For the fourteenth day in a row, Eddward found his tired eyes blinking awake of their own volition. The house was silent – as it had always been. Somehow though, it had become even more quiet once his parents had received that fateful call from the NHA. As he predicted, moments later an annoying beeping started by his head, and he reached out awkwardly with the hand not flung across his eyes to bat at the off switch on the side. The house fell silent again.

When he prepared for the first day back after the three-day weekend with his daily shower and teeth-brushing (twice, simply because he didn't trust even the electric ones to dislodge any bacteria that could've crept in during the night), it was in silence. He prepared breakfast (a single slice of lightly-buttered toast and a glass of orange juice) for himself in silence. He knew without having to check the lonely sticky note on the refrigerator door that his parents had left early for their new more-full-time jobs, just as they had been practically every day for the last two weeks.

But that was okay. He was used to taking care of himself.

He was the first one to reach the bus stop that morning. The little street corner edged by Mr. Polman's balding shrubs was just as quiet as the Blake residence, but at least there Edd knew that someone besides him would show up eventually. The last time he had seen anyone at his home was... He shook the thought away, focusing instead on the frost-covered trees like skeleton hands creeping from the ground. Winter had fallen upon Peach Creek fast this year. Or at least, that's what he had overheard Eddy's dad muttering crossly when he realized it was too late in the season to hire someone ('even those fricken foreigner people down by that farm') to staple cheap new shingles over the bargain-brand ones he had put up the year before.

Mr. Sullivan was right though, even if his methods of home improvement were lacking slightly. It seemed like only days ago the children of the cul-de-sac were out gallivanting in the sun. Granted, the only ones who still did anything close to playing anymore were Sarah and Jimmy, but they had always been a bit behind in development. It could be by the help of spray-tanner, but Nazz's tan hadn't faded and he hadn't seen Kevin wearing his winter jacket yet, despite the freezing temperatures.

He heard the crunching of footsteps through the quickly-frozen leaves long before he saw anything more distinguishing than the little puffs of fog pouring out with each of his own exhales. Soon enough his tall friend came meandering around the corner and into view, loaded up with enough fluffy layers to do a snowman shame.

"Double-D!" he shouted gleefully through the thick chartruese scarf, running forward to engulf his friend in a back-breaking hug. "We haven't seen you all weekend! I thought you were eaten by the lava monsters from mars, but Eddy said you were reading sticky notes so I didn't wanna bother you. You weren't eaten, were you?"

"No, Ed," the shorter teen laughed, gently manuevering out from under the massive paws still gripping his shoulders in concern. "My parents came home this weekend, so I thought I'd make them a nice dinner. Nothing to be worried about, promise." He left out the part where they hadn't made it through the door until nearly midnight, practically falling into bed before leaving again almost before he woke up the next morning. Ed wouldn't understand. They just... needed some time to get used to their new schedules. They'd be back to family dinners again in no time, he was sure of it.

Ed just grinned widely, thumping Edd painfully hard on the back. "Promises are like cherry trees, Double-D."

"Can it, Lumpy," a familiar voice barked from the street behind them. The dark-haired owner of said voice marched up to the two, before plopping down on the edge of the sidewalk. He was up again just as soon, hissing and cursing freezing cement and thin denim. He settled eventually for half-leaning against the metal lamp post near the other two, also cold but more bearable through the thick wool of his jacket. The slight twitching of Ed's fingers along the straps of his backpack caught his attention. "Jesus, Monobrow, when was the last time you took your meds?"

Edd frowned at the overused nickname from their childhood, but said nothing. The book he was taking out of his backpack would be more interesting, and hopefully less painful to deal with. Besides, Eddy wouldn't listen to him anyway.

"When I woke up, Eddy, I swear! Sarah made me or she said she'd tell mom. I just got ungrounded! The gravy, Eddy!"

Eddy scoffed, but ultimately decided that picking on the tallest Ed wasn't what he was really craving at the moment, for he didn't push the issue. Instead he turned to Double-D, who had a thick leatherbound book out on his lap. Eddy moved to sit on the large garden stone next to him, cringing at the cold again invading his jeans, and tried to discern the title from the few letters visible between splayed spidery fingers.

"There aren't any pictures," Edd informed the brunette, leveling him a sharp look over the top of the crisp pages. "I doubt you'd be interested in it."

"I've read plenty of books! And not all of them have had pictures, you know," Eddy argued. He swore roughly when the corner of Double-D's mouth twitched, forsaking the rock to go stand by the tallest teen again. "Whatever, Sockhead. It's probably lame anyway. Velcro-b-o-logy and all."

"I think you're refering to microbiology, Eddy."

"Exactly. Borrring!"

