CHAPTER 2 -

As I look back at everything, at the important and the unimportant events, I suppose this is another account that I should share. It was the second step of the beginning of us. Noah and I weren't even friends until I failed my fourth grade math class. Well, that and a good loogie.

In all honesty, I was okay with failing it. I figured, as a ten-year-old, that I wouldn't need it anyway, so what was the use of expending the extra energy on something that Mr. Calculator was going to do for me? Yes, there would be those certain auspicious occasions where the sun would be unable to reach the life-giving strip of solar energy absorbing goodness located on the top right of my Casio. But I was willing to risk it.

I'm sure all of you have had a similar thought process to one such as this.

Unfortunately, parents rarely follow along with this philosophy. Mine certainly didn't.

I went to James Garter Elementary school. I didn't know who James Garter was, but I really wanted to kick his ass for making such a shitty establishment where young children were forced to bruise their tender minds working out long division problems at recess.

No, the bad part was not that I was terrible at math, or that I had failed the class altogether. Not in the least.

The hideous part was that I had a tutor.

"You, young lady," My dad, covert math genius, started. "need to take your homework more seriously. If you don't practice, you'll never get better."

What a way to spoil a good mac 'n cheese dinner, Dad. Sheesh. I plopped the pile of gooey goodness from my fork back onto my plate.

The problem was not that I didn't do my homework. I took my responsibilities very seriously, even then. I just didn't understand the pathetic series of numbers and arrows, nor did I harbor any desire to. I at least took the time to rewrite each an every problem neatly on the answer line. It only worked the first two times, which is why I was in this whole mess in the first place.

My mother, at least, was (for once) a bit sympathetic. "Well, don't feel too badly. Lots of people struggle with math, myself included."

But at this point I really had no feelings whatsoever on the subject. So I stared into the loving arms of my macaroni and cheese once more and had at it.

"You know," My mother said through a mouthful, which was a gross habit of hers. "What got me through was a good tutor. I had another classmate who was great at math explain things to me, worked like magic."

Dad nodded in agreement. "Hey, that's a good idea. Someone her own age. Maybe we can talk to the teacher about signing her on with a buddy?"

My apathy extended through this part of the conversation as well. So far, the best approach to this situation was to keep quiet and handle things myself later. It would be easier to find a work-around if it was a classmate. Kids that age are easily distracted, after all, and I had some cash for a bribe if worse came to worse.

No, no. My horror really manifested itself when my mother's eyes lit up, glowing the way a branding iron does when it's been in the coals for a long time. "I know just the person! We don't have to talk to Mrs. Wendall at all. Jim next door was talking to me yesterday at conferences about how great Noah's scores are in math, I'm sure he'd love for them to spend some time together."

My fork clattered to the floor. "Mom," I gasped, mouth still full of macaroni.

She gave me the dirty eat-it-or-die look. Well, this is one thing I just wouldn't swallow.

"No." I snapped. "I hate him, he's awful!" I was carried back to the heart-wrenching memories of poor Pumpernickel's -may she rest in peace- brutal murder and mutilation.

She narrowed her eyes, staring at my soul. My God. She would devour it and send me straight to hell. "Don't tell me 'no', I'm your mother. You failed math class, now you have to deal with the consequences. Now go to your room, you're being rude."

Oh how I rued math! Surely this infernal subject carried it's wretched self from the depths of the netherworld for the sole purpose of my torture and despair.

Still, I'd like to take the opportunity to say that If I ever become a parent, I will remember this strategy. Suddenly, even through my vehement abhorrence of the subject itself, I cared a lot about mathematics.

I slid off my chair and dragged my sticky little feet behind me. "You people hate me. You hate me! I WAS BORN TO A LOVELESS INSTITUTION!"

I made sure to scream the last part after my door was securely shut behind me.

Alone with my thoughts and angsts, I cried. I was imagining the scenario now. Noah was a Roman senator and I was a slave from a conquered province. Hurry, fool! He said. You aren't doing my homework fast enough! Then he would laugh at me when he recognized my flat out inability. You can't do long division?! You must be the stupidest person on the planet! Ho, ho, ho...

