Ratings, Disclaimer, Random Thoughts in Chapter 1.


Back to School (3/7)

On Friday night, Donna followed Josh home for her first tutoring session. They'd decided yesterday at lunch to leave work together as early as possible so that they could get a jump on reviewing the classwork.

Donna was nervous. Really nervous. She'd always been a good student. Even an excellent student, which explains the uproar she created in her family when she dropped out. But math was a different story. When she'd dropped out, she hadn't taken the prerequisite math class for her government and public policy coursework. She'd put it off for as long as possible and now, six years later, she was paying the price.

Her nervousness also stemmed from the fact that she didn't want Josh to loose esteem for her. She had fallen into the position as his assistant easily and he'd never made her feel any less valuable because she didn't have her degree. But, what if, when he saw how completely incapable of understanding math she was, he started looking at her differently? What if he began to doubt her ability in other areas?

It was too late to go back now, as Josh turned onto his street and Donna followed.

After they walked in, Josh headed into the kitchen, dumping his bag and coat on the kitchen table. "You want something to eat, Donnatella?"

"You mean as my last meal?" she quipped tossing her bag onto the couch and flinging herself onto it as well.

"Not funny," said Josh heading back into the room with a bag of pretzels and two sodas.

Josh sat down next to Donna, opening her bag and pulling out her math book. "Is your calculator in here somewhere?"

"Yeah, at the bottom," she said, sipping her drink.

"You should treat this thing better," he said, once he found her beat up calculator. "It'll be your best friend during this class."

"Why? Will it magically give me the correct answers? Or maybe I could scribble formulas onto the side of it, like I used to in high school."

"You cheated in high school?" asked Josh with his best shocked voice.

"Only in math class," Donna smiled.

Josh smiled back and pulled Donna up from her reclined position on the couch. "Come on. Show me what chapter you're up to and we'll work backwards from there."

"Okay," Donna said reluctantly.

A few hours later, Josh had tabbed all the chapters where Donna needed review and he had flagged the stuff that she absolutely needed to understand before they could proceed.

They worked through some basic calculus problems, and once Donna relaxed, she had gotten most of them correct. They worked late into the night, right up to the chapter that Donna was currently on, with Josh patiently explaining the ins and outs of the problems.

Saturday, Donna arrived at Josh's apartment early. They worked their way up to logarithmic differentiation and things were starting to get a little harder for Donna.

Donna sat on the floor in front of Josh's coffee table and Josh sat across from her.

"All right, try this one," Josh said, getting up to refresh their glasses of water.

Donna stared down at the problem before her. It combined lots of pieces of problems that she'd successfully completed before, but Donna started to panic, because she couldn't remember what order towork through the problem. It was one thing to have Josh walk her through the problem, but it was another thing to do one on her own.

"Josh? Does this problem require the chain rule?"

"Yes," he yelled from the kitchen.

"Wanna tell me which side of the equation it applies to?" Donna said, starting to scribble notes to herself on a scrap piece of paper.

"No, because that would be cheating."

Donna sighed and started figuring the problem. She used the chain rule on the side she thought she was supposed to and then differentiated and multiplied both sides of the equation. She divided out a factor of x and then stopped. She bit her lip. She was lost. She had completely lost whatever the next step was supposed to be.

Josh sat down next to her on the couch. He peered down at her work. "So far, so good, Donnatella."

Donna grunted.

"What's wrong?" he asked.

"I'm lost."


"Yeah. What am I supposed to do next?"

Josh began to realize what exactly Donna's problem with math was. She was trying to develop a set of rules to follow for each problem. When in actuality, the steps were always being rearranged to meet each problem.

"Donna, why don't you work backwards and figure out what you've already done and that should lead you to the next step."

Donna looked up at him and rolled her eyes. "You do realize that it's a miracle I've even gotten this far, right? I mean, there's no way I can figure out what I've done. Let's just be happy I got this far."

"Nope. You'll only get partial credit on a test for solving the problem this far and we want full credit, remember? We're striving for an A in this class."

Donna snorted. "You may be striving for an A in this class. I'll settle for a C."

"No student of mine strives for a C in math class," said Josh, putting on his best affronted professor voice.

Donna laughed. "Sorry, but I'm probably going to be the first student to ruin your record."

"Well, since you're my first and only student, how about we strive for the highest grade you've ever gotten on a math test?"

