Alright! I actually wrote another chapter! I started this one back when I finished the last chapter but kept getting stumped. I tried several other times to just start over, but nothing was working. Then I started college and just had less time for writing my own stuff. I'm on break til my next semester on the 20th so I decided to try to get another chapter up. Went through all my half-assed attempts, but they still weren't working for me. So I came back to the first attempt I made and this is what I got. It's a little shorter than the last chapter and not much happens. I apologize for it's cruddiness but I thought I should try to get something – anything – up or I'd never keep the fic going. I'm planning to try ending it in the next chapter or two.

To neroon15, if you see this, I will be starting on your Harukanaru Toki No Naka De fanfiction now. I have been working on the plot in my mind since you suggested it, so I definitely haven't forgotten. I'll try to get the first chapter up before my next semester starts. I want it to be good so I won't just slop through and throw something up there. I'll leave a note in my profile, too. In case you don't see this one. To everyone reading this story, there'll be more action in the next chapter, promise.

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Carl slouched in his chair as he vaguely attempted to be nice to his phone buddies. He wasn't doing such a good job, and he hoped Dennison would take him off before Blake called. Unfortunately for him she didn't, though she kept threatening to if his mood didn't improve. He wasn't sure which bothered him more, his hangover or having to eventually talk to Blake. He supposed the culmination of the physical and mental anguish he was experiencing would be a good enough excuse for telling off every person he spoke with this morning. He'd even riled a girl into a shouting match at one point. Dennison could say what she wanted, but Carl figured he'd gotten her angry enough she'd given up the idea of suicide.

Near the end of the day the phone rang, and Carl knew it was Blake before he answered. He knew he would have to be silent as he listened to Blake tell him about something he wanted to forget about. If he spoke too much he was sure he would give himself away. He answered the phone with a grimace. He listened to the other boy's voice as he greeted him in a somewhat more cheerful manner than in previous conversations. Carl put a hand to his face and refused the urge to groan as Blake told him about the party in quite the excited manner. He spent more time on the dance than the kiss strangely enough, but that didn't mean he would forget to mention it. His words were short and spaced out as he described the experience so Carl was sure Blake was blushing a lot as he spoke. He was certain there was a bit of color to his own face as Blake used words like "romantic" and "exhilarating" to describe the event.

"Oh, I apologize," Blake whispered after he had finished, and Carl hadn't replied, "This subject must be making you terribly uncomfortable. I...wasn't thinking….just got a tad excited…"

"No," Carl sighed once Blake's nervous laughter had subsided, "It's fine. I just can't say I have enough experience in this particular field to voice an opinion."

"I understand. I just hope Carl isn't mad at me. He left without saying good-bye. And...he was drunk."

"Well, just give him some time to himself," Carl warned, shifting in his seat uncomfortably, "Maybe he needs to think about things. He could be confused and ....frightened. People often are in these .... situations."

"But what if he talks to me first?" Blake asked, voice shaking, "What if he doesn't want to be friends anymore?"

"I'm sure he won't-"

"We've only been friends for three days, and I kissed him!" Blake groaned, "He hates me now! I know he does! I ruined everything!"

"Andrew!" Carl exclaimed before he could go on with his rant, "Calm down, mate. You said he kissed you right? So...if anything does happen...he ruined everything."

Carl's voice became soft and low as he said this. He hoped he hadn't ruined everything. He really didn't want to hurt Blake. He sighed as he finished off his conversation and hung up the phone. He laid his head on his desk, moaning plaintively in his agony. He only had a few more minutes before he could leave, and he hoped no one called before the day was officially over. He was drained enough from that short conversation as it was. He didn't think he would be able to handle one more whining brat when he had far worse problems to deal with himself. Dennison placed a hand on his shoulder when it was time to go, and he jerked up suddenly in surprise.

"Are you feeling okay, Carl?" she asked with a worried look.

"Sure." he sighed, standing slowly.

"You aren't having a problem with a caller, are you?" she insisted, stepping in front of him before he could leave.

"No! It's a personal problem, okay?" he snapped.

