The Difficulty of Growing Up

Chapter 6

The morning started as usual without the help of his mother to wake him up. He was already up and showered by the time breakfast was ready. Lois made her special dark chocolate pancakes with strawberry syrup for his birthday. Carl came straight downstairs before Lois even called to her children.

"Well, there's the birthday boy." Lois said as she stacked his plate with three pancakes. "How are you feeling?"

"Not any different from the usual, Lola." Carl stated as he dug into his breakfast.

"Excited for your big party, are ya?"

Carl just shrugged at her as he continued gulping down pancake after pancake. Ginger hurried down the stairs suddenly but tripped on Carl's backpack and fell at the bottom of the stairs, sending Carl into a laughing fit. "Happy Friday the thirteenth, Sis." Carl exclaimed. "As usual, I cannot be held responsible for any sudden bad luck today."

Ginger groaned as she walked into the kitchen, glaring at Carl as she sat down. "Where's your hockey mask?" She asked in a smart tone.

"I'm pretty sure you broke it with your large butt when you tripped and landed on my backpack."

Ginger looked like she was about ready to pumble Carl off his chair. "Alright, Alright. No fighting at the table." Lois said trying to stifle out a sudden fight between the two. Carl smirked at his sister and finished his plate.

"Well, I'm going to walk today." Carl announced.

"Okay then, if you're sure. I could take you, ya know."

"Thanks but Hoodsey and I decided on walking today. Good day."

"Have a good day." Lois said as Carl gathered his stuff and walked out the door. Carl walked a block away from his house, stepping on every crack in the pavement he came across, and met Hoodsey in their usual meet up spot.

"Happy birthday, Carl." Hoodsey said cheerfully.

"Thank you, my friend." Carl said happily. "How has your luck been this morning?"

"My mom almost broke her toe by jamming it blindly on the table leg… But my personal luck has been alright, nothing has happened yet."

"That's no fun." Carl muttered. "Your mom does that on a daily basis these days."

"Yeah, she's going to get her eyes checked again after she gets out of her x-ray appointment."

"I hope everything checks out alright." Carl said with slight concern.

"I'm sure the worst that can happen is her being stuck in a cast with dorky glasses. Nothing completely major is going to happen."

"Yeah." Carl agreed. "So how do you think school will be?"

"You won't know until you go and find out." Hoodsey said as they looked upon the school grounds ahead of them. When the two of them arrived Blake was nowhere to be found, He usually waited in front of the school if he didn't pick them up from their walk. Carl shrugged at Hoodsey before they walked inside Lucky Jr. High to go get some stuff from their lockers.

"Happy thirteenth, Carl." A random student greeted as he walked through the doorway. Carl raised his eyebrow and continued down the hall.

"Happy Birthday!" Brandon sang, popping up from nowhere. "I will see you two tonight! I'm bringing sour-sweet limeade and my famous ooie-gooie triple chocolate brownies!" He said happily as he pranced away into his class.

"That was weird." Hoodsey muttered. Carl walked up to his locker and much to his surprise, it was all decorated with fancy ribbons of his favorite colors and had birthday greetings written all over it. Carl looked at Hoodsey. He shrugged in response as he opened up his own locker. Carl smiled a little and opened up his locker to gather his books.

"Good morning, Gents!" Blake's voice greeted from behind them. "Happiest of Birthdays, Carl. How is the locker design?" Carl turned towards him and gave him a grin.

"It sure was a surprise. Thank you, Blake." Carl said happily. He felt rather confident today. "How has your morning been?"

"Happy thirteenth Birthday, Carl." A random girl said in an almost seductive tone as she passed by the group. Carl furrowed his brows at the girl as she passed. This was getting weird really fast.

"…Rather busy, as you can see." Blake said, motioning to the locker door looking pleased with himself but also slightly bothered. "It took ages to plan this little surprise seamlessly but as I can see… I pulled it off quite smashingly."

"That you did."

"Happy Birthday, Carl." One of the twins greeted in passing.

"See you tonight." The other said following her sister. They giggled as they turned down the hall.

"Um.. Yes, well… I shall see you both in homeroom." Blake said staring at the twins that just passed with a light pink blush glowing under his fair skin before he slowly turned away and walked down the hall. Carl frowned and turned to close and lock his locker.

"Happy Birthday, Carl." A familiar voice said in monotone. Carl's heart almost skipped a beat as he remembered that voice. He turned toward the source and it was no other than Noelle Sussman leaning on the locker behind Hoodsey.

"Uhm.. Noelle! Hi… Thanks." Carl stammered in surprise. "What are you doing here?" Noelle moved to a state to the west in the middle of fifth grade after her family's trailer park was declared a failure.

"I came down for the remaining of the semester." Noelle drawled as she examined her fingernails. "What is this party everyone is buzzing about?"

"I… uhh… umm.." Carl stammered his voice cracking in the process.

"Blake is holding Carl's birthday party tonight at his place." Hoodsey said quickly.

"Blake Gripling." She said slowly, in thought cocking her head sideways with an expressionless face. She walked over to Carl and examined him closely. "You two are on bad terms, are you not?"

"No." Carl said simply. "Not anymore as of recently."

Noelle smiled genuinely up at him. "How sweet." She stated.

"Sweet…?" Carl asked with a frown.

"I knew this would happen, I am happy for you."

"Wait ….What?" Carl asked confused.

"You and Blake." Noelle stated matter-of-factly. "I can sense it, Carl."

"What?! No!" Carl exclaimed.

"What do you mean 'No'? You have that type of aura and He also has the same aura to him and it seems he has a knack for blushing at you, no? So. That just means you two are-"

"NO. Nope. Nuh-uh. No way." Carl cut threw her sentence like a sharp knife.

"Ahh. I see. You just like each other." Noelle said quietly. "Unknowingly, I presume?" Carl just looked at her but Hoodsey nodded to her. Carl stomped on Hoodsey foot with a good force when he noticed. Hoodsey instantly winced in pain, dropping his books on the floor and shoving Carl into the locker doors to get him off of his foot.

