carl sighed and looked down at his hands. He didn't feel brave at all. "This feels like it's just going to get worse." Carl muttered.

"Do you know what exactly is confusing you?"

"I think I do now that I think about it…" Carl answered and he blushed furiously.

"Oh dear… You got that from me." Lois said as soon as she noticed the red cheeks. They weren't some kind of pink or light red. It was RED. Carl just looked away.

"It's that noticeable?" He asked.

"Is this about a girl?"

Carl covered his face the best he could with one hand and shook his head. "Nope not going there, mom. Don't even. Seriously, I don't even know how to feel about this."

"Okay, Okay." Lois said patting his hand lightly. "I get it. Not yet."

Carl looked at his mom and gave her a weak smile. "Thanks for the talk, Mom." He said quietly. "I needed it."

"Anytime, Kiddo."

Carl gave his mom a tight hug and went upstairs in the bathroom. He locked himself in and slid down to the floor bringing his knees to his chest. He closed his eyes and thought for a while. He could possibly be attracted to his former foe. The way he’s been acting recently proved that but he didn’t really want to admit to it. How had this escaladed so quickly? It's only been two days. Blake's smile made him smile. Blake's gracefulness made him swoon. Blake's eyes were so captivating, He could look into them all day if he wasn’t so damn embarrassed. He has even grown fond of the long winded way he spoke, which he had felt annoyed at once upon a time. How did this happen? Why? He was perfectly content before all this. He never felt this way with Noelle at all. He cared about her and thought she was cool with her telekinetic powers and all but Blake… Just perfectly ordinary Blake made his heart race and make him feel things he couldn't describe. He was more than fond of Blake Gripling, It's not going away. He might as well accept himself since running away isn't an option. He got up from the bathroom floor and started the shower up without looking into the mirror at all. The hot water made him feel a little bit better about himself but he was still bothered.

After his shower he dried off and got dressed in his usual night clothes, with no hope of going to sleep he paced his room and pondered about the way he felt once again. Spent hours thinking of the possibility of him being bisexual since he now had a reason to question his preference. He looked at pictures of Noelle he had pushed out of sight since their last encounter a couple years back. After concluding that he had no lasting feelings towards his ex-girlfriend, He just glared at Blake’s infected glands on the shelf above his bed. He couldn’t contain his thoughts as they raced through his mind in an unsettling manner. Many memories became blurred together and his head hurt from all the confusing thoughts. Usually, he could settle confusing situations by thinking them through. He knew this couldn’t be settled by just working them out by himself, he needed to actually talk about it… but who could he confide in without being ridiculed? Soon he found himself in front of his sister's door, her bedroom light was still on and she heard her talking to herself, she was probably writing in her journal. Carl got the courage to knock on her door softly.

"Who is it?" Ginger asked.

"It-its Carl…" He answered quietly. The door opened and she looked at him.

"What’s up, Carl?" She asked seriously and slightly concerned by the oddly worried look on his face.

"Can I talk to you about something?"

"Is it important?"

"Affirmative." Carl stated. "I really need your help."

"Come in." Ginger said. He didn't hesitate, He walked right in and she closed the door behind him.

"Sit, Make yourself comfortable. I'm ready to listen when you're ready to spill."

He sat down at the end of her bed and she sat across from him at the head of the bed crossing her legs. He was trying to think of a way to keep this as conspicuous as possible. "Uh… Okay… I seem to be getting confused a lot about things now and I don't know how to go about approaching these things…" Carl explained terribly.

Ginger raised an eyebrow at him as if he had more to tell but he kept silent. "I need a little more info about this, Carl."

"Uggh! I think… I might like… someone… I'm confused because I used to not like this someone much at all but now that we are friends, I'm feeling stuff I don't know what these feelings are…" Carl started blushing again when he realized what he had said.

Ginger raised her eyebrows slightly in surprise, "Oh! Umm okay… Do you know if this person likes you back?"

"As a friend, definitely. As more than friends, it's possible."

"Then I don't really see the problem here… If you think it's possible that they like you as well then you should confront this person and ask them. It might not seem simple, but it really is. If you feel this chemistry, like there is a connection between you two then you should go for it. It's really, really scary but what's the worst that could happen?"

He wanted to tell her the problem but could it be that simple? "Well… They could squash my heart to pieces… or torment me. Or my friends would blow me off because of this person… and because of how I am."

Ginger frowned, not really getting what Carl is trying to hint at her. "What's so bad about this person?"

"Nothing! They are perfect and wonderful… and graceful…" Carl gushed for the first time in front of another person, His sister no less. Ginger's eyes grew wide.

"You… Um - got it pretty bad, little bro." Ginger said as she ran a hand through her dark red-orange hair.

"I know…" Carl covered his face as he felt himself get redder.

"What do you mean, how you are? Everyone likes you as long as you're not pranking them…I still have no clue who you are talking about since all you seem to hang around is Hoodsey and Blake Gripling now a days…." Ginger said thoughtfully, she chewed her pinkie a little out of habit. Carl looked up at her with a defeated look on his face. She looked at him and it registered. Her eyes grew. "Oh.. You!.. and Hoodsey..?" Carl cringed and shook his head furiously. "No…You and Blake… Oh…Oh Carl…." She put a hand to her mouth. Carl put his head in his hands, he was so exhausted from this. Ginger pulled him into a tight hug. "Everything is going to be okay, Carl.. This isn't a bad thing." Ginger said as she held her little brother. "I'm sure Hoodsey won't think any less of you… You two have been best friends since pre-k. Everything is going to be fine. We will still love you all the same." As usual… When it counts, Ginger always says the right things. She pulled away from Carl and looked at him. She asked the dreaded question. "Have you told mom yet?"

Carl shook his head and sighed. "I talked to her but not about anyone in particular. Just getting advice on growing up, ya know…?"

"It's okay… When you are ready. If you would like… I could help you tell her.. If you are afraid." Ginger said softly. "I'm pretty sure she won't criticize you for it. She isn't like that."

“I’m not rushing into it… I don’t even know what’s going to happen so it’s just best to keep it between us.” He said to his older sister. She nodded and continued to comfort Carl and give him advice until it was late, she sent him to bed when he was passing out on her floor. Needless to say, He slept well and he wasn't as scared as he was. The past week flew by without complications… as normal as things could get. He didn't confront Blake or talk to Hoodsey about any of this but when he was ready… The opportunity will show itself to him. The week of his birthday grew closer and he was starting to get pretty excited, He was sure he was going to lose the bet anyway.
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