Last night, I had dinner at Matthew’s house, which Mom says is a “broken home” because Matthew’s parents are divorced. When I asked Mom if we also lived in a broken home because she was divorced from Dad, she said, “No.” When I asked her what the difference was, she said, “We still have money and all that woman has is rage and infertility.”

I don’t think Mom likes Matthew’s mom. She always calls her “a slut with a bad nose job,” but I just call her Paula because once I called her “Ms. Fisher” and she said, “Just call me Paula.”

I also think Mom doesn’t like Matthew. She always makes weird jokes like, “In a few years, you two will finally be able to make honest men out of each other.” I thought this was a weird thing to say because Matthew and I are almost always honest and Mom’s the one who always lies. In fact, anytime we’re about to meet one of her friends, Mom gives me a list of lies I’m supposed to remember like, “Carol thinks I have a brother in the hospital in Cleveland,” or “Denise doesn’t know about the divorce, she thinks Dad is dead, just go with it.”

Mom was right about Matthew and Paula not having any money. They don’t even live in a real house; they live in a small weird building that’s connected to other small weird buildings. Matthew calls it a “townhouse” but Mom calls it “the ghetto.” When I asked Mom what a ghetto is, she told me to ask Esmerelda, the woman that cleans our house on Thursdays.

And they don’t even own a car. Mom says that Paula gets “sympathy rides” to work in exchange for “HJ’s.” When I asked Mom what an HJ was, she told me to ask Esmeralda.

Before dinner, Paula said, “Make sure you boys wash your paws,” and Matthew growled like a lion and they both laughed. I wanted to ask them what they were talking about but I felt embarrassed.

Paula made a really nice dinner even though it’s what Mom calls an “in-between” meal. An “in-between” meal is food that is not very fancy but also not very cheap. Mom says we shouldn’t eat “in-between” meals. When I’m eating with Mom, we either eat a fancy meal, like when we go to a nice restaurant, or we eat a really cheap meal, like when Mom gives me a can of beans from the pantry and a peppermint candy from her purse for dessert. Mom says that the cheap meals allow us to eat the fancy ones more often and “in-between” meals are a waste.

But Paula’s meal was “in-between,” and also really good. For a salad, she made a basic salad with lettuce but she mixed in interesting fruits like slices of mandarin oranges and cranberries. It was actually really good and Paula said that one bowl of this salad will give us all the fruits and vegetables we need for the day. This seemed like a great idea but also made me think that I do not normally eat enough fruits or vegetables, and I didn’t even realize that this was a thing to do.

And for the main dinner, Paula made a quiche, which is like a serious version of pie. It had spinach and egg and cheese and it tasted so good that I asked for seconds, which is something Mom told me to not get in a habit of doing. The bottom of the quiche was doughy and so delicious and melted in my mouth and the sides were crusty like a cookie and the cheese and spinach were melty together in the fluffy egg. I know it sounds really weird but I actually liked the quiche more than real pie, which is what you’re supposed like more.

When I told Paula how much I liked the quiche, she said in a weird voice that was supposed to sound like a pirate, “Aye, Bucko. Ye sure know how to flatter a wench!”

I didn’t know what she was talking about, so I just said, “Don’t worry. I don’t think you’re a wench.”

And then Matthew and Paula looked at each other strangely and laughed (at me, I think).

A few minutes later, when Matthew spilled a little soda on the table, Paula said again in her pirate voice, “Aye! Now you’re going to the brig, matey!”

And then Matthew said, also in a pirate voice, “Argh! Just when me hunger is arousing the most!”

And then Paula said, in a different pirate voice, “Ye best be getting a napkin from ye sink to clean up this here soda!”

Then Matthew said something else in a pirate voice and then they were both talking in pirate voices and laughing.

I thought that I should maybe talk like a pirate too, but I never practiced that voice so I thought it might come out wrong. And I couldn’t tell if they were laughing at the pirate voice or the lines they were saying and I was worried that if I just did the voice but didn’t say the right pirate lines, they would think I was stupid.

And the weirdest part was that Matthew was my best friend but I never heard him do a pirate voice before. Sometimes at school, he pretends he’s a rich woman from the South and it’s so funny. He waves his hand in front of his face like it’s an old-timey fan and says, “That gentleman caller saw me before I put my face on, bless his heart! Now I have the vapors!” It’s so funny.

But every time Matthew did the pirate voice to Paula, I felt like a “third wheel,” which is an expression I recently learned from Mom. After Dad left Mom, Mom didn’t want to go out to dinner with any of her married friends because she said it made her feel like a “third wheel.” When I asked her what this meant, she told me that a third wheel is “someone who no one loves.” And I could tell that Mom felt really bad about being the third wheel so, the next morning, while Mom was still asleep, I took my tricycle out of the garage and brought it up to her bedroom. And I made a little sign that said, YOU’RE A THIRD WHEEL BUT I LOVE YOU and I put it on the seat of the tricycle. And when Mom woke up, she called me into the bedroom and she was crying and she hugged me and told me that I was “very sweet” but that I should “take the bike out of the room immediately because it was tracking dirt.”

This is something Mom always does. She compliments me and then yells at me right after. Like she couldn’t just say, “You’re very sweet.” She had to say “You’re very sweet but take the bike out of my room.” And even though it should make my feelings hurt to be yelled at, I also like it because it’s a pattern that Mom and I have, and it’s ours. And I think it’s kind of similar to the pirate voices. Every relationship has a kind of pattern, I guess, and maybe the pattern is more important than the stuff that makes up the pattern. Like the pirate voice is more important than the pirate lines.

And I guess even if someone is a terrible person like Mom, they can still be special if you know them well. Like Paula is really normal and doesn’t yell or curse at me, but she’s not My Mother. And sometimes knowing someone really well is more important than liking them. That’s why I’m giving Matthew’s House 219 out of 2000 stars.