Night Over
By Allison Kling

Chapter One: Assignment Abandoned

Dedicated, as always, to David. If you forget to say "hello" to me again, I swear I'll force-feed you your beloved N64, while it's still plugged in, of course.


"Mi-ri-am!" Helga bellowed from the top of the stairs. "Where is my backpack?"

"Huh?" Helga's mother walked into view, holding a cup of coffee in one hand and a toothbrush in the other. She blinked up at Helga. "Well, I put it in your room, Helga, just like you said." The woman gave her daughter a smile, then dipped the toothbrush into the coffee and started to brush her teeth as she walked away.

"Great," Helga muttered as she stomped back into her room. "It could be *anywhere.*"

Today of all days she had to be to school on time. It was the last day for handing in her "A Day At My House" assignment. She had spent every spare moment for the last week working on it. It was two pages long, single-spaced, in her neatest, smallest handwriting. It told about how her father kissed her mother goodbye as he left for work, how her mother handed her a nicely packed, healthy lunch, and began working industriously to clean the house. It told how when she got home from school she and her mom baked cookies to take to the homeless shelter, and then got home in time to fix a wonderfully delicious dinner for her father. It told how they played cards or Clue or Monopoly every night, and then how her parents tucked her into bed at eight o'clock sharp.

It was the biggest pack of lies Helga had ever written. But it was just the kind of thing Mr. Simmons would adore reading, and so she *had* to get it handed in today. It might just bring up her grade enough so that Big Bob wouldn't yell at her again. She had gotten to the point where she didn't care if her parents yelled at her, but it was an annoying waste of time.

She finally found the backpack in her father's study. It had spilled out on the floor; her papers were everywhere! To top it all off, her father was talking on the phone, and taking notes on the back of some notebook paper.

Helga, unnoticed by her father, began to stuff everything back into her backpack, when she realized that her essay wasn't there. She looked rapidly around the room for it, (it's 8:20!), and then saw again her father sketching something on notebook paper.

"Dad!" Helga shouted, trying to pull her report out from under her dad's pen, but he scowled at her and leaned his thick elbow onto it, preventing Helga from pulling it away.

"So, the camera will start, and the sign will be up top…" Bob drew a big square at the top. "But that will interfere with the confetti blowers! What are you thinking? Grrrr…" He growled as he grabbed the paper and ripped it in half.

Helga held in a scream of horror.

***

Arnold boarded the bus, and gave Gerald a high-five as he took his normal seat next to him. "So, didja do your report?" he asked, knowing that Gerald had been having a hard time on it.

Gerald fidgeted for a moment. "Actually, I kinda left it at home."

"Really?"

"Well," Gerald shook his head, "not really. I just can't write about my family! I mean, what should I write? Timberly bounces all over the place and pulls my hair, my mom and dad drink a pot of coffee each and my older brother spends an hour in the bathroom? People would think I'm weird!" He sighed, and sank down in the seat. After a moment, he glanced over at Arnold. "Did you do yours?"

"Well…" Arnold hesitated. "No, I didn't. I don't think anybody would wanna hear about how Mr. Kokashka and his wife keep fighting, and how Mr. Hwyn has been trying to grow bonsai trees on the sidewalk, or-"

"I get the picture," Gerald said. "I guess our families are just to weird to write about."

"I hope Mr. Simmons won't be too mad at us."

Harold's voice rang out above the chatter on the bus. "Does anyone have something to eat? I'm hungry."

***

Three seats behind them, Helga and Phoebe were having a rushed discussion.

"So, what should I do?" Helga asked finally, after explaining to Phoebe all that had happened concerning her report.

"I really don't know, Helga," Phoebe said. "I mean, couldn't you just rewrite it?"

"How am I supposed to write two pages of crap on the bus?" Helga asked angrily. "I *have* to bring my grade up, Phebes. How about you let me look at your report, and I can just copy some of your stuff?"

"Helga, that would be cheating!" Phoebe sounded scandalized. "I could never in a million years just let you copy off of me! It would be wrong!" She folded her arms.

Helga watched her friend for a moment. "You didn't do the report, did you."

Phoebe started crying. "This is the first time I've *ever* missed an assignment!" Helga awkwardly patted the girl on the back, trying to decide if she should comfort Phoebe or ream her out. "Mr. Simmons will *hate* me!"

