"Oh! Before you go, I need to tell you about the Science Fair . . ."

Though most of the woman's class remained upright and attentive, one lone child sat in the back, snoozing. Soft snores echoed atop the air around him and drool escaped his mouth, pooling on his desk. A winter breeze blew in from the window, ruffling the boy's messy, blonde locks as hot air blew in tandem from the teacher's mouth in the front of the classroom.

Lips twisted in serene bliss as the boy muttered in his sleep, "Waffles . . ."

He shifted slightly, arm falling flat on the desk, elbow folded inward with his head resting atop it.

He was the portrait of tranquility . . . and probably would have remained that way if it weren't for his neighbor.

"James! Dude, wake up! Ms. Levinski's comin'!"

The other boy reached over to shake James' shoulder, dark eyes trained all the while on the approaching teacher. James began to stir, blearily shifting. Half-asleep, he slurred, "Wha—? No, no get your own waffles . . ."

"James! Aw man, not again . . ."

"I'm afraid," Ms. Levinski drawled, wielding a dagger in her smile, "that neither you nor I have any waffles, James. Please sit up. I don't want to have to call your father again."

Oh crap, Mr. Bryant's not gonna be happy, the dark-eyed boy thought.

Ms. Levinski frowned as James' eyes remained closed. She gently reached out and shook his shoulder.

"James? James. You need to wake up, sweetie."

James sluggishly moved his arms, mumbling, "No, no I don' wan'a. Go 'way."

Snickers erupted behind Ms. Levinski.

The dark-eyed boy didn't dare move a muscle in front of the woman, despite his burning desire to smack James awake. Ms. Levinski pinched the bridge of her nose.

"Of all classes, I just had to get this one . . ." She sighed and began to prod his shoulder again, a little more forcefully.

"James? James, come on. The school day's almost over. You need to wake up, bud."

His eyes briefly slipped open before closing just as quickly. Scowling, Ms. Levinski decided to try another approach. He's as stubborn as a mule, but if there's someone he'll always obey . . .

"James," she whispered, voice light and feathery, "your father's here and he's not very happy with you right now."

Uh oh, the other boy thought. This again.

This time it took less than a minute to garner a response. "He says he's gonna ground you, James, if you don't wake up."

The boy's eyebrows scrunched up, eyes still covered, "No, no, don't . . ."

"He said he would, James, but only if you don't wake up right this second." The boy shifted uneasily.

He muttered something unintelligible. Ms. Levinski sighed again, about to give up, when she remembered his previous muttering. Hiding the smile that threatened to spill over her face, she continued, "James, your father said he's going to take your waffles. He said he's going to eat them with nice, warm syrup and hot, melted butter and—"

"No! Those are my waffles!" James bolted upright, almost knocking back his chair, head turning to and fro as drowsy, blue eyes looked for his waffles.

"Wait," he furrowed his brows as he confronted the laughing faces of his classmates, "Wha . . . ? What happened?"

The boy beside him snickered and replied, "Your dad ate your waffles."

James just looked at him.

"Huh?"


"You don't think she's gonna tell my dad . . . do you?" James peered over at his friend, a boy taller than him by a couple of inches and as skinny as a stick. His clothes draped over him like a curtain, as if several sizes too big; a worn, Batman sigil took residence on his shirt and he carried a large, gray backpack that housed textbooks and action figures.

"I dunno, James. She—she did it before. What d'you think your dad'll do?" James gazed downward, hands in his pockets. His shaggy, blonde mane fell into his face, bouncing up and down as he took each slouching step.

"You know what he did last time," he muttered as he kicked a stray rock. It landed on the other side of the road, scaring away a curious squirrel.

"Yeah . . ." James' companion replied. He shuddered.

James scoffed. "It's not even that bad! A lot of other kids sleep in class so it's not like I'm the only one! It's not my fault Ms. Levinksi's so boring. She's even worse than a telemarketer, going on and on 'bout stuff nobody cares about!"

The dark-eyed boy raised his eyebrows and gave James an incredulous look. "Do you even know what a telemarketer is?"

James colored. "Well, no . . . but Dad said they're like broken records." He paused, narrowing his eyes. "Do you know?"

The other boy scoffed. "Of course I know! Who doesn't?" James scowled. "Oh yeah? Prove it."

The other boy's eyes gleamed in challenge. "A telemarketer is someone who calls people, trying to sell something," he answered, haughtily jutting out his chin.

