There were two things that Nibs Alabaster never left his neohome without: a working retractable pen, and a small notepad that he kept in his jacket's pocket. Ever since he had first been assigned the task of buying food for his guild, he carried paper and a pen with him everywhere. Having sufficient writing tools also meant that he can do his favorite hobby whenever and wherever he went.
Ever since he entered neoschool, Nibs developed a strange fascination with numbers. Numbers, he found, can be applied to anything and everything. If something existed, then it could be measured. Even the probability of his favourite Altador Cup team winning Yooyuball can be measured. Oh yes, he thinks that the whole world revolved around numbers, and this is the reason why one of his hobbies involves calculating.
For example, after a quick trip to the Neopian Stock Market, Nibs thought that the standard cost of shares, which is at minimum fifteen neopoints, is satisfactorily enough. He deduced this using simple arithmetic, the conclusion of which is that if the stock market has set a floor price that is less than fifteen, then the demand of shares will increase. If this happens, then the percentage of returns to investors will deflate. It was only his opinion as a concerned Neopian citizen, of course. He's still in neoschool.
Despite his developing skills in mathematics, he is also prone to miscalculations. Maybe it's because he's too confident, or his ego is too high to actually be measured.
"If the ego can be measured," started his best friend Claire Thornton. "Yours beat the record."
Nibs shot an infuriating look at her, his trademark Gelert smirk plastered on his bespectacled face. "It's not my fault that I'm amazingly skilled at mathematics. I'm just too good."
"I don't think so," said Claire. The female fire Blumaroo tapped her pen on the desk and glared at her math problem, willing it to burst into flames. "If you're good as you say you are, you'll be able to measure your own ego."
"Ah, but only concrete and tangible objects can be measured, dear friend."
"Why do you say so?"
"Air is not tangible," answered Claire irritably. Her math problem's making her head hurt spin now. "So you're wrong."
Nibs' sharp laugh echoed inside the four corners of the room. It was loud enough to make Claire tear her eyes away from her paper and glare heatedly at him, which is a feat. "Don't be ridiculous." ridiculed Nibs, clutching his stomach and laughing boisterously. "Don't you know anything about molecules?"
This earned another glare from the fiery Blumaroo. "I'm not as smart as you, Nibs."
"Air is not tangible, but it is concrete." He simply said, looking at her like it's obvious and she should be able to see it. "It's made up of molecules, which can be seen and measured through scientific means, despite it being invisible to the naked eye." Then, for good measure, he added, "Duh."
Claire resisted the urge to slap a paw over her forehead.
She didn't know why she became friends with Nibs Alabaster. All she remembered was sitting alone in the corner of the cafeteria, when a brown Gelert with thick rimmed glasses approached her and asked her why she wouldn't socialize with the other students. Then he sat with her and told her that he doesn't mind being friends with her, even though she looks kind of like an airhead. The rest was history.
History, of course, is one of the few things that Claire loves the most. Nibs always gloated about his skills in understanding numerical concepts, but Claire was passive, always keeping her knowledge to herself and her books. There was just something about history that drew her in like a magnet. Maybe it's the feeling of wishing to live in the past, or the what-ifs that hung in the air like the numerous dust motes in her neohome's attic. Her views are very different from Nibs, but perhaps their clashing personalities were what drew them closer.
That didn't stop her from pinching him on the side and making him yelp in surprise, though.
"Idiot," she laughed. "If you're so smart, then you should have seen that coming."
Nibs rubbed the spot where she pinched him. "I am smart, but I'm not psychic."
The laughter came again. Now she knew why he's her best – and only – friend; Nibs Alabaster is the only one who has ever truly tried to know her. He helps her with her math, too.
Nibs' very first miscalculation involved Claire's recent math homework. He misread Claire's three as an eight, and it all went downhill from there. Confident that his solution to that algebra problem is right, he didn't bother to check and recheck it. The moment Claire saw that simple flaw, she pointed it out to him and immediately corrected it. They both thought that it's unintentional, so they brushed the mistake aside and finished the rest of her homework.
His second miscalculation happened a few weeks after that.
"Hi, Claire!" Nibs greeted. He jogged up next to her and she waited for him, pausing on the sidewalk. The moment the bespectacled Gelert caught up to her, he started talking. "During my free time, I thought about the similarities between sentient beings like you and me and simple math terms."
Claire raised an eyebrow at him, urging him to go on.
That didn't deter him. "A tangent line –" he explained. "— is a straight line that touches a curve at a point, but when extended does not cross it at that point."
"And tangent lines can be associated to sentient beings like you and me because...?"
"Because some people get this chance to meet, then they part, never to see each other again," he said, his expression unreadable. He stuffed his paws inside his jacket pockets and bowed his head sullenly. "I'm sorry," he said, his voice grim. "For being a tangent."
"What do you mean?" Claire asked, her tone suddenly alarmed. "Is there something that I'm supposed to know?"
"You're my best friend, that's what." He smiled warmly at her. "In fact, you're my only best friend since forever." When Claire looked at him in confusion, he added, "It's nice knowing you."
"What's going on?"
"We're leaving," he answered simply.
Claire's lower lip quivered. "What do you mean by 'we'?"
"My whole family." He started rocking on his heels – a nervous habit that he developed since his younger years. "My dad, my mom, my sister Anna... everybody. Anna's even leaving her guild because of it."
"Where are you moving?" she asked, her voice cracking. She couldn't believe her ears.
"Brightvale," he replied. "It's not far from here, but it's still a long way to go."
"Will you come back?"
He shook his head. "No, but..." He inhaled – a long, deep one – before continuing. "Hey, you're still my best friend. We can always neomail each other. It's just that, you know, I'm a tangent line and you're the curve and we'll probably never meet again."
"Idiot." She grinned, wiping the tears that fell treacherously on her cheeks. "You like math too much."
"I'll miss you, too." He opened his arms, and Claire hugged him.
When she pulled back, and it's time for Nibs to go, she said, "For the record, you're not a tangent line and I'm not the curve."
"I say that we're an intersection. Our lives will always be crossed in some way."
"I believe that I have made some sort of miscalculation."
"Say hi and goodbye to Anna for me. I bet her guild will miss her."
Nibs left with a smile in his face. Math can be associated to anything and everything, even through a relationship between two best friends.
His Calculus book in hand, he waved goodbye.
"Nibs Alabaster, you are such a math geek," she said.