The two boys were very different animals. They were in the 4th grade, they were nine years old, and they were best friends.
The redhead was intelligent, mechanical, and loved to argue his point. The blonde was athletic, an observer, and more inclined to let the other argue his point for him. They always saw eye to eye on things.
During the summers the two boys rode their bikes in the cemetery, played Army among the bamboo reeds, and smoked their first cigar in the woods. The boys cleaned up litter in parking lots because it was the right thing to do. Leftover change found in the payphone was their salary. When they finally earned their first sum of pay cutting a lawn they spent it all in one shot - on penny candy, a Matchbox, and a giant whiffle ball bat and ball. They had an endless supply of sisters so they were brothers to each other. They were even blood brothers.
She was a strict teacher - fiery in the hair and in the tongue. They all respected her because they feared her. Even the trouble kids in the classroom did not dare cross her. She was pleasant in manner but only because she knew they knew she had the upper hand, and when rules were broken the upper hand would often slap down angrily on a desk, while the other hand jerked to the hip, and her black eyes narrowed and glared at the perp. Then the yelling commenced.
She had given them all reading assignments - a seemingly endless list of books, upon books, upon books, with authors and titles marked in purple globbed mimeographed ink; books that were to be read by the end of the year - completed and comprehended. Assignments and organization were crude forms of torture for the two boys who were friends.
The end was near, the sun was higher, and it warmed the classroom through the window panes. The grass outside was leaning closer to green than the tired dormant yellow it had recently been. Freedom was on their minds.
They were so close, just a few weeks away from serving their time served. They would turn in their assignments on the last day - answers written with messy scribblings, half-hearted and half-read explanations. They would drop their papers on her desk and head for the nearest exit. Nobody would know until summer was back in session...they had planned their escape. It was fool proof.
Until she asked the class to stand up, one by one, and announce their progress on their reading assignments. Answer the question, they were told: How close are you to completing your books?
They had to think quickly. They relied on their instincts.
The blonde was ready. He knew how to play the victim, to turn the sights away from himself. It was his natural path, and he sheepishly stammered about having some more work to do, about having a hard time understanding a story here and a story there. She smelled his fear but she let him off the hook. She sensed there were bigger fish to fry, so she failed to press her prosecution any further.
The redhead took a different approach. He would go on the offensive. He was certain that the teacher wanted to see conviction and self-assuredness. He would simply state the facts as they were, and his tone and manner of confidence would assuade the teacher that his reputation did not, and would not, preceed him.
Answer the question! How much more reading do you have to do?
"I am about three-thirds of the way done."
"Really...three-thirds? Are you sure?" There was a pause. "Think long and hard about that buster!"
He could sense this was a test. She was looking for cracks in his foundation of strength.. She was fishing for second guessing and hesitation. He told himself he would not retreat. He marched forward, onward, and upward.
"Yes, I am sure."
"Well perhaps I should be more worried about your math than your reading because THREE-THIRDS IS ONE WHOLE! YOU ARE TELLING ME YOU ARE FINISHED?"
Retreat! Every man for himself. Scramble for cover!
"Uh, I meant, two-thirds?"
The bombardment came and went and their blistered ears rang in the angry silence that followed. The blonde felt sorrow for his brother, but he was also secretly relieved that he had escaped while his friend lay in tatters, like a shredded piece of fabric hanging on a barbed wire fence.
The two friends, survivors of battle and brothers in arms, marched home together. Their boots scuffled their way back through the dusty frontlines, away from the battlefield and towards the safety of home. They were fatigued and weary but relieved. They had lived to fight another day...
...and the blonde realized he finally understood fractions.