"As I said, it's simple. Let's look at the bit about the sticks first. That's all you really need anyway. The rest is just there to distract you and make it look more complicated. Now let's see... where was it? Number fourteen? Alrighty, here we go. 'Isabel has five sticks and I have negative two....' Well God, Arianna, I'm sure you can work with positives and negatives, can't you?"
"But- you can't have negative two sticks!"
Ethan laughed shortly. "You've got a point there. Heck, maybe she owes two sticks to some insane guy who's too lazy to pick up his own sticks. Then again, maybe it was sticks of candy that you owe."
"Alright, who cares. Here's the confession: I suck at negatives."
"No big deal. I'll teach you right now. It's really not that complicated."
"Now, it says that I have negative two sticks and I give Isabel three of those. And that's the only part of the problem you have to look at, because the question is how many sticks I've got. So, what's the equation?"
"Um- negative two minus three?"
"Precisely! That was simple, wasn't it."
"Not really. I'm ashamed to say that I have no idea what negative two minus three is."
"Well, if you've got a negative and you're subtracting from it, all you have to do is go further down on the number line, see?" Ethan withdrew a pencil to illustrate his point. "And as you know, as you go farther down the numbers get larger. So basically, all you have to do is add two and five and do a negative sign and you're done."
"Wow. It's as easy as all that?"
"Yeah. Normally I'd ridicule you at your age, but you're new here and I know from experience with new kids that the public schools teach you zilch."
They grinned at each other.
"True that," said Arianna.