"Actually," Double-D remarked lightly, "it's a detective novel. Sherlock Holmes, to be exact. He was—"

"Blah blah blah," Eddy interrupted. "We don't give a crap about some old dead guy. What we want is pizzaz! Shibang! A little action to tide a dude over between Tarentino flicks, got me?"

"I got you, Eddy," Edd said dryly. Knowing the shortest of the trio, he would see Holmes in a movie or a cartoon, and would be calling himself an expert by the months end. Just like he had forShutter Island, Slumdog Millionaire, and Watchmen, in the last year alone.

But then again, Eddy had always been quick to jump on a new bandwagon. The first time comic book hero films started popping up in commercials and previews at the theater, he was silent. Judging. The second time such an ad came into mention he leapt on the idea, boasting to anyone within earshot that 'the comics were better', or 'they'll probably throw in so-and-so as a twist, the chumps'. Yet, when questioned, he couldnt' give much more than a generalized summary of the original series' and a overly-structured description of a character.

Double-D assumed Wikipedia was to blame.

The thing with Eddy was that he was too vain, too concerned with his social standing in the cul-de-sac and in school. For some reason that had been beyond the intelligent Edd for the last few years, the prospect of popularity appealed to Eddy. He actually seemed to want everyone watching him at all times, doting on his every move. Hanging off his every word.

Well, maybe a little attention occasionally wouldn't be so bad.

When the bus finally came to a screeching stop half over the curb, Eddy shoved his way to the front of the forming line. Sarah, who had shown up with jimmy in tow minutes earlier, appeared livid. Thankfully, the blonde was able to calm the girl enough to do nothing more than angrily push the older teen up the stairs. Eddward hung back by Rolf, who only rode the school bus because of some law forbidding teenagers to drive tractors towards a school building. Or, as a general rule, around town at all.

Edd determindedly ignored the leer from the rather painted bus driver as he weaved around both the broken front door that only opened half-way and the woman's fishnet-clad leg thrown out into the already narrow alleyway. He mumbled an "excuse me," and stepped over it carefully when she ignored him. Really, he shouldn't have been so surprised; the large woman had been increasingly suggestive towards him lately. Maybe she had taken a liking to him when he was the only one to say goodmorning on the first day of school.

Or she could just be a cougar... but Double-D didn't want to ponder what type of woman preyed on fifteen-year old boys.

"Here! Sit here, Double-D! I kept it warm for you."

Edd cringed at Ed's unwashed coat laying across the empty portion of the bus bench. While the ADHD pills helped massively, the tallest boy still had the most deplorable heigine habits of any human Edd had encountered. "Um..." he mumbled, clutching his book between both hands. "Thank you for the consideration, but I think I'll stretch out my legs on this seat... Over here." He tried not to count the pieces of toast lodged in braces when the teen grinned back.

Eddward sat down as the bus began moving. In the seat in front of him, Eddy turned around to hang his folded arms over the thick brown padding.

It was hard, but he managed to appear to be listening while watching his empty home fade from view.

.- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

"It's a wonder you're only in ninth grade. Mr. Blake," Mrs. Baron said during English, his last class of the day. "You're doing so well... If you'd like, I could talk to Mr. Masteller about transferring you to sophomore English next semester?"

Edd considered the option briefly, before shaking his head no. While it would look good on a college application, he wasn't sure if he could keep a perfect score with the more advanced material, which is what was most important. Besides, transferring would require signatures... "No thank you, Ma'am. I would miss my classmates too much, I'm afraid."

She frowned and fished a narrow purple pamphlet out from underneath a well-read Shakespeare. It felt heavy when she handed it to him. "Friends are great, but you shouldn't let them hold you back. I'm going to give you this in case you change your mind. Your mind's too brilliant to waste, Dear."

He stammered a thanks and slipped the pamphlet into his bag, and apparently his nervousness was obvious because she let him go with a small smile. The smile turned poisonous when she saw two of her worst students hovering by the door.

"Sullivan! Vargas! What have I told you about eavesdropping?"

The two ran off down the hallway in hysterical laughter, Edd panting to catch up with them. "G-Guys... Slow down..."

He managed to tail after them until they were off school grounds, then Eddy whipped around with a snarl. "What was that about, Double-D? You plannin' on leaving us? Think you're too smart to hang with us normal kids anymore?"

"Eddy... that's not true. Mrs. Baron suggested it, yes – and maybe it'd be a smart move for me... But!" He denied before Eddy could retort, "I told her no. I'm not leaving you guys. Ever."

"Yeah, yeah," Eddy muttered, cheeks pinking in embarrassment at getting riled so easily.

