Hello, all! I present to you the long-awaited (?) premiere to the final act of Empowered! After spending a month as, well, a little bitch, Carl’s finally getting his life back on track. He’s got a long road ahead, but his journey will soon be coming to an end…for better or for worse.
So sit back and enjoy. The end begins.
It was now early May, and Carl was more alone than he had ever been in his entire life. Having learned of the fight with Wing, the school gave Carl two weeks of out-of-school suspension and placed him in a different gym class. This didn’t do much to quell the feelings on either side; Carl and Wing continued to detest each other and would share looks of mutual antipathy whenever paths were crossed.
The worst part about that, however, wasn’t the animosity; it was that Wing was one of the few people who still acknowledged his existence.
Octane continued to play mediator; he chose no sides between Carl and El as the pair hadn’t spoken since the day of the fight. Spore, too, was effectively out of his life. She had become an expert at focusing intently on a point in the distance any time they walked passed each other. To her, Carl had become another face in the crowd.
Carl knew that he screwed up. He knew everything was a mess. And he knew he that he had become his own worst enemy.
But what he didn’t know was how he was supposed to fix it.
He wanted to apologize to El. He wanted to make things right by Spore. He wanted it all to go back to how it used to be…but something held him back. Any time he went to pick up the phone to dial a number, the thought of uttering the words ‘I’m sorry’ seemed like an impossibility. He pretended that it had been pride holding him back, but deep down he knew that he was just too afraid to try to make amends. If he tried and failed, then that would mean he’d truly had lost them both forever.
Even his notebook, which in the most desperate of times provided a small degree of solace, went untouched. Writing down what happened would make the reality of the situation too palpable. And even more so, he was too ashamed to let his dad ‘know’ what happened.
Finishing up another day of school – one day closer to leaving it all behind – Carl walked in to his home. He was soon stopped by his mother.
“Sit,” she commanded succinctly while pointing with fierce intention at a kitchen chair.
“Mom, I don’t really want to…”
“I said sit!”
Taken aback by her tone, Carl did as he was asked and sat down at the kitchen island to face his mother.
“You, young man, have been throwing everything out of whack around this house these past few months, and it ends now.” Raising her fist straight up, she extended her forefinger and said, “First the anger and depression with Spore,” raising her middle finger, she added, “then not only the fight with that Asian boy, but with El, your best friend,” straightening out her ring finger, she then finished, “and now moping around this house, treating your family like people who live with you instead of people who love you…it needs to stop, Carl. I’m – we’re all – drowning in your negativity, and I’m sick of it.”
“Mom, just because you can ‘feel’ what I feel doesn’t mean you at all understand,” Carl remarked with an eye roll as he got up from the island and began to walk away.
“I did not say you could leave, young man!”
Carl, whose mother had rarely taken this kind of tone with him, looked at her with tinge of fear and sat back down.
“Carl,” she began, her voice placating, “I’ve always told you how special you. And you are, Carl. You really, really are. What you’ve had to deal with in your life, it’s not easy, and it’s not at all fair, no. But do you know how you’re not special? How you’re feeling. Everyone – and I mean everyone – has gone through this, Carl. The anger, the jealousy, the bitterness, the loneliness, the self-loathing…you’re not the first one to ever have to deal with it. You’re not even the only one of your friends who feels it.”
Before Carl had a chance to refute this, Insight continued.
“Do you know how inferior Elcsum feels all the time? Do you know how he feels the need to act a fool because he’s afraid people won’t like who he really is? He’s so concerned with what people think of him that he’s created this false persona that he thinks everyone would like. The jokes, the false confidence, the way he is with girls…it’s all an act.”
“You could tell all that by being around him?” Carl asked, surprised at the scope of his mother’s power.