"I see." Noelle said emotionlessly. "Well, I will be at this party so I will see you tonight. The bell is about to ring." With that, Noelle left leaving Carl almost scared to death. Never would he have thought Noelle Sussman would just show up out of the blue like that. Carl felt himself pale up as he leaned into the wall of lockers "Come on, Carl." Hoodsey said, grabbing Carl's arm. "Let's get to homeroom." This was the beginning of a very troublesome school day.

Hoodsey almost forced Carl to walk into the classroom just as the bell rang. He sunk down into his seat when everyone grew quiet. By the time lunch period came around, He couldn't count the many times he has been stopped in the hallway with birthday greetings. He knew this huge party was going to be too much for him. He was not used to this type of attention.

Blake, Hoodsey, and Noelle joined him for lunch at the table in the back corner. He wished not to be disturbed during lunch at least.

"Why are we all the way in the back?" Hoodsey asked while Carl just played with his food.

"Feeling a tad anti-social are we?" Blake added. "Ah, the joys of being a teenager."

"People I never even talked to once in my life are suddenly bombarding me in the hallway and during class period. It's a bit overwhelming." Carl explained. "I just wanted to at least eat my lunch in peace…"

"Naturally, that's what happens when you're throwing a campus-wide soiree. It also helps that it's targeted around a huge milestone in your life." Blake shrugged. Carl rolled his eyes and flung a spoonful of Jell-O up at the ceiling. "Apparently from what I'm hearing in the halls, the women like older men around here. Congratulations, Foutley. You are the hot topic around the female population." Carl frowned at Blake and threatened to hit him with the dish that held the rest of his uneaten Jell-O. Carl was at the end of his rope as it was, he didn’t need Blake going on about girls he didn’t even care for. Noelle shook her head to herself quietly.

"Now, now." Blake said almost angrily to Carl, waving his hand at him. "No need for violence. Whatever is going through that mind of yours pray tell?"

"Classified." Carl grumbled as he placed the cup of Jell-O down where it previously was. "You wouldn't want that information, Gripling. Trust me."

"I assure you, Carl, that your mind fascinates me at times." Blake said. Carl raised an eyebrow to that. Was he supposed to take that as a flirty gesture? Either way Carl diverted his eyes to the wall on the other side of the room to save himself from another embarrassing blush. Noelle got up and walked her tray to the trash can and quickly removed herself from the table, disappearing from the lunch room altogether without a word. "Who knew that Noelle Sussman would be joining us this semester?" Blake rambled as he watched her leave. "It's quite the surprise seeing an old girlfriend of yours, Eh Carl?"

Carl sighed and looked Blake in the eye. "What are you fishing for, Blake?"

"Nothing in particular. Just making conversation." Blake stated with much aloofness. "It's just rather funny to see her pop up on your birthday like this when she never contacted you during her move is all."

Carl shrugged. "I never thought anything about it when she moved. We had drifted apart long before any of that happened."

"I see." Blake said thoughtfully. "I'm glad you weren't emotionally scarred by the unsteady relationship."

Carl just gave out a plain 'Mmhmm' before he ate the last of his lunch.

"Hey Foutley." Terence said loudly as he walked up to the back table. "Has anyone gave you your birthday wedgie yet?"

"Cease and desist, Terence." Carl demanded. "I'm really not in the mood to deal with you today."

"Since it is your birthday and all, I am going to give you an option. Would you like the wedgie before or during the party?" Terence continued as he ignored Carl's answer.

"I said, Cease and desist!" Carl repeated angrily. Terence winced slightly and growled at Carl but he turned away without another word. Carl sighed loudly as he slammed his head into his folded arms. He wished everyone would just go away and leave him alone.

"Woah Carl… Even you aren't usually that harsh to Terrence." Hoodsey mumbled.

"He is so annoying!" Carl growled, why was he so angry at everyone? Blake was just eating the remainder of his lunch with an almost shocked expression he was trying to hide.

"Well yeah, Carl. It's Terence." Hoodsey said as though it was common knowledge, which it was of course.

"I guess my luck hasn't been the best since Noelle showed up." Carl muttered.

"She did sort of sour up your day." Hoodsey said. "But don't let that get to you. Everyone is looking forward to the party and you only have to put up with people for two more class periods! I really don't think Noelle is going to mess up everything for you or anything like that."

"Ms. Sussman doesn't seem the type to start trouble. So just simply relax, you are getting rather tense over practically nothing." Blake added. "This is your day, Carl. Enjoy it. Stop making it problematic."

"Problematic?" Carl repeated. "Am I really being as difficult as you say?"

"Completely." Blake said definitely.

"Yeah, Kind of." Hoodsey said quietly. Carl winced at himself as he attempted to reflect on the day so far. "I'm sorry, really." Carl said. "I don't know how I'm acting some of the time. I'm going to try to be positive from now on. It's my birthday! I should be happy!"

"You are correct, Carl." Blake said as he finished his lunch. "With that being said. We should go to class. Lunch is almost over."

"Yeah, let's get going." Hoodsey agreed as he took His and Carl's tray to the trash. After they disposed of their trash, the three of them headed out of the lunch room, towards their next class. "I almost forgot to tell you." Blake injected as they walked into class. "Winston is going to pick you up at around eight tonight. The attire is basically casual. Alright Carl?"

"Understood."

The rest of the class periods were just the same as the ones before. Slow and full of chatter about the party but when it did finally end, Carl was slowly bombarded by all these girls in his class but when he wiggled himself out of the class room he immediately left with Blake and Hoodsey. All three of them were almost being chased by a select few people down the halls as they were leaving the school building. Each of them took refuge inside the black limo right as Winston arrived. Carl didn't want to be hunted down by these overly excited party guest if he lingered any longer than necessary.

"I do hope this subsides on Monday." Blake said. "How insane! I don't even get that much attention for my own parties!"

"Talk about instant celebrity status." Hoodsey muttered as they pulled out of the school grounds. "It might be the new person factor.. You know, Carl has never thrown a public party…"

"See what I had to deal with all day?" Carl said quietly. "Thanks Gripling."