"Easier said than done," said Donna, studying the problem before her again. She started working the problem again from the beginning on a different piece of paper. Once she got to the same point again, she started to try something, but it didn't seem to be working, so she backtracked. She tried to remember what she had done on the problem before this one, and tried that, but it didn't seem to be working either. She sighed.

"You know this Donna," said Josh softly from over her shoulder.

"No, Josh. I really don't," she said, willing herself not to cry.

"Wanna hint?" said Josh, sliding down to sit next to her on the ground.

Donna nodded, closing her eyes briefly.

"There are some powers you can combine."

Donna studied the problem again, seeing at least two places where she could probably combine powers.

"These two?" she asked, pointing to one of the possible places.

"Why do you think those two?"

"UmI didn't think wild guesses were supposed to have reasons behind them."

Josh smiled at her. "Don't make a wild guess. Tell me why you think those two make sense to you. Visualize the end result."

Donna studied the problem again. She looked at her two possibilities and tried to formulate the answers that using either would provide. "Is it too late for me to ask you to stab me with the pencil?"


"Okay. Okay."

She continued figuring the problem, but it was like her mind had put up a mental block at that particular point of the problem. She couldn't see anything beyond it. She started tapping her pencil on the table in frustration.

Josh put his hand over her pencil, stilling it. "Combine the powers on these two," he said, pointing to the option that Donna had not chosen originally.

"Of course," she said, her voice sounding defeated.

She figured the rest of the problem and got the correct answer, but she was starting to get frustrated.

Josh explained to her the meaning of the various formulas she'd used and gave her another problem to try. He also took away the cheat sheet she'd been using.

"Hey! I need that," she said, grabbing it back from him.

"No, you don't," said Josh, softly taking it back from her. He pulled her book into his lap and started reading ahead to the next chapter, leaving her to figure the problem alone.

She sighed, but then started working on the problem. She tried to work the problem in the same order she had done the previous one, but that wasn't working. She started with something different, but that didn't seem to be working either. This problem seemed to be combining several elements from all the chapters they'd worked through. But Donna couldn't remember the order in which she was supposed to do things.

"Josh, you wanna help me out here?"

"Nope," he said, not looking up from his book.

"Some tutor you turned out to be," she said sullenly.

She studied the problem and started to figure it out. She bit her lip and wrote the final answer on the paper.

"I have no idea," she said with a defeated voice.

Josh looked at her work, noticing that she had started the problem correctly, but had used the wrong formula at one point and had therefore gotten the answer wrong.

"It's wrong, right?"

"Yeah, but I know exactly where you went wrong," he said, sitting up straighter next to her.

"Signing up for the math class in the first place was probably my first mistake."


"Okay, show me," she sighed.

"You didn't multiply both sides of the equation by y. See right here? And then when you went to differentiate it, you didn't have combined powers of x." He looked over at Donna.

"I have no idea what you just said."

"Yes, you do."

"But I did differentiate, right after I used the chain rule and then the product rule."

"But those things don't always follow each other."

"They don't? Why not? They did in the last problem."

"Yeah, but that was the last problem. The sequence of formulas always changes. That's why you have to understand each individually."

"But I don't understand the formulas individually," she said, biting her lip to keep from crying.

"You do. That's what we did last night. Now you just have to apply them to each problem. But not in the same sequence," said Josh, sensing that Donna had reached her frustration limit.

Donna felt she had to be very careful not to take her frustrations out on Josh. Even though they were friends, Josh was still her boss and she didn't want him to be mad at her or disappointed in her.

"Can we stop for awhile?" she asked, as she got up from the couch and walked to the window.

With her back to him, Josh could tell she was upset. He didn't say anything for a few seconds, then he got up and walked to her. "Donna?"

She didn't say anything.

"I think we should take a break. Maybe order in food? We've been doing this all day and I think we're both tired," he said,running a hand down her back, which was incredibly tense.

She just nodded. Josh knew not to push her, so he walked towards his kitchen asking, "Do you want Chinese or maybe pizza?"

"I don't care," she said, still not turning from the window.

Josh sighed. "Okay, then I'm getting pizza with anchovies and pineapple"

He saw Donna raise a hand to her face to wipe away her tears, before she turned around. "Do you plan on getting a second pizza with normal combinations of toppings for me?"

