"Oh, this has to be the greatest lunch ever." Harold sighed happily, digging into his paper bag to pull out a large assortment of foods. An enormous steak and cheese sub, a bag of potato salt and vinegar chips, a chocolate pudding cup, a cupcake, and a large thermos of root beer soda.

Rhonda furrowed her brow at the ensemble and Harold noticed her. He frowned and rolled his eyes as he put the cupcake back into the bag and pulled out an apple. Rhonda just shook her head and stuck her nose back into her fashion magazine.

Stinky hollowed out his own bag while Sid made a face at his "healthy" lunch his mother had packed. "You're so lucky Harold."

Helga snorted from the opposite side of the table, chewing on her pastrami sub. "Oh, yes, we're all so very envious of Harold's over emphasized gut."

"I'll have you know that I lost some weight," Harold said snootily as he bit into his own sub.

"Most likely a loss in brain mass."


"Man," Gerald sighed, fiddling with his carton of milk. "This has got to be the worst school lunch ever." He gestured to his tray full of various colored puddles of muck.

The others crumpled their faces at it.

Rhonda pinched her nose. "What is that horrid food?"

A raucous laugh disturbed the air, and then Wolfgang slammed his hands onto their corner of the table. "It's what you're going to be this Saturday, you wussy sophomores."

Helga didn't bother looking at Wolfgang, Ludwig and their group of lackeys, continuing to eat her lunch. "Well, well, speaking of brain loss."

"Shut it unibrow." Wolfgang snapped.

Ludwig crossed his arms and smirked at the group. "The name of the game is baseball; the Vacant Lot, Saturday at one. Be there."

"Or what?" Helga asked as she finally decided to glare back at the group of juniors.

Wolfgang answered by curling his fist under her chin and she leaned back to avoid being touched. "Or else."

"But fellars," Stinky broke in and Helga slapped Wolfgang's fist away when his attention was turned. "I thought we played against the lot of you last weekend."

"And you lost." Gerald added on with a sardonic look.

"Hey!" Ludwig hissed. "Shut it tall hair boy, or I'll shut it for you." Gerald rolled his eyes in response.

"When are you going to learn?" Helga sighed, standing. "You lose to us more often than you win."

"I'd say at least three quarters of the time." Phoebe added on.

"Shut up!" Wolfgang jabbed a finger at them, and then recomposed himself. "Saturday, be there." With that, the group of juniors strutted off.

"Morons." Helga grunted and sat back down.

"Boy howdy, Phoebe, you keep track of how many times we win?" Sid said in surprise as he flicked his health granola bar to a passing freshman. He blinked in confusion as it slapped into his tray, spraying the muck over his shirt.

Phoebe adjusted her glasses. "Not to the exact number, but a generalized guess with a proportional probability calculated in."

They all stared at her for a moment.

"Gee willikers, I imagine you'll win first place at the science fair." Stinky marveled.

Rhonda glared over her magazine. "What science fair?"

"Aw, man, it's that time of year again?" Gerald sighed as he pushed his tray away.

Harold spoke around the bit of sub he was chewing. "You guys have the class later in the day. Ours is second period."

Sid rifled through his books and produced a sheet of paper, handing it to the other side where Gerald, Helga, Phoebe, and the continually silent Brainy sat. "The project is due next month. There'll be a huge fair with judges and a prize for first place!"

Helga snatched the sheet from Gerald, and peered at it as he glared at her. "So Mrs. Sandler is having another science fair, huh?"

"I believe that was already stated, Helga." Phoebe said as she leaned over to read.

Helga flicked the sheet at her. "I'll think of a project later."

Phoebe read over it again, now that she had a better view of the print. "It says here, Helga, that students are allowed to work in groups of two or three."

"Really? Let me see that!" Harold snatched it from Phoebe, the paper already gaining a few grease stains from his fingers as he sipped his root beer. "Wow!"

"Alright, we can work on one together!" Stinky grinned around his cheese sandwich.

"Boy Howdy!" Sid snatched a tapioca pudding from another passing student's tray. He had long since been banned from the dessert line due to an incident earlier in the school year.

"Hey!" they cried, but were pushed along by their friends.

"So, Pheebs, what project are we going to do this year?" Helga asked as she peeled a banana.

