Hello, everyone! Hope you’ve all had a great week. Mine was pretty goddamn awesome: Got to be the best man at my best friend’s wedding, which turned out to be one of the best nights of my life. I’m hoping a video of the speech turns up so I can share with you all. Until then, you’ll have to settle with another installment of Empowered. Can you believe that this is the second-to-last post of the entire story? I didn’t realize that I’ve been writing this since January. It doesn’t at all feel like more than half the year. I’ve loved every minute of it, and I hope those of you reading share my passion.
With that said, let’s get to it! The end begins.
“This is everything I’ve ever wanted and more,” El gushed.
“I thought you’d like it. So you’ll go?”
“Absolutely I’ll go. What’s with the sudden change of heart, though?”
“Wing’s pissed, and yeah he’s a dick who deserved getting that punch in the face, but it’s a problem I still caused. If he wants a goddamn showdown, then let’s have it. Maybe we can put all this shit to rest for good before it gets any worse.”
“All while wearing a baller ass tux, am I right?”
“When you’re right, you’re right.”
“I’m not putting out, ya know.”
“Good point. Ugh, what am I going to wear! Such little time to decide. Is coral in this season?”
“You’ll figure it out. And I’m glad you’re down.”
“I like it. And if he does decide to start anything, you know I’ll have your back,” El said. He then decided to add, “If you want it.”
“Good. Also, maybe we can get in on a limo with Ock and Blitz.”
“Actually, for old time’s sake, why don’t you just come pick me up?”
“I am loving this idea more and more with every word.”
“Figured you would.”
“Wanna check out tuxes tomorrow?”
“Actually, I think I know where I can get one of my own.”
“Hey, mom?” Carl asked while knocking on his mother’s door.
“Yes, dear?” she asked, looking up from the book she had been reading. It was a horror novel with the face of a werewolf on the cover, its maw drenched in blood.
“This is gonna sound like a weird question, but do you have any of dad’s old clothes?”
“His clothes? Why?”
“I decided to go to prom, and I didn’t know if he happened to have a tux or something.”
“Since when are you going to prom?”
“Since five minutes ago.”
“Did you and Spore get back together?”
“Some other girl from class?”
“Oh, so you’re just going by yourself?”
“Then who are you going with?”
“I mean, we’re not…”
“I’ve always said he was overcompensating with those girls,” Insight mumbled to herself.
“What? No! We’re just goin’ as friends. Not like that.”
“I’d still love you all the same, hon.”
“We’re not gay!”
“Okay, dear. But if you were…”
“Oh, I’m just kidding with you. Now, as far as tuxes go, let’s check the attic.”
Ruffling through a worn cardboard box marked ‘Dad – dress clothes,’ Insight let out a loud “Ah!” as she found exactly what she was looking for. Slowly ascending from her crouched-down position, Insight carefully held up the charcoal gray tuxedo jacket that was Carl’s father’s from many years ago.
“Here we go,” she said with a smile on her face. Holding in front of Carl’s chest to see the comparison, she added, “I may have to take it in a bit; your father had such broad shoulders. But I think it’ll fit just fine.”
“Come on. Pants should be in there, too. Grab them and let’s try everything on.”
After spending a few minutes getting dressed, Carl exited his room, now fully adorned with the gray tuxedo, white button-up shirt, and deep purple tie, ready for his mother’s critique.
“Oh, Carl,” she gasped with a tear forming in her eye and a smile forming across her face. “You look just like him.”
Returning with a smile of his own, Carl simply replied, “Thanks, mom.”
“When did my little boy because a handsome young man?”
“Scary, ain’t it?”
“You have no idea, Carl.”
With a tuxedo procured and tickets purchased, Carl was more than ready for the prom. And without warning, the next couple weeks breezed right by, and the big night was upon him.
“Lookin’ swanky, baby brother,” Iris said as she snapped pictures of him in their living room.
“Thanks, ‘Ris,” Carl replied.
“So, since El’s pickin’ you up, can I borrow your car tonight?”
As Carl reached in to his pocket with every intention of loaning Iris his keys, he found himself holding on to them for a few seconds longer. And in those few seconds, he came to a decision.