"Oh, compose yourself, Carl." Blake said incredulously. "It won't continue forever. Nothing really does."

"I hope your right." Carl mumbled. "Did I mention that I don't like that type of attention?"

"In the past month?" Blake asked. "About fifty times. At any rate, you aren't around it anymore and at the party I am sure that everyone would be preoccupied to pay you any unnecessary attention but if need be, you are more than welcome to seek refuge in my quarters or my tree house."

"You still have that?" Hoodsey asked. "I mean… Aren't you a little tall for that thing now?"

"Through the years, I have made the necessary adjustments."

"What music is going to be played?" Carl asked.

"It's in your taste, I assure you." Blake smiled. "I had written down some sample songs from your rather large compact disk collection last time I was at your house to give the DJ a good Idea what to base the music on. You enjoy a lot of the classic rock and 'heavy metal' variety, some easy techno. Not much pop, hip hop, rap, or country listenings. I truly commend your tastes, Carl." That Blake was sneaky he was right about his taste in music, almost spot on. He almost felt like he just got his soul read like a book. His expression must have been showing because Blake looked rather pleased with himself after a few seconds of silence.

"No offense, Blake but.. You seem the type to like the classical stuff." Hoodsey said.

"No offence taken." Blake said. "But it's quite the opposite. I grew up to that stuff and I suppose I'm just downright sick of it."

"That's understandable." Carl said as he stretched out a little, relaxing now. He looked at Blake like he usually does when he doesn't notice. He was making a pot of tea. He handled everything with gentleness and grace, busy with his tea making task. He and Hoodsey were talking but Carl wasn't listening. He was zoned out studying the fair Gripling in front of him. He studied his facial features. Those lips looked so inviting, for a slight second he got the urge to jump across the limo and kiss them. As hard as he tried, he could never get a good look at his eyes because he was too embarrassed to look into them when he had Blake's attention. Carl had caught glimpses every now and then to know that they were a bright blue, details unknown. Whether they had other colors mixed in he didn't know but he longed to stare and learn. "Cream and sugar?" Blake asked his two friends as he poured the tea into teacups. Carl snapped out of it before Blake noticed him.

"Yeah." Carl said numbly. His mind felt extremely fuzzy.

"Like usual." Hoodsey said with a grin towards Carl. He noticed and he probably kept Blake busy with conversation. Blake presented the hot tea to the pair. Carl blew over the top of the cup to cool it a little before drinking, trying to not look towards Blake for very long. He listened to Blake's voice as he continued to talk to Hoodsey about an essay that was due this upcoming week. His voice was like music to Carl's ears when he wasn’t going on trying to get under his skin with that annoyingly pompous tone Blake Gripling used often in the past.

"I'm going to go straight home to do the paper before the party starts." Hoodsey stated, looking at Carl hoping he had caught that. Carl nodded knowing he should do the same but it was probably not going to happen.

"Smart man." Blake said before he sipped his tea.

"It needs to be done before I forget it." Hoodsey shrugged. "I have a bad habit of forgetting tasks."

"As do I." Carl stated. "I get preoccupied easily."

"I'm almost forced into a quiet period in my household almost right after I get home from school." Blake said softly. "That's when I do my school work and if I have time, I continue on my hobbies."

"That sounds pretty routine." Carl said with interest. Blake stared down at his teacup but then glimpsed at Carl. "Are you happy with routine?"

Blake shrugged and sighed. "I spend most of my time alone so it's not that routine. It's just what I was raised with. Granted, I do get rather bored."

The limo stopped, Carl downed the rest of the tea since he was home now.

"I will see you both later." Carl said as the door opened for him.

"See ya." Hoodsey muttered.

"I shall ring you when Winston leaves to pick you up." Blake said. Carl gave a short nod and he got out.

"I'll see you later, Winston!" Carl said as he ran to his front door, letting himself into his home.

"I will be upstairs getting ready for the party." He stated as he ran past his mother, straight up to his room. Once he was inside he closed the door behind him and he plopped down on his bed, staring at the ceiling. He really wasn't joking when he said all he could think about was Blake Gripling. He was now falling hard for him and it's really killing him. Why couldn't this have waited for a few years? He didn't know if he could handle much more of this. He was losing his concentration a lot more frequently. If he stared at Blake for a long time he can't think about anything but what he was observing. His facial structure, His milky skin, His elegant mannerisms, how perfect could one get? Blake Gripling nailed it without trying.

"This is crazy." Carl stated to himself as he sort of punched the sides of his mattress with his curled fists. He sighed loudly and sat up looking at the ceiling. "I'm not sure why you picked this time frame, big guy… I know you know what you're doing though. Just help me out a little, okay? I am in need of some guidance, I'm feeling a little lost. The last time I felt something remotely close to this is when I found Noelle. As perfectly strange as she was, we just didn't mesh well. With Blake… I just feel happy. I'm trying my best to accept this changing thing you're doing. I talked to everyone I could possibly talk to but I'm still uneasy. They say the same thing about this situation. 'Talk to Blake.' 'It's not that hard.' I just have this urge to kiss him every time I see him. It's grown to that. There is no way I could go back to being just friends without feeling things for him. He is still a boy, so I don't really know why you picked now and not until he turned thirteen, at least. I would have been fine with that… Am I supposed to look past age? 'Age is just a number'. Blake might believe that but I wasn't raised to believe that term… I just feel that sometimes this hand you dealt me is just too big."

Carl sighed and rubbed his face with his hands. He felt a little better after that, Hoodsey was right. It was always better to talk about it. He got up went to take a quick shower. When he was done he pulled on his robe and turned on his radio as he stared at his closet. What was he going to wear? He knew it was casual but he didn't want to wear what he usually wears to school. Something presentable but not all dressy. He was the guest of honor anyway. He took out a pair of black jeans he got last year, he was sure he could fit into them now since they were big on him when he got them. He also picked out a few button down shirts to pick from. Black, Red and Black, or Plain White. There was a knock on the door.