Phoebe watched as Harold passed the paper to Rhonda, who held it with the very tips of her fingers in disgust at the stains. "Actually, Helga, I think I would like to work on a project alone this year."

Helga shrugged and bit roughly into the fruit. "No problem."

"Uh." Brainy wheezed and grinned at Helga. "I'm free."

She stared at him momentarily, the chewed food balled up in one cheek. She turned to face the opposite side of the table, swallowed, and her fist flipped up to smack him in the face.

"Um, honey." Miriam mumbled, one hand over the sweatband on her forehead, "Could you repeat your little project idea again, I don't think I'm following."

Helga sighed, thrusting a potted plant into her hands. She should have known better then to bother her mom while she was cooking, as her mom had a one-track mind. "Just make sure that Bob remembers to water it, and take care of it, okay?" She asked her mom, turning back to her. Miriam was once again pouring over a recipe from her Health and Wellness magazine.

"Two cups of soy milk... Okay, Helga. A table spoon of salt..." She muttered to herself, mixing ingredients. Helga groaned, picking the plant back up. "I'll just leave it in their room. Criminy." While storming out of the kitchen, she passed Bob on his chair, watching TV.

"PASS THE BALL, YOU IDIOT!" Bob bellowed at the TV set, angrily. Helga smirked, an idea forming.

"Hey dad." She put the plant beside his chair. "Just water this every two hours, okay?"

Bob turned from the game to look at his daughter. "Sure, Olga. Now leave me alone while the game's on!"

"Yes, BOB." She hissed, walking out of the room and ascending the stairs up to Olga's room.

"Oh, baby sister!" Olga happily exclaimed, hugging Helga to her tightly, "This is so wonderful! Of course I'll help you with your project!"

"Thanks, Olga." Helga said flatly, not exactly happy to ask favors of her sister. "Let me go, please?" Olga let go, and Helga breathed in deeply. "So, just play some happy Mary Sunshine music and water the plant, okay? I'll come in every once in a while and check on it."

Olga giggled, "Okay, Helga. But why am I playing the music? I don't think I understand..."

Helga rolled her eyes, "I'm trying to figure out if a plant's caretaker has an effect on the plant's growth. Bob's plant's next to his TV, so it's probably going to be yelled at the entire time. Yours will have "happy" music playing without cease, and mine will get poetry read to it." Helga turned on her heel, leaving the room.

"I'll try to be a good caretaker, baby sister!" Olga yelled after her.

Phoebe carefully set the bowl onto the apparatus, the dim light shining on her glasses while the rest of the room lay dark, giving her a mad scientist look.

Mrs. Hyerdahl peered cautiously into the room through the small sliver that had appeared when she had opened the door. "Are you sure you don't need any help?"

Phoebe didn't even glance over as she lifted a pitcher of water and poured gently into the large bowl. "Oh, yes mother, I'm sure. Thank you anyway," she glanced over briefly to smile, and then focused back on the slowly filling glass bowl.

"All right dear," and the door clicked shut.

Phoebe barely heard it, pulling the pitcher away, setting it aside, and flicking a switch on the apparatus. The bowl of water began to spin, ice placed in another container beneath the bowl. She grinned as she placed drips of color into the water.

Big Bob was off at the emporium and Olga was at the art gallery again, so Miriam took the chance to sit in the main room, practicing her Yoga. Candles were lit on the tables, a single stick of incense burning over in one corner. The main lights were off and the curtains closed, the room dark but for the flickering flames.

She took slow breaths, allowing her "chi" to flow evenly with the space around her. Her newest book was something she picked from a shelf called "New Age" at the local library. She was currently testing one that was supposed to help empower her.or something like that.

Though she was meditating, or trying to, she found instead that her head was drooping with sleep. Just as she began to drift off, the phone rang and she jumped, looking about in confusion and fixing her tilted glasses. Clearing her throat, she stood and stretched as the second ring rattled the room. Yawning, she strolled and lifted the receiver by the beginning of the fourth ring. "Hello?" She muttered, stifling another yawn.

"Miriam, it's me, Helga," her youngest daughter's voice announced.

"Oh, hello dear," Miriam smiled sleepily at the phone.

Helga sighed on the other end. "Look, Mom, I'm playing a baseball game at Gerald Field and it's lasting longer than I thought. Could you go to my room in about five minutes and read a poem to the plant?"

