Quinn Morgendorffer was in trouble, and she knew it. Beset on all sides, mind frantically searching for a way out, she met the eyes of her opponent and found only cold calculation there. She needed some ploy, some stratagem, to get her out of the mess she was in. A possibility finally occurred to her. It was rash and would leave her exposed to her opponent's mercy–a quality she is sorely lacking—if it failed, but it was her best chance. She moved decisively, putting her queen in her opponent's second rank, taking a pawn. "Check," she said with some satisfaction.

Her face fell as Brittany took the white Queen with her sole remaining knight, a piece that had lain forgotten in the rook column—well, forgotten by Quinn anyway. The board was now a wasteland of black pieces, leaving Quinn with only four pawns, one rook, and the king. Brittany smiled a predatory smile. In addition to the knight, she still her own Queen, as well as a rook and both bishops. With a sign, Quinn tipped her king and offered her hand. "Good game."

"It was," Brittany said, the calculating look fading to be replaced by her usual open smile. "You're getting much better, Quinn." The library was empty and cheer practice was over, which made this a good time and place for a quiet game or two of chess.

"I don't know," Quinn sighed again in frustration. "I still haven't come close to beating you."

"You're doing great, Quinn. Last week, you didn't even know how the horsey moves, and now you're seeing the board moves ahead. That's the best game anyone's given me in a long time!" Brittany's enthusiasm was contagious, and Quinn found herself smiling back.

"You really think so? I'm usually not good at the brainy stuff. That's Daria's territory." She gave Brittany a carious look. "Have you ever played Daria?"

The blonde nodded. "Twice. I wiped the board with her, and she said it was a fluke, so we played again, and I beat her even worse. She won't play me again. Upchuck gave up after one game." She frowned. "Jodie plays me every so often, but we both know she's not on my level."

"That's why you're teaching people how to play." At Brittany's nod, Quinn continued. "But why me? Like I said, I'm no brain."

"Chess isn't about brains, Quinn. It's about strategy, seeing patterns and how they fit together, and most of all, about reading people." Brittany said. "I'm no brain, but I am the head cheerleader. I have to make sure everyone knows their place in every cheer we do. It helps me see how things work and I bring that to the chessboard."

"What about me?" Quinn said.

"C'mon, Quinn. Who's better at seeing patterns and reading people than you? The way you play the boys off against each other and keep the girls from hating you—

"Except Sandi," Quinn quirked a smile.

Brittany looked confused. "I thought you guys were best friends."

"We are," Quinn said. "And worst enemies. It's complicated."

"See!" Brittany said. "Even the way you manage your friends! It all goes into making you a good player. And the better you get, the more fun it is."

"You're right," Quinn said. "It is fun. It's more fun than I thought any game could be. Even when I'm losing."

"You're the only person who understands that." For a second, Quinn thought she saw loneliness in Brittany's wide eyes. "I tried getting some of the girls on the squad to learn, but they just gave me funny looks and asked if I was okay. And I can't join chess club. I'd get kicked off the squad in seconds." She shuddered.

"And I'd get kicked out of the Fashion Club for even knowing about it." Quinn laughed. It was an infectious laugh, and Brittany soon joined in. "What a scandal! Cheerleaders and Fashion Club infected by a geeky board game."

"But you'll keep playing with me?" Brittany was suddenly dead serious, and there was need in her voice.

"Sure, Brittany," Quinn said, and relief came from the cheerleader in waves. "We can meet up twice a week. It'll be our little secret. Deal?" She offered a hand again.

"Deal," Brittany said and took the hand. As they shook, the calculating look came back into the blond girl's eyes. "And loser sets up the board. Let's see if you can get any closer to beating me."

With a rueful chuckle, Quinn started sorting the pieces.