"Identify yourself." Carl said while in thought.

"Ginger Foutley, Sister of Carl Foutley. Can I come in?" Ginger asked.

"Entry granted." Carl said as he stared at his clothing options. Ginger walked in and closed the door behind her. "What shoes are you wearing?" she asked as she looked at the clothes in front of them. Carl shrugged.

"My black and white sneakers probably." Carl muttered.

"My vote is for the white shirt." She said calmly.

"Yeah?" Carl asked. "It's supposed to be casual. So I was leaning toward the black shirt…"

"Do you have any ties?" Ginger asked simply.

"It's casual, Ginge."

"So?" She asked as she searched through his closet. "When done right.. You can make a formal suit look casual." She pulled out his black tie and searched it for stains of any sort. "Wear the white shirt. I will walk out for a few minutes so you can change."

Carl watched her walk out of his room with his tie. He went and put the other two shirts away and he got dressed in his chosen outfit. He rolled his sleeves up to his elbows. When he was done, Ginger waltzed right inside his room with his tie loosely tied up. She grinned at him and placed the tie around his neck under his collar and kept it loose. She untucked his shirt partially and stood back. Carl looked at the mirror and sighed.

"All I need now is some eyeliner and a studded bracelet." Carl said sarcastically.

"Oh come on." Ginger said. "You look good, Carl."

"That maybe, Sis, but it still looks a bit much."

"Not really." Ginger said. "Here, Clip this on." She took off her chained wallet and handed the chain to him. She took her wallet off of it and clipped a weight to the other end and putting it in his back pocket. He clipped the other end to his front belt loop. Now he looked like a punk.

"That tones it down a bit." Ginger said and then she applauded. Carl just frowned at her a little. "With that face you pull it off really well. Mom wants you to come downstairs, by the way." She walked out of the room leaving him alone to look at his reflection, He shoved his hands into his pockets.

"How mainstream…" He scowled at himself before grabbing his walkie talkie and walking out of his room. He walked downstairs and everyone was gathered in the kitchen.

"Wow, Look at you." Lois exclaimed. "Looking good!"

"Many Thanks, Momster." Carl said. "What’s up?"

"Well, since you are going elsewhere for your birthday, we want to give you your birthday presents now!" Dave said happily. Everyone placed presents in front of him on the table. Carl looked at them for a second and he smiled up at his family.

"Here, open mine first!" Ginger urged as she pushed her gift toward him. It was in a black bag with green tissue paper filling it. Carl took it and shifted the tissue paper around until he found a medium sized box he opened it and there was an expensive looking camcorder just sitting there in the box. He has been wanting one for two years now. He smiled up at Ginger and almost knocked her over with a sudden hug.

"Happy Birthday, Carl." Ginger said with a little laugh, hugging him back.

"Thank you, Sis." Carl said pulling away. Ginger smiled at him and his mother pushed two more presents in front of him. He grabbed the smallest of the two and unwrapped the blue wrapping paper. It was a framed picture of him, Hoodsey, and Blake from about three weeks ago when they all met up at the local park with Carl's family. Carl stared at the picture for a good while, grinning to himself. He stared at the incredibly happy looking Blake Gripling. A feeling of nervousness washed over him for a second. He smiled at his parents and set the picture down and picking up the large box in front of him. He tore through the wrapping paper and in an instant he knew exactly what it was…. The high powered telescope he had his eye on for a few months now.

"You're kidding me…" Carl said softly as he examined the box in front of him. "This… This is amazing!"

"We all chipped in to get it for ya." Lois said cheerfully.

"This is so cool!" Carl gushed. "Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!"

"We are glad you like it, son." Dave said with a smile.

"Like it?" Carl asked. "I love it! All of it!"

He quickly hugged everyone in the room when suddenly the walkie talkie crackled.

"Blake Gripling to Carl Foutley." Blake's voice emitted. Carl's stomach jumped slightly as he picked up the hand held device.

"This is Carl Foutley." He spoke into the walkie talkie. "Winston on his way?"

"That is Affirmative." Blake answered. "He should arrive in about five minutes."

"Rodger that. See you soon, Blakey-boy. Over and out." He said as he turned off the walkie talkie and he hugged his mom once more.

"Go get finished getting ready, Birthday boy." Lois said letting him go. "Right-o, Lola." Carl said as he gathered his gifts and took off up the stairs. Upon entering his room, he set the camcorder and the telescope down but he kept the picture in his hand and he just stared at it as he plopped onto his bed. He was really getting so mushy but he didn't care anymore. He was glad to finally have a picture of Blake in his possession. He set it up on his night stand and stared at it trying to see every detail of Blake's big expressive blue eyes. He could see a little bit of grey in them but couldn't see past the pixels of the picture for more details. He decided to get up and turn off the radio and leave the room and head for the front door. Winston was waiting for him when he left the house. He walked up to Winston and smiled at him.

"Happy Birthday, Sir." Winston said with a soft smile.

"Thanks, Winston." Carl replied. Winston held open the door for him and he hopped in quickly. When the limo took off he scrolled down the tinted privacy window.

"Hey Winston?" Carl asked.

"Yes, Master Carl?"

"I was just wondering something… You should know, you hang out with Blake enough to know some things about him, right?" Carl asked. "I was wondering… How does Blake think of me?"

"Master Blake… is quite fond of you, Master Carl." Winston said with a smile. "He has always looked up to you and always wanted to befriend you since you two met. Why do you wonder such a thing?"

Carl's mouth suddenly got dry. "I dunno. I guess I'm just curious to know more about him."

"Ah yes, curiosity…" Winston said idly. "Perhaps he has become quite mysterious through the years."

"How did the guest list for the party turn out?" Carl asked as he opened the mini fridge next to him in search of water. He found a bottle of champagne hidden in the back. He figured it must have belonged to Mrs. Gripling. He grabbed a bottle of water and closed the fridge.

"Oh, it was quite the turn out! You must be rather popular this year, eh?"