"Why would you read poetry to a plant?" Miriam asked out loud, wondering if she had fallen asleep after all.

"My science project, Miriam, remember?"

"Oh, oh! Yes dear. Of course."

"I left a book on my nightstand by the bed, just pick any poem from it, okay?"

"Sure honey. Have fun," and the line went silent as Helga hung up.

Feeling slightly more awake, Miriam flicked the light on and went around blowing out the candles, leaving the incense to finish burning away. She gathered up all her supplies, put them away, and then headed up the stairs. Cautiously she pushed the door open, as if her daughter was actually there and ready to snap at her as Helga often did. The door opened to a darkened room and she reached out for the light switch.

Miriam blinked at the sudden brightness and peered about. Her eyes landed on the nightstand and the thick book on top of it. She walked over and lifted it. The book had a red leather cover; gold inlaid into the text, and was incredibly thick. Unable to figure out where Helga had gotten what was obviously an expensive book, Miriam blinked at its title. "Shakespearian Sonnets"

Shrugging, she flipped it open to a random page, the sheets yellowed just slightly at the edges. Coughing to clear her throat, Miriam began to read the sonnet on the page, and then raised her brow at it. "Lord of my love, to whom in vassalage," She continued to read, stuttering over some words.

The alarm beeped impetuously. Groaning, Helga rolled over and smacked the buttons, shutting it off. She had set it so she would wake early to double check her presentation and prepare to leave. The month had passed and today was the science fair.

She yawned and stood, gathering her things to head to the shower and go through the typical morning ritual.

Fifteen minutes later, she stepped out of the bathroom, adjusting her light blue hat on her head. She paused as she heard movement downstairs, but snorted and shook it off, figuring it was either Miriam or Olga. Bob was never up early.

Stepping into her room, Helga dug out her report, fixing the pages inside their special folder. All three plants were in her room, in the corner. The plant that had been by Bob was small as well as was its leaves. The plant Olga had cared for was tall and healthy, but not very lush with foliage. However, the one Helga had cared for was tall, healthy, and boasted a thick layer of leaves. She had found that all quite symbolic, and she snorted as the thought came back again.

Folding up the cardboard presentation board, she placed it and all her papers onto the bed. Stifling a yawn, she left her room to head down for breakfast. Since she had to take all the large, and weighty, plants and papers, Big Bob was going to give her a ride to school.

She stopped in her tracks mid-stairway, watching with wide eyes as Big Bob placed a hat on his head and lifted his suitcase. Miriam stood next to him in a robe and holding a cup of coffee in her hand. She kissed him on the cheek. "Have fun, B."

"Wait a minute!" Helga stormed down the rest of the stairs. "You're supposed to take me and my project to school!"

"Sorry, Olga, I have to be in the office early. Take the bus or something."

"But, Dad!"

He simply shrugged her off and headed out the door, slamming it into her face as she lunged to follow. She snarled at the closed door, clenching her hands into fists. "And my name is HELGA!" She screamed in retort.

Then she pulled back and composed herself. "I'll just ask Olga to take me," she stressed her sister's name as if the thought of being in the same car as her was unbearable. Which for Helga, it pretty much was.

"I'm sorry, dear," Miriam said, sipping her coffee. "Olga left with some friends of hers last night and hasn't been back yet."

"Did she leave her car?"

"Yes, but I don't have the keys. You'll just have to take the bus." She turned to head into the kitchen.

Helga held up her hands, her jaw drooping as she prepared a monologue to explain why she couldn't take the bus, which would be followed by a rant.

Instead, she waved a hand at her mother's retreating back and trudged up the steps. "It's not worth it," she muttered.

Helga reached her room and slammed the door behind her. She promptly sat onto her bed with a flop, some of her papers scattering onto the floor. She sighed and stared at the floorboards. Now what was she going to do? Her eyes drifted to her nightstand and the phone gleaming in the early morning light streaming through her window. She grinned and snapped her fingers, snatching the receiver and pushing the speed dial for Phoebe, knowing her parents would be taking their daughter to the fair.

After Phoebe's line rang seven times, Helga gave up and tossed the phone onto the bed. "She must have already left."

She fell back, hearing the rest of her papers and cardboard presentation slide to the floor. "Who would still be home right now and has access to a car.?"