"Carl, if something important is going on you can tell me. You know that, right?"

"It's not important! It's just..." Carl faltered as she stared into his eyes. "It's just teenager stuff. It'll go away."

"Pretending a problem doesn't exist won't make it go away, Carl," she replied, "But if you don't want to talk to me about it, I understand. If you change your mind I'll still be here though."

"Kay," Carl mumbled, walking away, "Thanks."

Carl sighed heavily as he kicked the doors to the gym open with all his strength. Mrs. Dennison jerked slightly as they exploded outward, and Carl stomped through them. He ripped a thin branch off of a tree on the side of the road as he passed and smacked at whatever he came across that wouldn't strike back. He was suddenly filled with rage at himself and rage at Blake. He wanted to throttle the beautiful boy for this. Then he would remember that it was his fault. He thwacked himself in the head one good time, and then threw the stick aside before he could really hurt himself. He rubbed the red spot on his forehead tenderly after a moment and poked his lip out in a pout as he sulked. Things couldn't get much worse.

"Carl." a small voice whispered from behind him.

Carl stopped short and stood stiffly as he refused to face the other boy. Had he not just told Blake to give him some time to himself? He had listened to Nathanial last time, and it had turned out like this. Now, when he really wanted him to listen, he hadn't. Blake must have called from his cell phone while waiting for Carl to get out of his detention. Carl had told him before that it was spent cleaning up the school, but he wondered if he had figured out the truth. No. It wasn't likely. He probably didn't even know that was where the Phone Buddies were located.

"Yeah, Griplng?" Carl asked, coldly.

"Well....I.." Blake's voice sounded hurt, "I just thought that perhaps it would be best if we....talked."

"I don't want to talk. If I did I'd call that stupid Phone Buddies like the rest of the losers do."

Carl would be kicking himself for that one later, and the silence that set in behind him made his stomach turn. He didn't know if Blake was still standing behind him or not, but if he was he certainly wasn't breathing. He waited for a moment and listened for any sounds that would indicate that Blake had left. Carl decided to turn at last, expecting him to be gone. However, as he turned Blake swung into vision. He was standing as stiff as Carl had been, and his eyes were filling with tears. He slowly lowered his head, turning his eyes to the side in hopes that Carl hadn't caught sight of his weakness. He balled his fists at his side as he tried to keep control of his voice.

"Fine!" the younger boy snapped, "Who would want to talk to such an insensitive jerk as you, anyways? You're the one who kissed me Carl Foutley! Don't be angry at me for what you've done!"

Carl watched in silent horror as he ran for the limo parked across the road and slammed the door behind him. As it drove away Carl felt his stomach harden, and he was afraid he might throw up. He didn't think he could go on in this manner, so he sat on the side of the road as he waited for the nausea to pass. He couldn't get the picture of Blake's expression out of his mind. It was so forlorn and injured. He hadn't seen him cry, but he knew he would when he was alone. He had made Blake cry. His stomach punished him a bit more at this thought, and he groaned as he covered his head with his arms.

"Why did I do that?" he moaned. "Why, why, why?"

He sat there for some time, but the feeling in his stomach only worsened as he thought about how he had hurt Blake. He finally decided he would have to endure the miserable walk home and stood slowly. He kept his head down as he walked along, trying his hardest not to think about anything. He counted the cracks in the sidewalk as he passed them. One, two, three, four, five; it was like counting sheep. If he kept counting - if he kept his mind focused on those cracks - he could keep the image of Blake's sorrowful expression out of his mind. However, soon he felt a stinging at the back of his eyelids. Despite avoiding any thoughts of him, Blake's sorrow was thrashing about in the pit of his stomach. Carl stopped suddenly as he reached home and looked to the right. The dog house stared back at him blankly, the door hanging loosely on its broken hinges.