"Not at all, actually." Carl said before he sipped the water. "Not until now anyways. It's a little bothersome. It should die down at the end of the party. It's just because I'm turning thirteen and all. It's apparently a big deal around school."

Winston chuckled. "Ah, I remember being thirteen. Quite a smashing year it was!"

"I don't see the big deal." Carl said airily. He chugged the water and threw the bottle into the trash can.

"Well, you become a teenager. A lot of stuff happens in that time period, Sir."

"I am well aware of that, Winston my man. I have been dealing with a situation for a few months now that would fit so perfectly in that time period."

"I might be stepping outside my boundaries here but care to share, Sir?" Winston asked with concern.

"I don't mind but promise to keep this classified?" Carl asked with slight hesitation.

"Top priority classification, Sir."

Carl grinned at Winston and took a deep breath. "Okay, I have come to like a certain someone with in the past few months. I don't mean the term 'like' very lightly. It's a full blown crush thing."

"I see." Winston said in a low tone of voice. "That is quite a situation, Sir."

"It's not a 'normal' crush, though." Carl continued as he played with his fingernails, unleashing a massive blush.

"Not normal, Sir?" Winston asked with confusion.

Carl gulped. "This person is… uhm… A guy… I feel as though I am going pretty crazy."

"Ah…" Winston said quietly. "I'm going to tell you the same thing I told a friend of mine whom dealt with this situation a while ago…. There is absolutely nothing wrong with homosexuality or even bisexuality, you’re certainly not going crazy. It just happens to be a part of who you are and you, sir, are an amazing human being. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. Be proud of who you are because you will do wonderful things in this lifetime." Winston pulled into the Gripling residence and parked the limo.

"Thanks, Winston." Carl said with a smile. Winston smiled at Carl with genuine care.

"Let us introduce you to your party guests, Master Carl."

Winston got out and opened the door for Carl. Carl left the limo and stared at the large double doors up at the top of the stoop. He heard a faint bass line pumping on the other side of the doors. Winston put a hand on Carl's shoulder, keeping him in place. He pulled out a cell phone and proceeded to make a phone call.

"Yes, Master Blake. He has arrived…. Yes, Sir." Winston conversed then he hung up and looked at his watch. "We must wait approximately one minute, Sir."

"… Sure thing." Carl said as he put his hands in his pockets, Blake planned an entrance he knew it. Winston closed the limo doors and watched the front entrance eagerly. A few moments passed and Carl noticed the door handles jiggle, Winston then released Carl to climb the stoop once he made it to the top he looked at Winston. Winston made the notion that he should knock on the door. Carl shrugged and knocked on the door. The bass suddenly stopped and the doors opened and he was greeted with a huge round of applause from everyone in the room, there must have been at least twenty-five people in the large foyer. Carl was struck with shock as he looked upon everyone in the room. Blake and Hoodsey ushered him inside and closed the door behind him.

"Alright! The birthday boy has arrived!" The DJ announced. "Let us all give him a proper greeting so we can start this awesome party out right! On the count of three everyone! 1…2…3!"

"HAPPY BIRTHDAY, CARL FOUTLEY!" The entire room rung out. Carl instantly smiled a little bit out of embarrassment, he felt a little blush grow across his cheeks. The upbeat music instantaneously started with an extreme bass ringing through the room. Hoodsey and Blake both put their hands on Carl's shoulders.

"Looking good, Carl!" Hoodsey yelled over the music. Blake handed him a drink and smiled up at him this made Carl blush a little more adding to the one he had already.

"Very sharp." Blake complimented. "You clean up well."

Carl hid his growing blush by drinking the provided drink. By the taste, it was cola. He smiled at his friends quickly. Hoodsey held out a plate of appetizers to him and Carl took one that looked like it was a mini pie of some sort. Blake excused himself to go do a room check. He and Hoodsey stood at the refreshment table looking upon the partiers dancing to the DJ. He was playing a party favorite which had the crowd going crazy. Carl just smirked to himself as he indulged in the appetizers that were set out. One of the twins approached him getting a drink for herself smirking at him.

"How has your birthday been so far?" She asked as she flipped her long red hair off of her shoulder.

"It's.. uhm… been interesting." Carl replied. "How has your Friday the thirteenth been?"

"Not a touch of bad luck in sight." She said happily before sipping her drink. "I'm hoping it stays that way."

"Who knows what could happen." Carl stated as he tried scooting away from her seeing she was intruding his personal space. Hoodsey just sat there watching in interest. She just kept moving closer. "Who knows?" She said with a giggle, then she started to walk away but lingered a moment just to graze her fingers on his arm in passing. "Save a dance for me."

Carl shrugged with disinterest in reply before she returned to the dance floor. He looked at Hoodsey who was acting like he didn't see anything. He was relieved that the attention wasn't as bad as it was at school but he was sure that the girls that had targeted him were going to approach him one way or another eventually. Blake showed up a little bit after that.

"What did I tell you?" Blake asked. "You are pretty popular with the ladies at school."

"Like I care for that, Blake." Carl said rolling his eyes.

"Oh?" Blake asked with interest. Carl sighed and drank from cup. "Let us dance then. You need to loosen up." Blake pulled Carl to the floor and started dancing to the music, Carl didn't know what to do for a while but he started to rocking to beat of the bass. Feeling the music, like he usually does. Thank god Blake choose the right music there was a ton of good heavy metal songs which he grew to love within the past few years. This let him indulge in jumping and slight head banging, and not looking like an idiot since the rest of the crowd was doing the same. Hoodsey soon joined them when he found a dance partner. They all danced together for about fifteen minutes until he got pretty tired. The three of them went back to the refreshment table to get some water. The excitement killed his appetite a bit.

"Having fun yet?" Blake asked with a proud smirk.

"Get the attention off of me and I will." Carl countered.

"Touché." Blake said as he leaned on the table. Carl looked at Blake's outfit, he looked pretty good in normal clothes. He wore a sweater vest but he had jeans on for once. He never wore jeans to school. Blake sighed and wiped his forehead. "I suppose I should do another round." Blake said simply. "My parents don't want a repeat of Courtney's party. Apparently everyone was shacking up left and right. I'll be back." Blake climbed the stairs and left Carl with Hoodsey once again.