She picked the phone back up and stared at the buttons, thinking of whom she had on speed dial. "Rhonda would never give me a ride.wait!" She sat up quickly. "Harold has a car." She wrinkled her nose. "Do I really want to ask Harold for a favor?"

Sid scribbled quickly on one paper, Stinky hastily gluing other sheets onto the cardboard while Harold rifled through his room. The other boys had stayed over Harold's to finish touching up the project, and had spent most of the night goofing off.

"We're not going to make the bus!" Stinky cried as he snatched the latest sheet from Sid, putting glue on the paper and accidentally sticking it to his hand as he faced Harold.

"I know, I know," Harold mumbled as he tossed some old clothes out of the way. He yanked a pair of jeans free from under a desk and rifled into its pockets. One of the drawers had fallen open and a photo slipped free, floating towards Stinky.

The tall boy was busy fighting to unglue his fingers when he noticed the photograph and he leaned over in curiosity. Before he could see whom it was of, Harold snatched it up and shoved it into the drawer, slamming it shut, glaring at his friend.

"Hey, we need at least one more test subject!" Sid informed them from the pile of papers on the bed.

"What?" the other two chorused in shock and worry.

Harold shook his head. "Maybe we can ask my mom?"

"We don't have time!" Stinky finally managed to paste the previous sheet onto the cardboard, a small piece of the paper torn.

Harold grinned and jingled the keys he'd rescued from the dirty jean pockets. "I'll drive us."

"But Harold, you never drive."

"Aw, that's just to.uh, save gas and stuff.yeah."

Sid leaned over to peek out the window. "Uh, Harold?"


"Your mom just left."

"Awww!" He whined, plopping onto the floor. "Who are we going." He stopped as the phone rang. All three blinked, and then frantically searched for the phone amidst the disaster. Stinky found it underneath the bed and went to toss it to Harold, but it clung to his fingers.

Harold frowned and tried to yank it away, only succeeding in bringing Stinky to his ear along with the phone. "Ow!"

"Hello?" He blinked in surprise, "Helga? .Yeah." He paused to look at his keys, Stinky and Sid exchanged glances. "Yeah." Then a slow smile formed as the conversation progressed. "Sure I'll give you a ride.but ya gotta do something for me."

"One hundred and seventy three.one hundred and seventy four." Helga sighed as she counted each lick of the GumPop, a sucker with a wad of gum in the center. "Explain this to me again?" She said from her position in the backseat, "One hundred and seventy five."

Sid sat next to her, one arm wrapped around one of the plants as another was nestled in his lap. "Our project is, 'How Many Licks Does it Take to Get to the Center of a GumPop'?"

Harold was driving. "I got the idea when I saw one of their commercials."

"On account of they always ask that question." Stinky peered from the front seat, the third plant in his lap. All of Helga's papers were tied together over her knees, whereas the boys had thrown theirs haphazardly into the trunk.

"Yeah!" Harold tacked on, "And the one guy always bites it instead of actually finding out."

"One hundred and eighty three." Helga had continued while they talked. She paused, "Naturally you would think of something to do with food." She was their last test subject in return for her ride.

"Leave it alone, Helga, or we'll kick you out right now, and your plants." Harold grunted as he swung the car around the corner. He was actually a pretty good driver, but Sid kept babbling that they'd be late.

Helga sighed and rolled her eyes. "One hundred and eighty four.Okay, but why are you guys so late with a project if it's this simple? One hundred and eighty five."

"Actually, it's not because we was procrastinatin' or nothin'. It's on account of we had a similar deal with Rhonda. We help her with her project, and she would be a test subject for us." Stinky said.

"Yeah, we were helping her most of the month with some fashion thing." Sid grunted.

She looked at them both, licking the GumPop again. "One hundred and eighty six. Okay, but why didn't you just ask other people and not bother with Rhonda?"

Both Sid and Stinky turned to glare at Harold. "It was his idea."

"I.I owed Rhonda a favor is all," he stated from the front.

"What did she do for you? Go out on a date with you?" Helga laughed, Sid and Stinky even chuckling.

"Yeah, right. Rhonda wouldn't give any of us the time of day!" Sid snickered.

Harold snorted from the front, and then swerved the car ruthlessly around a corner and the other three occupants cried out.

"Watch out for the bus!" Sid shouted and pointed.

"One hundred and eighty seven."