The more I thought about it, the more I cried.

I threw myself against the window seat of the east window in dramatic, hopeless, Disney princess style.

"What's wrong, Andy?" A sweet voice of sympathy? Was it Jiminy Cricket echoing from the dusty corners of my imagination, ready to take up the role of my conscience and comfort me at last?

No, I realized as my head shot up in false hope from the pillow. I had forgotten to close the window and there, from his own bedroom, was Noah. My nemesis.

"You! It's all your fault! Go away!" I shrieked. I grabbed a snow-globe from atop my dresser and chucked it at him for good measure. I made sure it was the ugly one.

Miraculously, it made it through his open window and into his room, but missed his body completely, which was not the outcome I was hoping for.

Now, now. Don't judge me. We've all whipped a good snow-globe at another person at some point in our lives. No? Well, maybe you should try it sometime. It's a great stress reliever.

"What was that for?!" He shrieked back. "Why you gotta be so mean all the time?!"

"Because you are the bane of my existence!"

"What did I ever do to you, besides break your stupid doll?!"

What had he done?! Did it need saying? Was he dense, or something? Before you start rationalizing things like an adult, take a look at it from my perspective. Or rather, I'll scream it out the window at you. "You took my friend's house, you murdered my beach Barbie," My voice had steadily been rising octaves. I think I could have put a classical soprano to shame, even broken a crystal glass by the time I was done. "and now you're tutoring me in math!"

"What?!"

"You heard me, dough boy! Tu-tor-ing me in math!"

About this time, hearing the screaming match, my mother came bounding up the stairs and scraped me from my window sill.

As per usual: "What the hell is going on here?! Why are you verbally assaulting that nice little boy?!"

I never understood it, but moms have this demeanor. Or rather the ability to change this demeanor, just at the drop of a hat. It was like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. But I always ended up with Mr. Hyde. The woman smiled at Noah, congenially, flashing her best motherly doe eyes while wrenching me by my collar in an attempt to hide me away from his view. "Hi, sweetie," Psht. Sweetie. Now that was a term reserved for people not from her womb. "I'm so sorry. Could you tell your father that we're coming over-" I struggled, and she squeezed her talons into my neck so hard I thought my arteries would burst and I would die. "to apologize."

"APOLOGIZE?" I managed to wail before she slammed the window shut and yanked the blinds down. "Are you kidding me?!"

She put her hands on her hips, towering over my shallow, frail little body. Mercy, I prayed silently. Mercy, mercy, mercy, mercy,

"Andrea Lynn Herder."

I flinched. Oh shit.

"You have thirty seconds to compose yourself before we apologize, properly, or I will beat the snot out of you."

So, I had thirty seconds to -literally- save my ass.

The composition time was just a courteous suggestion, I guess, because she grabbed me by my ear immediately and yanked me down the stairs and over to the house that was now the corpse of my dead childhood dreams. I was nothing without Kimberly Smirth. Damn Noah. That bastard murdered my doll and he murdered my friendship.

We marched up the concrete steps and rang the doorbell of the Farley home with me wailing 'Child abuse!' all the way there.

The landscaping was littered with weeds. They crawled around the ragged hedges and strangled the helpless flowers crowding the picket fence, even tickled the tops of your toes at the front stoop.

It was almost like no one lived here at all.

Noah swung the door open, staring up helplessly at my mother and tensing as his gaze shifted over to my face, which was one that threatened death all on its own, it no words is, until my mother caught me and yanked my ear.

Then I put on my best smile.

Which definitely was reminiscent of a serial killer.

"Hi, sweetie," Again with the sweetie thing. What was this shit? Did my mother just automatically love anyone who wasn't me? "Is your Dad home?"

He shook his head. "No, he had to work late. But he should be home soon."

The steam seemed to dissipate from my mother's fury engine all at once. "Oh..." She murmured. She peeked into the house through the open door. "Honey, have you been alone all day?" It looked dark and kind of abandoned in there, the way the school did after-hours.

Noah didn't say anything, just stared at her blankly.

If you asked me then, this kid deserved to be in solitary confinement. He was a murderer and menace to society.