“You know what? Since I’m going away to college in a few months…” he said as he tossed Iris his keys, “why don’t you take care of the car for me?”
“Are you shittin’ me?,” she asked staring at the keys that were now cupped in her hands. “ ‘Cause if this is a joke, I swear to God I’ll microwave the shit out of your brain.”
“I shit you not, ‘Ris. Plus you deserve it anyway.”
“Huh,” was all she could muster as she stared at the keys that were now in her hand. A wave of disbelief washed over her.
“Just don’t trash it too badly, okay? And I get to drive it whenever I come home for breaks.”
“Deal!” she yelled as she went over to hug Carl. “Thanks, Carl,” she whispered.
“Yeah, no problem,” he said as they parted. He then looked at the ground for a moment before responding again.
“I shoulda listened to you, ya know.”
Having a touch of her mother’s intuition, Iris understood immediately and replied, “I know. But it’s hard to get anything through that peanut head of yours.”
“Fair enough,” he said with a mild smirk.
“Thanks again, Carl. You didn’t have to.”
“I know, but I wanted to.”
“Now I gotta be nice to you and shit,” Iris responded facetiously.
Carl merely smiled at her, letting his dark brown eyes, full of warmth at the sight of his sister’s joy, say everything he needed.
“I’m gonna go upload the pictures. Have a fun night, alright?”
“Aight. Thanks again, ‘Ris.”
“Any time, baby brother,” she replied with a smile. Iris then turned around and sped upstairs. In the meanwhile, she switched the application on her phone from the camera to her contacts and immediately dialed Wavelength. From the next floor up, Carl could clearly hear, “Yo, Wave! You won’t guess what I just got!”
“That was a very nice thing you did, Carl,” Insight said as she walked in to the living room.
“Thanks, mom. It felt right, ya know?”
Smiling back, she simply said, “I know.”
“Hey, mom…do I have a peanut head?”
“Hm,” she began while examining her son. “No, it’s too pointy to be a peanut. More almond shaped if anything.”
Carl closed his eyes and groaned as he felt the top of his head in an attempt to reassure himself that it’s a normal shape. As he did, Insight leaned in and gave him a kiss on the forehead.
“My handsome young man,” she said.
*bzzzzz* *bzzzzz* *bzzzzz*
“Ah, that’s El,” Carl said as he looked at the text he just received on his phone. “I gotta go. He’s gonna be here in a minute.”
“Okay, sweetie. Have a good night.”
“I will, and, um…thanks, mom.”
“I don’t know…everything? I…”
Like her daughter moments ago, Insight knew inherently what Carl wanted to say but didn’t know how to. Instead of letting him fumble over his words, Insight went up and gave her son a strong hug.
“It’s what I do, sweet boy.”
“I love you, mom.”
“I love you, too, Carl. Now go and have fun.”
“I will. Goodnight, ma,” he said as he exited the house.
“Call me when you get there!” she yelled to him as the door shut.
“ ’Sup, gorgeous?” El asked he landed in front of Carl, swishing his golden hair out of his eyes as he did so. El, in addition to a classic black tux embellished with a red vest and matching tie, was wearing an enormous grin on his face. He was clearly ecstatic for the night.
“ ‘Sup, my man?” Carl responded as the two high-fived. “Lookin’ good.”
“Ain’t lookin’ too bad yourself, bud. But we can blow each other later; we’re running late.”
“Aight, let’s hop to it then.”
“So what are you gonna do if and when Wing looks to start something?”, El asked after about fifteen minutes of *swishing* and *thunking*.
“Don’t know. Just gotta deal with it as it comes. I escalated shit more than I should’ve, and I’m not gonna seek the dude out for a confrontation, but if it happens, it happens, ya know?”
“But whatever happens, though, I know you got my back.”
“Always,” El answered as they landed in front of The Manor House, the charming, picturesque venue that was chosen to host the school’s prom night.
“No line,” Carl remarked. “Everyone must be inside already.”
“Yeah, man. Told you we were running late. Let’s sign in and get in there.”
The two walked towards the sign in table, which was guarded by an elderly gentleman and his pad and pencil. “Name, please?” he asked
“You can’t be serious!” El exclaimed.
“We’re in your class!”