“His sense of self-worth – how little of it there is – pours out of him, Carl. It’s a constant stream. And I feel so, so sorry for him. I know you’re jealous of him…”
“I’m not jeal—”
“I know you’re jealous of him,” Insight reiterated after being cut off, “but despite everything he has going for him, he’s just as scared and lonely as you are. No one’s perfect, Carl. And no one truly has it easy. You won’t get anywhere in this world until you accept the fact that we’re all troubled and we all have issues that we need to deal with. In that way, we’re all powerless. Not just you.”
“Make up with him. Be the friend he needs. Get your life back in order.”
Carl looked down for a moment before meeting his mom in the eyes. This woman, whom he had always considered an overly emotional, overly intrusive mess, stood before him stronger and more intelligent than he had ever realized.
“And what if he doesn’t want to?” he asked, looking down once more.
“You won’t know until you try, baby. But, from what I know about the boy, he’d be just as eager to rectify things as you are.”
“I’m an asshole, ma.”
Walking over to her son, she leaned in to give him a kiss on the head. She then promptly smacked him on the back of it.
“I know you’re upset, but that’s no excuse to use that kind of language.”
Carl smirked as he rubbed the back of his head. “I love you, too, ma. And, um…thanks.”
“Anything for my baby angel,” she replied with a smile.
“Why did you take so long to tell me all this?”
“I was hopin’ you’d figure it out for yourself,” she said, “but then I remembered how damned stubborn you can be sometimes, just like your father, God rest his soul.”
“I remind you of him?”
“Except he wouldn’t curse in front of a lady, young man.”
“I said sorry!”
“I’m just teasin’ you. Why don’t you go get washed up? Dinner’s gonna be ready soon.”
Later that night, Carl, deciding to call one of the few people who still didn’t mind being around him, picked up his phone to ring Octane. He couldn’t deny the validity of what his mom had told him; he needed to get himself back on the right path and fix things, starting with El. So for the first time in a long time, he reached out to a friend. He was tired of avoiding his friends. And he was tired of avoiding the truth.
“Yo, man,” he said in to the phone after Octane had answered.
“Yo yo, what’s up, what’s up?”
“Nothin’. You doin’ anything?”
“Ain’t doing shit. You wanna come over?”
“Yeah, let’s chill, but wouldn’t it be quicker if you…”
He then heard a booming *swoosh* sound lasting around seven seconds followed by a *knock* *knock* *knock* at the door.
“What’s-what’s-what’s going on, man?” Octane asked as the two hung out in Carl’s room. “You haven’t been too chatty lately.”
“Yeah, well, shit’s been shit, ya know?”
“Ha, yeah, man. I’ve noticed.”
“Has El said anything about…anything?”
“Not really. Doesn’t really bring it up.”
“I see,” Carl replied, not sure what to make of that fact.
“You try talking to him?”
“I don’t think he wants to talk.”
“You-you-you’d be surprised, man. Dude misses you for sure.”
“How do you know?”
“He just hasn’t been the same since, ya know?”
“Yeah…” Carl said.
There was silence for a beat until Octane changed the topic slightly.
“You never asked him about his parents, did you?”
“Must’ve forgotten,” Carl admitted, slightly ashamed. “What about them?”
“They got a divorce. It’s been super hard on him.”
“They…really? They always seemed so happy, though.”
“Yeah, well, I guess they were-were-weren’t gonna fight in front of his friends or anything.”
“I can’t believe he never said anything.”
“You never asked, man. You always go to him when you have a problem, but can you-you-you name a time when you asked him if he had any of his own?”
“I never even thought to,” Carl answered, his shame growing. “Has he mentioned that to you before?”
“No, but I see more than people realize,” Octane replied. “For-for instance, people kind of think I’m this goof, and that’s fine. What people wanna think of me doesn’t bother me. But you know who it does bother?”
“El,” Carl muttered.
“My mom already laid in to me about it,” Carl said. “Never really knew, ya know? I guess, how could I?”
“He’s good at putting on a show, that’s for sure,” Octane agreed. “But you guys are best buds; you’ll be alright. Just talk it out like bros.”