The students were gathered in the gym, ten minutes to homeroom. Some were still setting up the tables to hold their projects, some nit picking all their the papers and presentations, to make sure everything was perfect. Some, mostly those in the upper grades, were running around knocking things over.

However, most of the sophomores who had come early were hovering around a single table. Phoebe stood in the center, proudly explaining her project. "Therefore, I believe I have explained why Jupiter's 'great red spot', the largest and longest lasting known storm, is as such."

"Wow, Phoebe, you're going to win first place!" Lorenzo sighed, looking sadly at the plastic covered report in his fingers.

Phoebe held up a hand to her listeners, waving modestly. "Oh, though I do have high confidence in my project, I believe every student here has just as many chances as I to win the first place ribbon."

Sheena leaned over the group, staring in awe at the spinning bowl and at the swirls of colors that had yet to mix together. "I don't think any one else here has anything so impressive."

"Gosh," Eugene sighed with awe.

"Aw," Gerald pushed through, waving the others aside, "We all knew how well Phoebe here would do. Especially since Helga wasn't any part of it." He grinned as he reached Phoebe's side.

Phoebe turned slightly from him. "Although I appreciate your vote of assurance, you know I don't like when you say things about Helga. I-"

A loud crash broke whatever Phoebe was about to say and Sid, Stinky, Harold, and Helga came tumbling through the gym room doors with each of their reports, presentations, and Helga's plants.

"You idiots!" Helga snapped, shoving Sid off of her back and jumping quickly to make sure nothing had happened to her project.

"Sorry, Helga," Stinky groaned as he pulled himself up.

Helga snatched the plants from each of them, setting them aside and yanking the GumPop out of her mouth. "Maybe I shouldn't even try to finish helping you morons."

"Oh, come on Helga, you're almost there!" Harold cried, digging through the several loose sheets of paper and trying to stack them neatly.

Helga sighed, picking up her presentation and report, thankful that she had tied it all together.

Sid rifled into his backpack and pulled out a camera. After a thorough check to make sure it was alright, he snapped a picture of Helga. "For the report," he said with a grin, and then dashed off before the picture finished coming out of the camera.

Sighing, Helga found herself an empty table and began to set it, Stinky still helping as Harold continued picking things up. Brainy appeared from nowhere, picking up a secondary plant. Phoebe came over, lifting the third and placing it onto the table next to Brainy and watching as Helga untied the papers. "Good morning, Helga."

"Oh, hi Pheebs," she said, barely glancing up.

"What's your project about?" Phoebe asked curiously, leaning in. Brainy lingered by the table, Stinky went off to help Harold and Sid set their table up.

"Plants, conditions, how it affects them, etc. etc." Helga muttered, as she adjusted things. Stepping back, she licked the GumPop again. "Three hundred and eighty nine."

Phoebe glanced at her oddly. "What are you doing that for?"

"A favor. I help Harold and his peanut gallery with their project. In return, they transported mine. We'll just leave it at that."

Phoebe nodded as Helga began walking between tables. "Leaving!"

Brainy stayed by Helga's stand as the two friends walked away.

There were several other projects, some studying acids, some dealing with biology, some with electricity, and so on. Most were similar; most were sloppy. A few, like Lorenzo's, had great presentations, but the project itself wasn't very interesting.something about rocket fuel.

Helga and Phoebe reached Harold, Sid, and Stinky's table. Sid was hastily pasting on the picture of Helga.

"Are you still counting?" He inquired in a panicked voice.

She gave another lick. "Four hundred and four."

"Oh man.how many minutes to homeroom?" Harold asked with worry.

"Four!" Stinky was once again stuck to the presentation board.

Helga continued as the three boys panicked, other students drifted from the room, chattering away. Finally, Helga noticed a different feel and she blinked, pulling the GumPop away. "Four hundred and twenty six, guys. It's official."

"Mark it!" Harold cried.

Stinky slipped out a permanent marker and noted the number under Helga's picture.

After that, the five students quickly rushed to their respective homerooms before the bell rang.

Mrs. Kaiote handed small paper booklets out to each student. "Next we will be studying how to create depth in pencil sketches using simple techniques such as cross-hatching, dots, etc." Helga grabbed her small, five-page booklet as soon as it hit the table, spinning it to face her. Robert grabbed his own from the center, Park took the last two and gave the extra to the last person at their table, Peapod Kid.