"You are so having fun." Hoodsey stated.

"I know."

"Especially dancing with Blake."

"I know, Hoods." Carl said with slight annoyance. "I'm not going to let him know until he catches me in it and he hasn't. So I'm sticking to my guns here as long as I can."

"I know." Hoodsey said as he devoured a dumpling of some sort. "I'm just foolin' with ya, Carl. It's my job."

"Yeah." Carl said numbly as he watched a couple of people walking down the grand staircase. He laughed at them in his mind. A girl with short black hair walked up to Carl.

"Hey." She said. "uhm… We are in English together."

"Yep." Carl said as he shoved his hands in his pockets. "Ramona Cherish, right?" Yeah, he knew her. Ramona and a group of her friends hang around the flagpole before school.

She nodded with a bright smile. She reached around him and grabbed a cup of cola and she started sipping it making eye contact with him. Carl was looking around the place trying to shun her. "So your thirteen now?" She asked.

"Affirmative."

"That's cool… I will be thirteen in April."

"That's nice." Carl said as he looked at the staircase as Blake was walking back down it.

"I'm so excited. I'm planning this huge party at the lake! You should totally think about coming."

Blake spotted Carl talking to Ramona and he turned back around walking back up the staircase.

"Yeah, uh… Excuse me." Carl said as he stepped around and away from her. "Bathroom." Carl ran up the staircase and down the hall, Blake's bedroom door was open so he walked inside and shut the door behind him. Blake was looking under his bed or something but he popped up once he heard the door close. Blake sighed as he saw it was just Carl.

"Oh goodness… It's just you, Carl. You nearly gave me a heart attack." Blake said as he walked over to the other side of the room and sat himself on the couch.

"Why did you come back up here?" Carl asked as he sat next to him.

"I forgot to check a room." Blake answered quickly. "There are many rooms here, many corridors, and many rooms with locks."

"Your sounding a little nervous, Blake." Carl said with concern.

"Oh?" Blake asked. "Well that is definitely not so." Carl looked at him suspiciously and he walked over to where he found him. "Uhm.. Carl.. Whatever are you doing, I wonder?" Blake asked as Carl got on his knees and looked underneath the bed. He found about two and a half bottles. Carl pulled them out and he read the labels. They were all the same champagne he found in the limo.

"Got a drinking problem, Blake?" Carl asked with a raised eyebrow, he felt his heart take a dive into his stomach.

"Not quite. No." Blake said as he walked over to Carl, sitting on the bed.

"I saw the same bottle in the limo tonight."

"That is my mother's. She shares it with Courtney."

"Blake. I have to admit.." Carl said as he stared at the bottles. "This worries me a bit… Why are all these under your bed?"

"I didn't have room in the fridge in my tree house." Blake sighed, leaning back. Carl frowned at him.

"It's not full of alcohol, I assure you." Blake said in self-defense. "I just enjoy it at times. Not excessingly."

"I would believe that if I only saw one bottle not three." Carl muttered as he put the bottles in front of him. "Is this how you deal with your…" He almost said confusion. "Your problems?"

"In the past, I did. As I told you, I have taken up painting. So that is no longer." Blake said.

"Was… uhm… was I to blame…?" Carl asked as he felt a sudden force of remorse.

"No. No." Blake said quickly. He sat down on the floor next to him. "No.. Perish the thought. Never were you at fault."

Carl looked at Blake's face to search for a lying quality. None was found but he did find those grey specks in the pools of bright blue. Perfectly combined. He glimpsed at his lips for a second as Blake smiled reassuringly at him. They looked so soft from this distance. Very enticing. Carl frowned at him, looking him in the eyes once more. "It's my home life." Blake said as he put a hand on Carl's shoulder. "I did tell you I'm left alone most of the time, right? I'm spoiled and ignored at the same time. You, my friend, Added spice to my terribly boring life and to say the least, I got my attention fill from you. If you didn't exist… then I probably would have a 'problem'. This drinking… It's just something I hoped to get caught in. I never did as you can see… This friendship that we have established is like my saving grace. It's twice as better now than when we were fighting."

So, Blake Gripling wasn't perfect… but he was at the same time, he didn't know how to explain it. Carl looked at the bottles and sighed. "…I guess I'm a little relieved to see that you're not this perfect human being."

"No one is perfect, Carl." Blake said.

"Tell me about it." Carl said rolling his eyes. "Just don't drink any more tonight, Please?"

"I can do that. I only had one sip any way." Blake shrugged.

Carl looked at the bottles and picked up the one that had only a half of a bottle left.

"Then to make things equal…" Carl uncorked the bottle. "Cheers." He took a large sip of the sweet liquid and placed the cork back on the bottle. Blake watched with mild amusement.

"You really didn't need to do that." Blake said quietly.

"I wanted to." Carl said simply as he placed the bottles back to their original position under the bed before he picked himself up off the ground. He held out a hand to Blake and helped him up off the ground. Carl saw Blake Gripling differently. He wasn't a boy at all. He feels things just as he does. Maybe age isn't important… to a degree anyway. They left the room and headed back downstairs to enjoy the remainder of the party. They danced some more for about ten minutes then he was presented with his birthday cake which was large enough to feed an army. He spoke to Noelle for a few minutes, catching up on life until she left the party. At the last hour of the party, they took refuge in the tree house which was obviously larger than it originally was. Hoodsey joined them to see the adjustment Blake spoke about earlier. People were starting to leave the party around that time. "Wow…" Hoodsey whispered when the light was turned on. "How big can this thing grow without engulfing the entire tree?"

Blake laughed. "This is actually the biggest it can get without building around it."

Carl located the sofa which he went and sat down on. Hoodsey followed but Blake went to another section of the treehouse.

"Hey Hoodsey!" Blake called out. "Could you help me out here?"

