Noah first saw Clara Stoakes at the age of five years, two months, six weeks, four days, and twenty-seven hours. He had been carefully constructing a Great Wall separating the tribbles from the Klingons one blistery November recess. As he sat in the bright kindergarten room, his small tongue poking out as he slowly stacked blocks between the enemies, a terror in a pink party dress raced across the room and, while screaming "DEATH TO COMMIES!", crashed through it. Noah felt the imminent doom of the universe crash on his five-year-old shoulders as the girl started drop-kicking blocks across the room, screaming about Russian communists and the Berlin Wall.
When Miss Bee lunged for both of them, Noah tried to explain that this girl let Klingons and tribbles together and that the entire universe was doomed to oblivion, but Noah looked at the girl with her murderous blue eyes and violently curling hair and couldn't talk. As Miss Bee began her lecture about playing nice and apologizing, Noah's heart went lubdublubdublubdub like he was running. And by the time the girl said, "I'm sorry, stupid," Noah knew what had happened.
Clara Stoakes, the girl tapping her way to time-out, had given him cooties.
This stayed in his mind all through the school day and until dinner, when he solemnly told his parents that, upon his death, all his toys would go to Mommy's belly. Mommy flew to the toilet for the evening morning sickness as Noah explained to Daddy about the Wall separating the tribbles and Klingons and the girl kicking it down and calling him stupid and how the cooties she gave him made him want to share his snack with her.
Daddy explained that the herd of elephants in his tummy wasn't cooties, but it meant that Clara was his friend. And when a boy friend and a girl friend got really, really, really old, the tooth fairy gave them a baby.
Noah believed this until fifth grade, when Mommy became Mom and she told him cooties weren't real and where babies really came from. Clara was in his fifth grade class and his friends and her friends played cops and robbers during recess. They were always robbers together and made bombs out of grass clippings and dead butterflies.
When Noah was fourteen, he made the mistake of walking Clara to her locker one day and almost wrote in her yearbook that he liked her. He got all the way to "I like y" until he thoroughly scribbled it out. They didn't talk much after that: different classes, different friends, different neighborhoods. Suddenly, he stopped looking for her in the crowds. Suddenly, he lost the toy boat he made in 7th grade woodshop, the Clara, and he stopped thinking about her. Suddenly, he got a girlfriend. And once she broke up with him, he got another one. Then a sixth.
And then it all culminated into one summer night, when he was drunk with his best friend Adam and they found the Clara in a fit of drunken hide-and-go-seek. And Noah decided that this year, he'd catch her.
He had a plan written out and everything, and went through every possible hiccup that could go wrong. He just didn't anticipate that Clara Stoakes would run off to a circus. And then, when he decided to chase after her, he didn't anticipate that he would lose her.
And then he started robbing banks.