As I see it now, I don't think there are words to describe how sad it all must have been for Noah. Especially adding ten-year-old me into the mix.

"Have you eaten dinner?" She prodded, but received the same response. "Why don't you come over to our house and have some macaroni and cheese? Does that sound nice?"

Noah eyed me hesitantly.

That was right. I was a force to be reckoned with; he better have been scared shitless to step on my turf.

My mother, however, had other ideas, conveyed gracefully by another violent yank of my poor, disintegrating ear cartilage.

"Oh you won't have to worry about her. She can be a very nice, hospitable host, can't she?" She shook the living daylights out of my ear until I squealed in pain.

"Y-yes," I said horsely.

In any case, my mother wouldn't let Noah say no. She practically kidnapped the guy, grabbing him firmly by the wrist and towing him all the way from his place through our front door.

She sat him down at the dinner table -in my spot- and gave him a double helping of cheesy wonderfulness while my mother eyed me with a Gorgon's steely glare to ensure that I was suppressing any negative emotions and behaving only as a pretty, hollow shell of myself.

Naturally, I thought this would be an opportune time to steal of to my room.

"Sit down," She hissed at me, pointing to the chair directly next to Noah, who attacked the innocent pasta. I complied with a thousand pound weight of dread tied to all of my limbs. I hate. My life.

Clearly this boy did not know how to eat macaroni and cheese. I was made to sit next to an idiot. You're supposed to savor it, consume it with utmost reverence by making sure it disappears slowly.

Mom was the devil. She was from the innermost circle of hell. She was making me humble myself by forcing me to share a table with my nemesis, wounding the shreds of my scrappy little pride further.

I would have made another attempt at a break for it, but I'd been around the block a few times. This was not my first rodeo. Even turned away from us at the sink, taking care of dishes, I knew she was still watching me.

Some people claim to have eyes in the back of their heads.

My mom does not have one of those. I checked while she was sleeping on the couch one time. Which makes the fact that she can see everything, everything, that much more intriguing.

I wiggled my fingers and stared at my hands on the table.

"Do you want your snow-globe back?" He asked me, perfectly amiable as it nothing had happened. It was pissing me off. Didn't he get the message? I hated his ugly, squishy guts.

He stared at me with those eyes.

Stay strong, I told myself. What is most beautiful is most evil.

"No." I growled.

My mother cleared her throat, clanking a pan extra loud.

I smiled brightly. "No, thank you." I repeated.

You know, I'd done a pretty damn good job of avoiding Noah since the infamous beach Barbie incident. It was now October, and although he seemed to trail after me at recess, I'd managed to leave him in the dust. I will deny it if you tell anyone, but I was starting to feel a little guilty. He wasn't very good at making friends.

"Okay," He said, looking down at his empty bowl. Then he turned to me and smiled. "Do you like soccer?" Don't smile at me, you fool. I loathe you.

Of course I liked soccer. However, if he was going to play, I did not. My mother was watching me straight on, now, drying plates with the eyebrow at work on her face.

When she had the eyebrow raised, it meant just try it. I dare you.

So I cleared the previous hostile declination I had prepared from my throat. "Yes. I do. Very much."

"I just got a new ball, but the other guys in class only like football. You wanna play sometime?"

No way in hell. "Sure."

"Really?" His grin was so wide and white that it sparkled. He took my hand and stole me away.

I pleaded with my mother, who just smirked at me and brandished the chef's knife.

My eyes bugged out of my skull. That was drastic even for my mother.

Then she started laughing. Mocking me to boot.

The door shut.

I was alone with this creep.

Why, God, do you hate me so?!

I sighed, like the fifth time that day. Maybe he wasn't so bad. At least his eyes were pretty.

I waited in his back yard while he disappeared into his house to grab the ball, and plopped in the grass, arms hugging my knees snugly to my chest. I probably knew this place better that he did. I couldn't help but scan everything with a nostalgic eye.

"What's wrong?" He asked, eyes wide.

"Nothing." I grumbled, looking away.

He sat down next to me and hugged his knees, too. Copycat.