"Sure." He replied as he shrugged at Carl. Carl just sat there alone, looking around at his surroundings. Many model boats. Nautical curtains. An actual anchor was perched on the tree it was built around. Blake's paintings filled the walls. All abstracting colors and textures, each was different.

Blake and Hoodsey carried in a large slim box wrapped in shiny dark green wrapping paper. Hoodsey placed a bag next to the box and so did Blake. They both smiled at him. Carl looked at the presents and then back at his friends. "Are you serious?" he asked them.

"Entirely." Blake said as Hoodsey nodded. Hoodsey handed him his present. Carl shifted through the tissue paper to find an interesting sculpture. He pulled it out and examined it. It was a statue of a dragon perched protectively on a jeweled egg.

"This is cool!" Carl exclaimed. "Where did you find this?"

"A magazine my mom got on accident." Hoodsey said with a smile.

"I never seen anything like it." Carl said. "Thanks, Hoods!"

Blake handed him his bag after Hoodsey took his and placed it on the floor. Carl took it and rummaged around finding a small velvet box. Carl looked at Blake for a few seconds, he just smiled. He opened the box finding an actual spider encased in see through plastic embedded in a thin gold frame on a gold chain necklace. He took it out and stared at it and smiled at Blake.

"It's creepy and nice at the same time. It's so awesome." Carl said grinning like crazy, He couldn't stop. "Could you put it on for me?"

Blake smiled even more and blushed slightly, "I would be happy to."

Carl handed the necklace to him and Blake hooked it around his neck. He glanced down at it and admired it. He felt strangely happy. Blake pushed the thin box in front of Carl, urging him to open it. He reached down and tore the wrapping paper revealing a plain brown box. He took his house keys and opened one end of the box and he pulled out the thin item. It was a painting. By the looks of it, it was one of Blake's creations. It had a cluster of random shapes on top of shapes in multi-colors in the middle of a color explosion. The texture was rough. It was definitely eye-popping.

"Wow…" Carl said as he just stared at it. He was genuinely speechless. "I…I…wow…"

"I take it you like it." Blake said with amusement.

"I love it." Carl said quietly. "It's amazing. Thank you…"

"You are quite welcome." Blake said with that proud smile of his. Carl smiled back at him.

"I gotta get going…" Hoodsey said checking the time on his watch as he got up. Carl checked the time. He had about an hour left until he definitely had to get home. "My mother should be here about now. I will let myself out. Great party, guys. Happy birthday, Carl!" With that Hoodsey rushed out of the treehouse and joined the crowd of people leaving the Gripling residence.

"Well… I don't have to be home for another hour so…" Carl said quietly.

"Please stay, if you would like." Blake said. "By the looks of it, the party is wrapping up right on schedule. So I'm going to see the DJ off."

"I'll come with you." Carl said as he stood up. He tucked his necklace into his shirt and they made their way to the house. When they entered the foyer, it was almost deserted. A few people were talking to each other and Blake was talking to the DJ while he cleaned up his equipment. Carl made himself busy by cleaning up the remains on the refreshment table. This definitely was the best birthday of his life so far. He should own up to the bet, he had fun and Blake knows it since he was there the entire time. Blake knows almost everything about him now though… all except the tiny dilemma he has been dealing with recently. Carl watched Blake talk to the DJ as he helped out packing the equipment into the van. It seems he has done this before. Carl piled the dishes on top of each other and set them in the middle of the table. The place was surprisingly clean. Not a deserted cup in sight. Carl couldn't do much so he just watched Blake bid the DJ a good night as he drove off.

"Come on, Carl." Blake said as he climbed the staircase. "The maids will bring those dishes to the kitchen." Carl followed Blake to his room and sat down on the couch. Blake closed the door behind him and went over to his mirror.

"So. Blake.. I gotta tell you something." Carl said as he felt his heart start to pound on his ribcage. "I lost the bet."

"Oh, I’m aware." Blake said with pride as he combed his hair out. "But alas, the bet was neutralized when you learned about my drinking. Has it not?"

"Yeah, I suppose." Carl said as he looked down at his sneakers trying to calm the nervousness. "I gotta talk to you about something. I have needed to for some time now."

"Oh?" Blake asked turning to him. Blake frowned a little as he turned to Carl. "Whatever could possibly be wrong? You look rather tense."

"Blake.. I-I…" Carl started nervously. He looked at Blake when he sat down next to him, looking concerned. Carl felt a blush creep up his cheeks, he cleared his throat. "I have a crush on… someone."

Blake looked confused for a minute he frowned slightly but he gathered himself and he smiled at Carl.

"Is that all?" Blake asked. "That's hardly anything to get worked up about. Do I know this person?"

Carl released his trademark smirk at him. "I believe you do."

"I see." Blake said quietly. "Why ever did you feel the need to come to me about it?"

"Well… It's something you didn't know about me. And I seem to feel lost sometimes but I am falling really hard, ya know? This feeling is.. uh.. pretty serious. I need some advice."

"Lost?" Blake asked in interest. "I know that feeling quite well actually... When I was feeling lost, that's when I started sneaking the champagne but as time passed by, I didn't need it anymore because I accepted myself and this situation, with the help of a few trusted associates. I am no stranger to crushes. I have dealt with one for years because I just simply wasn't ready to confront them about it. Have you confronted this person?"

"…I have wanted to. But I just can't. I get so nervous when I do think I'm ready."

"Yeah." Blake said leaning back. This tension was downright killing Carl inside. All he wanted to do was grab that gorgeous boy next to him and kiss those soft angelic lips of his. Carl blushed even more as he stared at him. He didn't know how to just come out and say it. 'Blake, I like you, don't you see?' He wanted so much to run his hands through his soft blonde locks. Carl sighed and Blake looked over at Carl, whom was staring at him longingly.

"Carl… You look feverish. Are you feeling alright?" Blake asked as he put a hand to Carl's forehead. Carl froze in place from shock but couldn’t help but to close his eyes and savor his touch. He felt his heart race once more. "You are rather warm."