James stuck out his tongue, "Know-it-all."

"Stupid."

"Smart Aleck!" James pushed the taller boy, causing him to stumble.

"Nimrod!" The taller boy pushed back. Not a minute later, they were engaged in a full-out brawl, limbs struggling and flailing, nails scratching and clawing. Screams of frustration became the music of the moment as they spat more unintelligible insults at each other, as they alternated between rolling on the ground and pushing against each other like two angry bulls—

"James! Buster! What on earth is going on? Stop!"

A man burst onto the scene, clothed in a crisp police uniform, and broke up the maze of intertwining limbs and fists. He forced both boys onto their bums, checking both for major injuries. He breathed a sigh of relief as his cursory scan revealed only minor cuts and bruises. It was a wonder neither currently sported black eyes or broken noses.

"Just what were you two thinking? What was so important that you two had to fight over it? Don't lie to me, James," the aforementioned boy flinched, immediately closing his mouth. "And Buster," he waved his arms at the boy, speechless, "I expected better from you. This isn't like you."

Buster wouldn't meet his gaze, "Sorry, sir."

He just stared, dumbfounded, at the two downtrodden boys before joining them on the grass. "Alright, what happened? Two best friends don't just fight at the drop of a hat."

Silence greeted his question. The two engaged in angry staring contests with the trees. The man raised an eyebrow. "Well? I'm waiting."

James shifted uneasily and muttered something inaudibly. "What was that?" the man prodded.

"He—he was being . . . a know-it-all," James mumbled a little louder. Buster bristled.

"Was not!"

"Was too!"

"Was not—"

"Boys!" the man growled, his strict gaze silencing them both. He sighed and briefly rubbed his face. Then he turned to Buster. "Is what James said true?"

Buster flushed. "I—I just t-told him what a t-telemarketer was, sir."

"James?" the man called. James refused to answer and instead resumed drilling holes into the grass. The man closed his eyes, rubbing his forehead.

"This is what you two fought about?" The boys squirmed under his steady stare.

"Hey. . . hey James," he forced the boy to lift his chin. James glared at him and tried to avert his gaze. "Look at me, James." When the boy didn't, he snapped his fingers inches away from the boy's face. He flinched, but his gaze slid back to the man, who, once capturing the boy's angry blue orbs, continued, "You can't just hit someone because they know something you don't, okay? There are better ways to solve that. You can read as much as he does for one." He chuckled as James grimaced. "No? Okay then; don't hit him next time. Are we clear?"

No response.

"I said, are we clear?" he repeated more firmly. James scowled and mumbled, "Yes."

"Yes what?"

"Yes, sir," James spat. Eyes narrowing, the man cuffed him on the back of the head. James glowered at him, but otherwise didn't react. "Okay," the man continued, "now apologize to Buster."

Flames manifested in James' eyes. He gaped, "What? But he st—"

"No, he didn't, James. You started it. Now apologize or you're grounded." Clenching his jaw, James turned to a frozen Buster and ground out, "Sorry."

The man frowned. "What was that? I didn't quite catch that."

"Sorry," James all but growled to Buster.

"Nu uh, no. If you're gonna apologize, you gotta do it right: sincerely. Now again."

Frowning, James took a deep breath and turned towards Buster, glare softening. "I—I'm sorry for hitting you and . . . and calling you a know-it-all."

The man nodded, pleased. "That's better. Buster, you're up."

The other boy nodded sullenly and spoke, "Sorry for . . . calling you stupid." Silence once again blanketed the conversation, wrapping its invisible tendrils around the throats of the two boys until a gruff voice broke through, "Well?"

The two boys furrowed their brows. "What? We apologized!"

The man tilted his head, gesturing at them. "Do you forgive each other?" The boys shared a solemn glance . . .

One Mississippi . . .

Two Mississippi . . .

. . . before nodding.

"Good," the man declared, clapping both boys on the back. "Now get into the house and start on your homework. Buster, your mother wants you home by five."

The taller boy nodded to him as he followed James up the driveway, "Yes, sir."

They had almost reached the porch when the man called, "Oh, and James?"

The boys froze.

"Yeah?" responded James tentatively as he turned around midway.

"Your teacher called earlier."

James's blood ran cold. Buster looked like a deer-in-the-headlights. Chuckling underneath his breath, the man smirked at his son.

"You're grounded."