Double-D sighed at his friends' antics, bumping elbows with Ed in a playful move to assure him that everything was okay. The returning shove was enough to knock Edd into Eddy, who caught him easily with the year's added height and muscled gained from many failed attempts at making the schools sports teams. When Double-D was set back on his feet, he sighed; he almost missed the days when he wasn't the shortest of the Eds. Even back then he had been known as the weakest, but the two or so inches Eddy had on him insured that the reputation wasn't going anywhere.

"Watch it, Lumpy. You might break him."

Ed immediately looked distraught at the idea of hurting his friend. "I'm sorry, Double-D! I don't want you to break and get sucked up in the vacuum... It's loud and scary in there!"

Edd shot a withering look at the chuckling Eddy, and patted Ed on the arm. "There, there, Ed. No harm done, see?" Ed sniffled, wiping a long line of mucus down his shirt sleeve, but thankfully didn't attempt to hug him.

(Double-D didn't think he owned enough Lysol to ever feel clean again after that.)

The cul-de-sac came into view, and Edd could see the swept and pressed cement of his driveway. He sighed.

"What's eatin' you? I'm not angry about the English thing, you know..."

"Oh," Double-D said, immediately feeling guilty over letting his best friend feel guilty (no matter how deserved). "No, it's just, I had hoped that my parents would be home to enjoy some family bonding-type activity after my chores."

He sighed and turned away from his friends and toward his house, but stopped short when Eddy grabbed his wrist. "Screw 'em. I looted my big bro's room yesterday and found his original Nintendo. I'm gonna cream Lumpy at Donkey Kong, but you might stand a chance at Bomberman."

Double-D twisted his arm out of Eddy's grasp and spun around, lugging his backpack higher over his shoulders. "Thank you, but no thank you, Eddy. I for one strive to be a good and well-behaved child to my parents, and you two would do well to follow my example." A pause – snickers. "Goodbye, Eddy. Ed. At least make an attempt at completing your homework..."

.- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

"My monkey has more bananas, Eddy!"

The shorter teen hocked the narrow controller at the ground, grumbling irrationally when it bounced harmlessly off his thick shag carpet. Across the black TV screen read GAME OVER, with a picture of two red-clothed monkeys crying in defeat. Beside him, Ed scratched his head and armpits, emitting harsh guffaws he thought was supposed to be monkey noises. Of course the neanderthal would win. Even if he had just mashed all the buttons...

"That was boring. This game is boring. This day is boring!" He flopped onto his back, the bed jiggling under his weight. Ed peered at him from over the side, caterpillar eyebrow wiggling like a sea monster from the deep. Eddy ignored him. "Who does Double-D think he is, anyway? 'I'm such a good son and you're an idiot who can't do algebra.' Well, screw him. At least my parents aren't gone all the time."

"But Eddy," Ed piped up like a puppy craving attention, "maybe Double-D's parents have been eaten by the CornField Monster from Ghoul Weekly!"

More like eaten by their jobs...

"Knock, Knock."

Both boys looked up to the doorway, where Mrs. Sulivan stood with a dinner plate and a smile. Eddy's backpack hung from her elbow – most likely picked up from it's previous location flung by the front door. "Ed, Hunny, your mother just called. She'd like you to head on home now. Dinner time and all." Ed whooped and ran out the door, repeating "gravy gravy gravy" like a mantra, while Eddy's mom just chuckled. Years of dealing with her son's best friends had taught her many lessons in how to guide her own child. She set the plate down on his dresser and sat beside him on the bed, flopping back to face her little boy's frown. "Where was Eddward tonight?" The scowl deepened. "Ah, a fight. I see... Well, what was it this time, then?"

Eddy sat up, building a small thrown of pillows at his headboard. "He's been blowing us off a lot lately. Doing chores, cooking dinner. We argued about it today because he wouldn't even come play Nintendo with us."

"Eddward's a hardworking kid. I think it's great that he's so helpful," she teased, poking Eddy in the side lightly to watch him squirm. "His parents let him cook for them?"

"I doubt it," Eddy scoffed. "I mean, it's not like they're ever home to eat with him. He's probably just lying so he can do nerdy things without Ed or me there to get in the way."

Mrs. Sullivan's heart went out for the poor boy at the thought of him being home alone after school. She knew that some parents could trust their teens not to get into any shinanigans while they were at work, but with both of her boys, that had never been an option. Eddy was only ever without supervision for maybe an hour before her shift ended at the clinic, and most of that time was usually spent with his two best friends. Perhaps the Blakes didn't approve of their only child leaving the house while they were away?

"I'm sure that's not the case, Hun. Say, I think Eddward should join us for dinner tomorrow night." At Eddy's blanch she frowned, Momma face coming into play. "Tell him I invited him personally and he won't be able to skip out, okay? It's been so long since we've had proper manners at our dinner table..."


She just laughed and ruffled his hair.

Now, pot roast or marinated chicken...?