"I'm fine." Carl managed to mutter out, looking at Blake, who was grinning slightly at him with that pink blush of his growing across his cheeks. He looked so adorable to say the least. That made Carl smirk back at him. Blake scooted a little closer to Carl, not by much but still he was closer to him.

"Who is this person that makes you act like you do, I wonder." Blake asked with a small chuckle. "This definitely isn't normal for you, Carl."

Another chance to tell him. Carl sighed and ran a hand through his hair. Take the chance or run away. What could he lose since he obviously likes Carl back? He was still scared none the less. Carl closed his eyes and pondered like he never pondered before. Just say it. He probably got the hints.

"I know." Carl said quietly. "This has been going on for about two months now." Carl stared Blake Gripling in the eyes. Those eyes just made Carl melt. He didn't have a care in the world for about three seconds. Blake just smiled at him. He needed to tell him. "Guess who it is."

Blake closed his eyes for a minute trying to think. "Brenda Childers?"

"That one girl from algebra? No." Carl said raising an eyebrow. Carl inched a little closer to Blake when he went back to thinking.

"Mindy Chase?" Blake asked looking at Carl.

"Nope." Carl said knowingly smirking at him. "One more guess." His heart pumped even harder against his chest.

Blake looked up at him searching his face for a sign but Carl just stared at him. Blake gulped and looked at the other side of the room in thought. Carl was at the point of no return slowly making his way closer to Blake.

"Malory Neel?" Blake asked looking at Carl quickly noticing how close he was. Carl couldn't fight it any more.

"Not a chance." Carl whispered with much impatience as he grabbed Blake's hand and the back of his neck pulling him close to him. Carl swiftly kissed those soft lips he has been dreaming of for so long. Carl's heart nearly pounded out of his chest as he did. Blake was stunned for a second but slowly kissed him back when he registered what was going on, placing his hands on Carl's chest. Carl tangled his hand in Blake's soft hair, much softer than he thought it would be. Carl pulled away catching his breath he leaned his forehead on Blakes as he gathered himself.

"Wow…" Blake murmured. Carl looked Blake in the eyes and smirked. He felt so relieved and really happy. "I…I-I…"

"Yeah." Carl said releasing Blake's hair. Blake grasped Carl's hand and caressed it for a few seconds. "I like you, Blake… A lot…"

"I… was starting to give up on you…" Blake said finally. "I'm glad I didn't."

Carl laughed a little. "I'm glad too. Why give up though?"

Blake blushed and kept his eyes away from Carl's stare. "I was starting to think that our friendship was as good as it was going to get so…" Carl placed a finger under Blake's chin and raised his face so he would look him in the eye.

"You have been driving me insane, Gripling. I don't know where to start with you…"

Blake gave him a small smile. "I should say the same for you, Foutley. For as long as I can remember…"

Carl stole another gentle kiss from him, holding his cheek with one hand. Blake grabbed Carl's shirt collar and pulled Carl closer, deepening the kiss. The two of them stayed like that for what seemed like forever, Carl was the happiest he has been in the longest time. He was in heaven right now and as far as Carl was concerned, He didn't need any of his presents. He just needed Blake at his side. This was the best thing he could have ever asked for. They both pulled away when there was a sudden knock on the door. They scrambled to look like they haven't been doing anything before Blake answered the knock.

"Enter." Blake squeaked as he patted his hair down. Carl straightened his tie and he cleared his throat once more when Winston opened the door cautiously.

"Please excuse the interruption, but Lady Ginger is here to pick up Master Carl." Winston said with a nervous smile.

"Thank you, Winston." Blake said as he lightly touched his fingers to his forehead before Winston closed the door. Carl felt a wild blush climb up to his face but he grinned at Blake when he sighed heavily. Blake was fanning himself with his hand trying to fend off a blush himself. They both glanced at each other laughed in relief.

"Would you like to come over tomorrow?" Carl asked after he calmed down.

Blake smiled up at him as Carl stood up, straightening his outfit. "I would love to."

Carl grinned down at him picking up Blake's hand gently and kissing the back of it. "See you then."

"…Okay…" Blake blushed at him as he placed his hand down on his lap. "I'll ring you when I leave."

Carl smiled at Blake as he made his way out of Blake's room. He ran down the staircase, feeling as light as a feather. Winston opened the door for him.

"The gifts have been loaded into your ride, Sir." Winston said as Carl approached him.

"Thank you, Winston." Carl said smiling at him. He patted Winston's shoulder. "Thank you for everything."

"No problem, Master Carl. Have a great night." Winston said before Carl made his way down the stoop towards his sister's car, where she stood waiting for him. Winston closed the door behind him and he approached his sister with a proud smile, she looked at him with a raised eyebrow. They both got inside the car and started down the road.

"You look happy." Ginger said glancing at her brother. Carl just smiled wider.

"And I am just that." Carl said as they strolled past the gate.

"Alright, what happened?" Ginger asked.

"Classified." Carl stated proudly. "Had a good party."

Ginger sighed. "I don't care if it's classified. Something happened."

"Let's just say… that my crisis is no longer, Sis."

Ginger grinned at him. "I'm proud of you, Carl."

Carl just smiled in response as they drove down their road and pulling into their driveway. Carl grabbed his gifts and they both headed inside the house.

"I expect my chain clean and on the table in the hallway in the morning." Ginger called after him as he hurried upstairs to his room.

"Duly noted!" Carl answered before he got to his room. He sat his gifts down with the others and closed his door. After a few moments of staring at his gifts, He picked up the statue and placed it on his dresser. He placed the painting next to his window on the wall where it fit perfectly since he didn't have much on his walls. He plopped himself on his bed and sighed happily to himself. He closed his eyes recalling the texture of Blake's hair, the softness of his lips… He felt extremely giddy and fulfilled. The rush of it all was completely intoxicating. For the first time in the past few months, He felt whole and most of all he felt like himself again. He looked over at the picture on his nightstand and he smiled at photographed Blake Gripling. Oh, the things Blake Gripling did to him. He just simply couldn't explain.


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