“Gray! Elcsum-freaking-Gray! And Carl-freaking-Freeman!”
“Here ya go,” Carl said in a much calmer voice, handing them over to the teacher.
“Thank you. Please enjoy the senior prom. If you leave…”
“…you can’t come back in,” the three of them said in unison.
“After you,” Carl said to El, who opened the door to the gigantic hall, adorned with the school’s colors of blue and gold while music played from a speaker system.
Before Carl himself walked in, he turned back for a moment and asked, “Hey, Doc?”
“Is, um…do you happen to remember if…”
“Ms. Summers isn’t in there, Mr. Freeman.”
“Oh, yeah, I mean, I was just…”
“Enjoy the dance, son,” Doc Drain replied with a sharp look the rarely accompanied his cadence.
“Will do,” Carl said before turning and going in to the hall himself. And moments after Carl caught up with El, a familiar sight was upon them.
“Well, well, well. Look at these handsome gentlemen here,” Octane said as he zipped up to them, camera firmly in hand. “Guys, say something for the camera.”
“Mrs. Rice, if you’re watching this…I’m legal in a month,” El replied as he stared in to the lens.
“Welp, that’s going to have to get edited out,” Octane grumbled.
“Ock, where’s are our table at?” Carl asked.
“Back left over there,” Octane said while nonchalantly pointing to the general area of their seats. “Just look for Blitz.”
“Oh, I think I see her,” El replied. “She’s the pissed-off-looking brunette sitting by herself, right?”
“Yeah, that-that-that sounds about right,” Octane replied. “Alright, let’s go. Food should be out in a minute.”
As the group of friends sat down at their table, Ms. Hawkins took to the microphone on stage and stated, “Hello, everyone. I hope you’re having as wonderful a time as I am! The band is scheduled to go on a bit later, but until then, let’s all continue to enjoy the DJ stylings of Yawn Patel!” she exclaimed, motioning to Yawn who had been providing the music for the dance up until this point. “Enjoy your meals and have a great rest of the night!”
“You guys didn’t see Wing anywhere, did you?” Carl asked to his friends as they finished their food.
“Nah, guess he’s a no-show,” Octane replied.
With a mouthful of food, El added, “Dude’s a total pussy.”
Carl nodded in acknowledgment, neither relieved nor dismayed. He then felt his damp forehead and said, “Aight, well, it’s hot as shit in here. I’m gonna step out for a second.”
Octane, who had once again began filming with the camera, turned to Carl and said, “Alright. There’s a back exit by the bathroom. Just-just-just don’t let Double-D see you, and you should be straight.”
Giving a slight nod of acknowledgement, Carl exited to bask for a few minutes in the cool night air before returning back to the dance. Unknowingly, Octane captured his departure.
After he left, El turned towards Octane and stated, “Yo, Ock. Lemme see what you got so far.”
“Here-here-here ya go,” Octane replied, handing over the video camera and instructing him on what to do. “Here: This is the view screen, and this button here let’s you rewind.”
Hitting the button, El was forced to pause it within mere moments as his eyes grew wide.
Rewinding the tape back a few seconds and pausing it, El tilted the viewing screen to Octane and stated, “Okay, here you see Carl going outside, right?”
“Yeah,” Octane acknowledged.
“Okay, well…” El said before hitting the play button. Within two seconds, he hit the pause button again, “…who does that look like following right behind him?”
Although Octane had begun turning the camera away at the time, it was clear in that split second of video who was right behind their friend.
As Carl leaned on the sturdy brick facade, he let the night air flow in and out of his nostrils. He’d plan to stay outside for another minute or two, hoping the sweat collected on his chest and back would somewhat subside by then.
Without forewarning, Carl heard a *creeeeaaaaaaak* followed by a loud *SLAM*, indicating that he now had company.
“I hope you didn’t let Doc Drain see you, or else we’re both…” Carl began saying as he looked over to the student who had just exited. He stopped immediately upon seeing who it was.
“Hello, Imp,” Wing stated coldly.
TO BE CONCLUDED
A final confrontation. Will Carl come out a hero? Find out in a week. And come say good-bye to El, Octane, Spore, Wing, and, of course, Carl P. Freeman.
How will it all end?