I looked at him, dubiously. Eric and I got along pretty well on the playground. He was in Ms. Stubens class next door to Mrs. Margold's, but we played together at recess, and we got along, which made him different from the kids in my own second grade class. So it was important to keep the friendship going smoothly.
Mom didn't pack my lunch; instead I paid for the hot lunch in the cafeteria, hot, squishy stuff on plastic plates that kept my tummy full. Normally Mom had exact change for me to pay for a week's lunch, but this week she hadn't. Instead, she'd given me a ten dollar bill and asked me to bring back the change, so now I had what was a wad of cash to a seven-year old.
Being seven years old, I of course mentioned this to my friend. It was so cool to have all that money.
And that's when Eric told me about the friendship surcharge.
On reflection now, I wonder if he was just joking, or at least pranking: he wanted to see if I'd fall for it. I did. I didn't understand how friendship works, I guess. I wasn't afraid of Eric. Or maybe I was, in a different way; I thought I couldn't refuse his request and stay friends with him. And I needed friends. They were a precious commodity.
A day later, after an awkward explanation to mom and several phone calls to the school, Eric gave the money back to me. It was more or less voluntary; he even apologized. But he did it with both teachers watching. And we didn't really talk much after that.
So in a way, the friendship had a price. And I paid for it.