Carl felt suddenly drawn to the broken structure, and his feet were heavy as he walked towards the ancient relic. Each step felt like it lasted a million years. When he reached the entrance, he dropped to his knees like a stone. He crawled inside the gutted fortress, barely fitting inside but hardly caring. He flopped to the floor carelessly and curled into a ball. He stared at the spider webs in the back-right corner, mind strangely blank as he listened to the silence that filled his childhood refuge. How long had it been since he had heard such silence? It seemed to weigh down on his mind painfully. He put up no fight against the tears that spilled out of his control. He hadn't wanted any of this, and now he couldn't take it back. He should have left things alone. He should have told Blake to leave Carl alone during their first conversation. Carl only wanted to be alone. He buried his face in his arms as they rose to cover his head. Alone was so much less painful.

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Carl stared at his plate of chicken sadly, poking at the grease-drenched slab of meat as the rest of his family chattered on about nothing in particular. Dave's job was going great; more money to spend on the family. Ginger's last year of school was her best yet; a scholarship into that fancy art college was in sight. His mother could never be happier with either of them. He tried not to think of how much he had missed the sound of Blake's voice during his last few days at Phone Buddies hell. He tried not to wonder about how he was doing, or why he never called. He tried, as he so often did lately, not to think at all. Lois stared at his slouched form, and the smile faded from her lips.

"Carl, you okay over there?" she asked gently.

"Yeah, ma," Carl grinned at her, "Chicken's great."

Lois watched him lower his head again. The fake smile melted from his face, and she saw the sorrow there. Even Ginger had noticed. She gave her mother a curious glance before returning her eyes to Carl. Dave seemed to be the only one not to notice. He was taking dishes away from the table, still chattering in his oblivious way. Ginger helped him, hoping to keep him at the sink long enough for Lois to find out what was wrong with Carl. Carl didn't realize that everyone else had disappeared until Lois spoke again.

"Alright, kid," she sighed. "What's wrong?"

"I told you, nothin'." Carl replied, refusing to give her eye contact.

"I'm your mother, Carl," she continued, "I think I can tell when something's wrong."

He stabbed his chicken a little harder. Why hadn't she said anything like this to him in the past few years? Why was she only noticing his problems now, when it was least convenient for him? He knew she wouldn't leave him alone until he gave her a reason for his sullen expressions and recent disappearances. He remembered that she was stubborn that way. He thought briefly - very briefly - of sharing his problem with his mother. She was a reasonable woman. She had been there for him when he was younger, but Carl knew that this was different. If he told her it may only cause more trouble for him in the long run.

"I'm fine, Lois," he sighed, dropping his fork with a clatter, "I'm not on drugs, I don't have unprotected sex, and I'm not in a gang, okay?!"

"Is it a girl?" Lois asked gently.

"No."

Lois looked surprised at the tone of his voice. It was as though he were spitting the response from the pit of his stomach. It was almost like he had vomited it onto the table. After a moment of silence, he stood suddenly, and the dishes shook as his knees hit the underside of the table. Lois' face saddened as she watched him disappear down the hall. She heard the front door slam and sighed heavily, placing a hand over her eyes. Ginger and Dave returned to the dining room to find her sobbing into her napkin. How had she let herself grow so far from Carl? When had it happened? Ginger and Dave were at her side in no time, rubbing her back as they tried to discover the source of her sadness.

Carl stomped down the sidewalk, not knowing where he was going; not particularly caring. He only knew that he didn't want to answer any questions because that would require him to think. He couldn't let himself start thinking, not seriously. If he did, he knew he would lose control of the situation. He wondered if Hoodsey would want to hang out, but he discarded that idea as quickly as it came. Somehow he knew Hoodsey would only make the situation worse; anyone would. He wanted to drink but knew of nowhere to procure alcohol this late at night. He stopped suddenly as he realized he was following his route to school and looked to the sky.

"I could really use some help down here, big guy." he sighed, a desperate look on his face, "I have no idea what I'm doing."

He put his hands in his pockets and shuffled on down the road, wishing he had someone in which he could confide. He stared at the cracks in the sidewalk once again. One, two, three; it had been three days since he had seen Blake. He turned his eyes back to the sky to watch the twinkling blanket flow above him. It was like a sparkling, black ocean that stretched across the world, reaching into eternity. Carl sighed heavily as he came to a stop again. The world around him seemed to spin at the sudden ceasing of motion. The sky became still and the stars glared down at him coldly.