Their art teacher tucked her dry erase pen for the marker board behind her ear as she reached the front of the room. She didn't have a chalkboard and never gave any chalk projects.she was allergic to it. "Please note the picture on the front page and how the artist uses straight lines to create shadows, making thicker lines and/or making the lines closer together to give the appearance of even darker shadows. Please take this period to read through the booklet and feel free to ask any questions.

"Tomorrow I will be handing out sketching papers, so I would like all of you to take any extra time to think up some sort of animal you wish to draw and to use these techniques on." She raised one eyebrow at the class, adjusting her small square glasses. "Or do your homework, we're ahead of schedule anyway. Talk if you like, but please keep it at a low level." With that, she headed back to her desk to continue grading work from the previous assignment.

Helga sighed heavily, flipping the first page. Park was already putting his away and pulling out paper to work on an English assignment.

A crackle interrupted the light chatter that had begun, and their principal, Mr. Amudeku, came over the loud speaker. "All sophomores please report to the gymnasium to present your science projects and reports, as well as accept any awards you may have won. Congratulations to those that did in advance."

Eleven students in Mrs. Kaiote's twenty three student class stood abruptly. They began whispering to each other as they filed out, knowing they didn't have to get any sort of special permission to go from the teacher. How the science fair worked was each grade had been separated. The freshman had been judged on during first and second period, sophomores were in third and fourth, juniors fifth and sixth, seniors seventh and eighth. Anyone who had to miss lunch was given special permission for an earlier or later lunch. There were first, second, and third place prizes for each grade, decided during the second half of each grade's "presentation".

Mrs. Kaiote seemed to move like a ghost from her desk to the line, unseen and unheard before she yanked a boy from the line by the ear. "Mr. Bauer, I don't believe you are a sophomore. Am I correct?"

The others giggled as he bowed his head. "Yes ma'am."

She gave a soft smirk and pointed to his seat. "Sit."

"Yes ma'am."

Helga gave a weary sigh as she plopped onto a bench in the bleachers next to Phoebe. "I think that went well."

"I'm quite sure you impressed the judges, Helga," Phoebe was scribbling wildly in her notebooks, taking the moment to work on homework early.

Helga snorted and leaned back, surprised when she felt her shoulder hit something. Blinking and tilting her head up, Brainy grinned down at her, wiggling his fingers as her shoulder pressed against his leg. Helga glared blankly for a moment, and then snarled, "That's it!" and jumped up.

Brainy shrank as she towered over him. Grabbing the front of his shirt, she hauled him to the changing rooms and yanked a locker open. She blinked in momentary surprise to find Eugene in it. Brainy scrambled away before she could lock him in another, and Eugene began to babble a thanks for "rescuing him", but she closed it back up before he got out.

In the meantime, Gerald sat next to Phoebe. "Hey."

"Hello, Gerald," She paused in her work to smile at him.

He flashed a grin. "Just finished my report. Did some smooth talking, while Park showed off the goods." He and Park had teamed up for their project. "Left those judges in awe. Never knew what hit them."

Phoebe giggled, looking over the rest of the tables littering the gym floor. Gym, cancelled for the day's events, was in favor of study halls, much to the pleasure of those who took Phys. Ed. that day. Her eyes fell on Sid, Stinky, and Harold desperately explaining their project and tripping over themselves.

An hour had passed before all the students' projects had been presented, and time was running short. All the sophomores were gathered together in the bleachers, murmuring to each other.

One of the judges was their science teacher, Mrs. Sandler. The other two were either upper grade or lower grade teachers. Mrs. Sandler stepped forward, holding a sheet of paper with scribbles on it. "Due to lack of time, we'll just dive into the winners." The students quieted down, several turning to grin at Phoebe.

One of the other teachers stepped forward. "We'll just start with first, then second, and then third." He said in a flat voice.

Mrs. Sandler nodded, and returned to the group of students. "First place."

"This is it, Phoebe!" Sheena said from behind Helga and Phoebe.

The Japanese girl smiled politely, "Sheena, you know as well as I that everyone has the same chances."

"Helga Pataki!" Mrs. Sandler suddenly announced and Phoebe's sentence dropped as everyone's eyes widened.

"What?" came several voices.

"Helga?" Phoebe squeaked.

Helga sat forward, unfolding her arms from behind her head. "Me?"