"So, you're saying no to the pineapple? Or just to the anchovies?" Josh asked, rifling through his kitchen drawers for a pizza menu.

"Both actually. Can't you just get mushroom and onion like normal people?" she asked.

"That would insinuate that one or both of us are normal."

Donna just gave him a look and headed off to the guest bathroom. She stayed in there for a long time, running the water, so Josh couldn't hear her crying. She knew having Josh tutor her was a bad idea, and now she'd made a complete fool of herself. If he hadn't thought she was an idiot before, he surely did now. She splashed some water on her face, hoping that their working relationship could be salvaged, now that he'd probably lost all respect for her.

She dried her face and walked out, only to find that her bag had been packed and the coffee table was set for dinner. Two glasses of wine sat on the table and Josh was sitting on the couch watching TV.

When he heard her behind him, he dropped his head onto the couch cushions and looked at her. "Hurry up, Donnatella. The movie's about to start."

"The movie?" she asked, expecting him to have packed her bag so he could throw her out of his place.

Josh wasn't going to do any such thing though. They'd been studying all day and he knew Donna had to be as exhausted as he was. They both needed a mental break. He laughed inwardly though, because this obviously wasn't what Donna expected from him.

"Yeah. The dish says that To Catch A Thief is starting in five minutes. That's one of your favorite movies, right?"

"Yeah," she said skeptically, still not having moved into his living room.

"Well, come on then. We'll watch it and eat pizza," he smiled.

"Okay," she said, sitting next to him on the couch.

After a few minutes of silence, Donna turned to him. "Josh? I'm sorry. I didn't mean to make you frustrated about tutoring me."

"Donna," Josh said, putting an arm around her and pulling her into his shoulder. "I'm not frustrated, but you are, so we're going to stop for today. Okay? And don't apologize."

Donna was silent for a minute and then put a hand on Josh's chest, so she could push up and look into his face. "Thanks Josh," she said quietly.

Josh looked into her eyes, which were swimming with tears and felt an unfamiliar tug in his chest. He never wanted Donna to feel like she was less than the amazing woman she was. And he never wanted her to think that he saw her as anything less. But the tug he felt in his heart was so much more than just concern for his assistant and friend. He raised a hand and wiped the tear that had leaked out from her eye. "You're welcome," he whispered back, desperately wanting to kiss her, but instead settling for kissing the corner of her eye, tasting her tears on his lips.

Donna sighed and opened her eyes to look right into Josh's. His hand continued to rub her face and Donna licked her lips, suddenly realizing that she wanted Josh to kiss her. Josh saw the permission granted in her eyes and leaned in to kiss her. Just as his lips lightly pressed hers, the buzzer to his apartment rang.

They both jumped apart, looking uncertainly into each other's eyes. Josh finally broke their stalemate. "Don't go anywhere," he whispered, gently extricating himself from her and walking to his door to get the pizza.

Donna sunk down onto the floor in front of his table, mentally kicking herself for trying to kiss him. Was it just anxiety about the calculus or was it something more between her and Josh? Something that had been there all along, but neither one was ready or willing to act on?

Josh was having a similar conversation in his mind as he waited at the door for the pizza guy. He admired and respected Donna and could not deny that he'd always been attracted to her. Lately his feelings for her had changed and he was almost afraid that he loved her. But he was unsure of how she felt about him, so he'd kept their relationship platonic, hoping that somehow he could get her to see him as more than just a friend. Now it seemed like she returned his feelings, but Josh didn't want to push her, especially while she was having such a hard time in her class. He wanted her to be focused on her schoolwork, not their budding relationship, but even that argument didn't stop him from wanting to get another chance at their first kiss.

He paid for the pizza and brought it back to the table, sinking down next to her on the floor. They ate in silence watching the movie and sipping their wine.

Once the pizza was almost gone, Josh cleaned up their plates and took everything to the kitchen, returning with the remainder of the bottle of wine. Donna had moved back up onto the couch, her legs tucked to her side. Josh sat down next to her and slid his left hand into her right,tangling their fingers. Donna sighed, turning to smile at Josh. Josh scrunched down in the seat, putting his feet up on the coffee table and tugging Donna down with him. She rested her head on his shoulder and they stayed like that until the movie was over and Donna left to go home.



Back To School - 4




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