“What if he doesn’t want to?”
“Said it before, and I’ll say it again: Don’t be a pussy, Freeman.”
Carl let out a light chuckle.
“I’m glad you’re back to not being such-such-such a douche.”
“Yeah. Me, too,” Carl agreed.
“Spore really did a number on ya, didn’t she?”
“For real, man. I thought she was the one.”
“What about her made-made-made you feel that way?”
Carl was at a loss for words. Had he been asked this question months ago, he would’ve spouted off catchwords such as ‘fate,’ ‘destiny,’ or ‘soul mate,’ but now what he felt for her began to feel like a distant blur. And conversely, why he felt that way became all the more clear.
“…because I liked that someone liked me,” he admitted.
“Ha, I hear ya, bro. But the only person that’s gotta like you is you.”
“You know, you’re a lot smarter than people give you credit for.”
“I play shit close to the chest.”
“Ha, I can…”
“Or is it vest?”
“Close to the vest? But who the hell wears vests?”
“I mean, six-to-one, right? Does it matter? Like-like-like, if you’re wearing a vest but it’s really chest, the difference is like, an eighth on an inch of cloth, right? So it’d still be really close.”
“I take it all back.”
“Bitch. But seriously, dude…talk to him. I’m sure he wants to hear from ya.”
“Yeah…yeah. Thanks, man.”
“No worries, bud.”
“So, um…what about you? Everything good on your end?”
Octane smirked. “You’re-you’re-you’re learning. Shit’s good. Having trouble finding a good way to finish off the yearbook DVD, though.”
“Really? Don’t yearbooks get issued next month?”
“Yeah, dude. I-I-I gotta finish it up.”
“You know what you could do: Cap the whole thing off with prom.”
“That’s-that-that’s actually a pretty sweet idea. You just think of that now?”
“Keep a secret?”
“I really, really like musicals. I think ending things on a dance number would be awesome.”
“Fag,” Octane replied jovially.
“Ha, fuck you. You know it’s a good idea.”
“Yeah, that actually is pretty sweet. Are you gonna go, though?”
“To prom? Well…” Carl began, embarrassed, “I, um…I bought tickets last month or so. I kind of,” he then cleared his throat and continued, “I kind of thought I’d still be able to win Spore back and wanted to be prepared for when I did.”
“Word. You better now with all that?”
“Other than wasting ninety bucks on these stupid tickets, yeah. I mean, I’d be lying if I said it still didn’t hurt sometimes, but I guess every day’s a little better.”
“Time-time-time heals all, broseph. So you gonna try to go or no?”
“Probably not. You want them?”
“Nah, I’m aight. Hold on to ‘em. Might just change your mind.”
“We’ll see,” Carl replied incredulously as he turned to look towards his dresser where the two tickets were secretly housed.
“Aight, bro. I’m gonna head out. Talk to you later, my man.”
“Later, bud. And, um…good talk. Thanks.”
“Yeah, man. I don’t like seeing either you or-or-or El all messed up. Anything I can to-to-to help.”
“Appreciated, man. Take it easy.”
“Later,” Octane replied. And with a *swoosh*, he rocketed out of Carl’s house, his long brown hair and unzipped gray hoodie being swooshed back as he did.
Carl stood up and breathed deeply. For the first time in a long time, he was beginning to feel normal again.
“What next…?” he asked himself. Reaching in to his pocket, he felt his phone. He stared at it for a moment, but something didn’t feel quite right.
He opened his top desk drawer and put the phone in there, out of sight and out of mind. After closing the top drawer, his hand drifted towards the bottom one to retrieve his notebook.
TO BE CONTINUED
With a little help from family and friends (people whom he’s been neglecting for far too long), Carl gets his ass in gear towards a path of redemption. Will he be successful, or is he too far gone? Keep reading to find out. Empowered continues in a week!