"Don't worry about it, Phebes," Helga said, deciding to go with 'comforting.' "If this is the first time you've missed an assignment, I'm sure that he won't mind that much."

"But everyone else will have their essays, and everybody in the class will know I haven't done mine!" Phoebe wasn't crying now, but she was still sniffling.

"So?" Helga asked. "We both didn't do the assignment. If Mr. Simmons calls on you, then I'll tell him that we didn't do the assignment because…" She paused. "Why didn't you do the essay, Phebes?"

"Because I can't tell everyone about *my* family!" Phoebe said in a hushed voice. "My Texas mom and my Japanese dad, and the secret fencing room, and everything! They're weird!"

Helga laughed. "Whatever you say, Phebes, but I think your family is pretty cool."

"Well, it doesn't matter now," Phoebe said resignedly. "We'll just have to face the music."

***

Mr. Simmons smiled at his class, as they filed in. He had half expected some of them to hand him their reports as they filed past his desk, grinning at the great job they did of portraying their families, but no one did. None of his students even met his gaze but instead stared at the floor as they walked in. Several of them, including Phoebe Hyerdal, had eyes red with tears.

"Now, class," Mr. Simmons said as the last few stragglers sat at their desks, "remember the assignment I gave you last Tuesday, to write about a day at your house? Would any of you like to read your special reports out to the class?"

Nobody raised their hands.

"Because I'm sure we all would appreciate it if you did. Everyone would love to hear about your special families, and the special things you do at your house."

Helga snapped her gum. Mr. Simmons fidgeted as he watched his class for any sign of a volunteer. The miracle wasn't coming.

"Anyone?" He smiled at Arnold. "How about you, Arnold? Would you like to read your report to the class?"

Arnold felt like banging his head against the nearest wall, but instead replied, "I didn't do the report."

Everyone gasped and turned to stare at him. Mr. Simmons adjusted his tie nervously. "How about you, Phoebe?"

The small Asian girl burst into tears, burying her head in her arms. Mr. Simmons swallowed. "Harold?"

"I didn't do the dumb essay! Now leave me alone!" Harold snapped.

Mr. Simmons cleared his throat. "Did anyone do the assignment?"

"I did!" Eugene said happily. He stood up and skipped to the front of the room. Then, he accidentally tripped on Rhonda's designer tote bag. His paper fell out of his hands, and floated out the open window. Eugene got up and peered out the window. "It landed in a huge mud puddle! But that's OK." He turned to Mr. Simmons. "Isn't it?"

Everyone held their breath, waiting for Mr. Simmons' response. After a few moments, several people had to let their breath out to avoid turning blue. Mr. Simmons was still quiet, and still not looking at them.

"Let's move on to math," he said finally.

***

Mr. Simmons didn't smile for the rest of the morning. He didn't tell them what special people they were, either. He wasn't angry, just really disappointed.

Almost everyone felt guilty. Harold just felt hungry.

After lunch, though, Mr. Simmons had come up with an idea that made everyone stop feeling guilty. Harold didn't stop being hungry, though.

When PS 118's fourth grade class filed back into their room, Mr. Simmons was smiling.

"Now class, I know that quite a lot of you special people felt strange telling everyone about your special families," Mr. Simmons said. "But I've come up with a way you all can still earn the extra credit, without writing the paper."

Everyone cheered.

"What we will do is divide you up into pairs," Mr. Simmons began, and everyone groaned. Whenever anyone got a partner for something, it usually ended up being the worst person possible. "And with permissions from your parents, you will spend a day at your partner's house, and then write a report about what you thought of their family. All reports will be approved by me, so nobody can say anything really nasty. Not that you would want to, of course," he added quickly, "because you kids can see how special our differences make us. So," he handed several sheets of paper to everyone in the front row, "pass these permission slips back, and get them signed by your parents, and we'll choose partners on Friday. Then, one partner will spend all of Monday and Monday night with the other partner. Then, the second partner will spend all of Tuesday and Tuesday night with the first one." Mr. Simmons grinned. "Isn't that great?"

Helga sighed. She didn't want anyone coming over to her house. But, she really needed the extra credit.

Everyone else seemed to be marginally excited about the project. Except Harold. He was just hungry.