"There has to be something wrong." There is nothing worse than a person who just won't mind their own business.

I glared at him. "My best friend used to live here." If you must know.

"Oh," He sighed, wiggling his toes in his sneakers. "Is there anything I can do?"

It was on the tip of my tongue. Yeah, move away. But then I remembered my mother. And the knife. "No."

"That's not true," He shifted so that he was directly in my gaze, commanding my attention. "I can be your friend."

Cheeky bastard. I said nothing. There was nothing to say. Like I would every befriend a social menace like him.

The silence was getting awkward. So naturally, I had to fill it. "Who'd want to be friends with an ignoramus like you?"

"Ignoramus? Where did you learn that?"

"You're too much of an ignoramus to even imagine." Actually, I'd heard the word in a movie not too long ago, and I had been itching to use it correctly. In fact, my parents were getting pretty annoyed with me referring to practically everything as an ignoramus for the past two weeks.

"It clearly means idiot. You're a real jackass, do you know that?."

Damn context clues. He'd figured it out.

But beyond that: jackass.

I think that was my first time ever being cussed at by anyone other than my mother. My eyes widened. "What? You're not supposed to swear!"

When you're that age, you can't even say frick let alone jackass.

"Who's gonna stop me, you?"

I thought about threatening to tell my mom on him, but in a way I respected him too much for it.

I prepared, bracing myself, "You bastard." I cringed as I said it, like I was doing something really, really awful. I mean, I'd done it before, but the consequences had been dire, then. I couldn't help but smile because I had totally gotten away with it.

Our inexperience was painfully obvious, but we thought we were pretty cool.

He smiled, too, and stuck out his hand and spit in it.

And spit in it. "Why did you just spit in your hand?! That's gross! You can get germs like that!"

"You do it, too. It means we're friends," He pleaded, as if he knew no other way.

Wherever this boy had come from before, it was certainly a savage place. But I would be a good little representative from my land and bravely bridge this haggardly custom.

I awkwardly -yet daintily, I made sure- spit in my hand, keeping the saliva to a bare minimum.

He wrinkled his nose in disgust. "No, no. That's not how you do it. Here. Let me show you."

A horrible scratching noise echoed from the back of his throat as a disgusting glop of whatever the hell that was launched from his mouth and landed on the grass a few yards ahead of us.

I gasped. "That is the most disgusting thing I have ever seen in my life."

He smirked. "Wanna try it?"

"Yes," I said immediately.

There is nothing like hawking your first loogie. It is such a horribly disgusting phenomenon that you just have to see if you are physically capable of producing something so wretched.

After many failed attempts, I had a honker of a success. It was beautiful. Well, beautiful as far as loogies go. Big, chunky, well shaped.

I got it right in my hand, hot and ready to make an everlasting vow of friendship with this seedy, annoying guy.

I figured I had nothing better to do anyway.

"Friends?" He offered his hand one more time.

"Friends." I said, taking it.

I wanted to throw up soon after. The goo that stuck between our palms felt like very slippery macaroni and cheese.

The next evening I had my first tutoring lesson with Noah. He was truly incorrigible. I hated him with every fiber of my being, now more than ever before. And begrudgingly, I also liked him now more than ever before. I guess that's just how it goes.

"No," He said firmly, tapping his finger on the page like a nun slapping a ruler on a desk. "That's not how you do it. You have to carry the two, left to right. I've told you three times already, just let me show you."

I smacked his patronizing, waggly finger away from my paper. "I can do it!"

He sat back, folding his arms across his chest. "Fine. Do it."

I stuck my tongue out at him and tried again.

And again.

And...again...

"Like this?!" I shouted excitedly when I finally got through the problem.

He checked it over pensively, trying to find something, anything remotely wrong with it. But it was flawless. Immaculate. "Yeah, that's good. You're not a complete idiot. But your twos look like sevens."

I glared at him. "I'll kill you,"

He snorted at me. "You can try."

After a while, it became just a thing we did. For years after. Tuesdays and Thursdays felt wrong without a math lesson, and they still kind of do.

I think I even like math now, just a little bit.