"Carl!"

Carl lowered his head slowly to watch a set of headlights approach. Ginger stopped beside him and stared. The look wasn't angry, reprimanding, or that of her usual masked concern. It was open and her eyes spoke to him. She knew what was going on already. He turned his eyes away from her. If he got into the car she would want to talk about it. If he didn't, he would just have to walk on with this burden weighing him down all night. He spat at the grass and kicked her tire as he circled around to the other side of the car. Ginger didn't scold him for his disregard of her seatbelt rule and took off when he slammed the door. It was silent for some time. Carl watched as the town swept by in a blur. She wasn't heading home.

"Are you okay, Carl?" Ginger asked finally.

"Sure," he whispered, "Why wouldn't I be?"

"Is it Blake?" she continued.

"You sound like Mom, you know?" he sighed.

"I'm not going to tell her, Carl," Ginger stated simply, "I just want to make sure you're okay."

Carl grew silent and watched the trees fly by them. Ginger had never been overly concerned with his problems. Normally she was too wrapped up in her own to even think about him. This hadn't angered him as much as his mother's lack of interest because it had always been that way between them. Why she was suddenly changing that now, he would never know.

"Look," Ginger began again after the long stretch of silence, "I'm just trying to help. As annoying as you are, you're my brother, Carl. Why do you think I come down on you so had when you do things that aren't good for you? If you'd just let me help you -"

"I hurt his feelings, okay?" Carl admitted at last, "I hurt his feelings, and now I feel like shit."

The car came to a stop as he said this, and Ginger turned to stare at him. Carl looked out the window in an attempt to avoid eye contact once again. He noticed Ginger had pulled into the parking lot of a restaurant. He highly doubted this was an indication that he was going to get free food considering it was of Mexican origins. Ginger hated Mexican food. He watched a random droplet of water roll down the window. Where had that come from? Ginger's eyes were still burning holes in the back of his head. He could feel her stare and it reminded him of his mother again. Ginger grew to be more and more like her everyday. Who was Carl growing to be like? He sighed and decided to avoid any thoughts of his father.

"I didn't want to hurt him," he said, still staring out the window. "But I don't know what….I guess, I'm still trying to figure out who I am. I know it's what happens at this age, but that doesn't mean I want Blake hurt in the process."

He turned to look at Ginger at last and was surprised to see her smiling at him.

"What?" Carl demanded.

"Nothing, Carl," she responded, softly, "I just forgot how smart you are."

"What's that gotta do with anything?" he mumbled.

"Most kids your age wouldn't be able to analyze their situation like you just did," Ginger explained, "At least you have an advantage going for you."

"It doesn't seem to be helping me much." Carl sighed.

"It's not the end of the world," Ginger stated, starting the engine again, "Even if you hurt Blake, he'll get over it. The world keeps spinning. Life goes on. It'll be alright."

Carl returned his eyes to the signs as they swam by him in a string of multicolored lights. He wanted to thank Ginger for talking to him but little brother etiquette seemed to hinder him. He managed to smile at her slightly at a red light and she returned the gesture. When they reached home both Foutley siblings exited the vehicle. Ginger headed for the door, but Carl just stood beside her car. She stopped and turned to face him.

"You coming in, Carl?" Ginger asked.

"No," he stated, "I don't feel like it."

"You should," she responded, "You made Mom cry, you know."

"Sorry," he said, "I just need…..Tell her I'll be in soon."

Ginger gave him a curious look, but she figured he wanted to be alone with his thoughts for a while. She was glad he was going to try to straighten things out. She watched as he walked over to his old clubhouse and crawled inside. It had been years since she'd seen him go anywhere near that thing. She could see his feet sticking out of the broken door and shook her head with a smile as she entered the house. Ginger would explain to her mother as best as she could so she wouldn't worry while Carl was wallowing in the dirt. She'd always known Carl was strange and she supposed he always would be. Maybe his history of oddities would keep Lois from being too shocked when she found out. Ginger certainly hoped so for Carl's sake.