But Mrs. Sandler had already continued. "Second place, Phoebe Hyerdahl."

"Second?" Phoebe squeaked a little higher pitched.

"And third place, Sid, Harold, and Stinky.mostly for their creativity," the three boys cheered and whistled loudly. The rest of the class continued to murmur in surprise at the first two places. Helga and Phoebe pressed through the rest of their grade as they made their way down the bleachers, both with surprised expressions.

The three boys were already hooting and waving their ribbon, slapping high fives and nudging each other. Phoebe took hers, watching with the same shocked expression as Helga received her first place ribbon.

Phoebe shook herself and smiled, holding out her hand to shake Helga's. "I'm happy for you, Helga."

Helga finally broke into a grin, vigorously shaking her best friend's hand. "Thanks Pheebs."

"You deserve it."

"I deserved first place! My project was highly developed and all aspects were analyzed.to the best of human capability. My project was much more scientific and by far more." Phoebe sighed in agitation, tossing a pillow onto her futon. Unable to find a word to finish her sentence with, she fell onto her futon and glared at the ceiling.

Breaking her thoughts, the phone rang, and she picked it up with a sigh of resignation.

"Hey, Pheebs."

"Hi, Helga," she replied listlessly.

Helga took no notice, but regaled Phoebe with a tale of yet another battle of wits she'd had with Olga. Phoebe let her talk, not even bothering to grunt at the appropriate places.

Helga fell silent for a moment. "Hey, Pheebs, you OK?" she asked.

"Of course, Helga, everything is fine," she said, a bit too brightly.

"You sure?" her friend persisted.

"Yes, Helga, I'm sure," Phoebe stated firmly. "I'll see you tomorrow at school."

With that, Phoebe hung up the phone abruptly. Helga stared at the phone in her hand for a moment, shrugged, and put it down.

Phoebe paced her room, muttering to herself.

"Who does she think she is, anyway?" she asked her lamp. She took a deep breath, calming herself and trying to shrug off her misgivings. "I can't begrudge my best friend this honor," she said. "I'll just have to try harder next time."

She nodded to the lamp before changing into her pajamas and climbing into bed.

As Phoebe's eyes drifted shut, a fog filled the room. She walked through the fog, right into their homeroom. Helga was sitting at her desk, on which an enormous trophy gleamed.

"Hey, Pheebs," Helga's voice said. "I really thought you'd win this one. Better luck next time."

Phoebe gave her a half-smile.

The scene faded, and the two girls were seated in science class, working together on their lab assignment.

"Hey, Pheebs, hand me that hydrogen peroxide, will ya?" Helga asked. Phoebe looked at the assorted beakers. They all looked the same to her.

"Come on, Pheebs, snap out of it!" Helga growled at her as she reached past Phoebe and grabbed one of the beakers. Phoebe closed her eyes. When she opened them, she was sitting in English class.

"What was Shakespeare saying about Hamlet's motivation, Phoebe?" asked Ms. Prongs. Phoebe's forehead grew in size, giving her a Cro-Magnon appearance. She blinked.

"Helga?" the teacher asked.

Helga launched into her analysis of, not only the character's motivation, but also theories on why Shakespeare attributed those points to his protagonist.

"Don't you think so, Pheebs?" Helga asked, slapping her on the back. The girls were in math class.

"I'd like to congratulate Helga Pataki on her concise proof of Fermat's Last Theorem," Ms. Onamous' voice resonated.

Helga turned to face Phoebe, grinning broadly. Her grin grew into a feral snarl and she laughed. The whole class joined her in laughing, as Phoebe shrunk in size.

She awoke with a scream.

Phoebe sat in her Español class, Sra. Irene babbling at the front of the class. She put a hand to her forehead, trying desperately to pay attention.

Helga's pencil was scribbling wildly in a notebook, her eyes half-lidded as a small smile graced her face. Phoebe often saw Helga writing in that same book and she was fairly sure what was in it, since they appeared to be in letter form and her face took an expression not oft seen.

Yet, today, she could only side glance it with a suspicion that it was something else Helga was trying to beat her at. Trying to shake the silly notions her mind was feeding her, Phoebe rubbed her eyes and then trained them to the front.

But the scribbling was distracting and her tired eyes continued to trail in Helga's direction.

"Phoebe?" Sra. Irene said suddenly, causing Phoebe to jump.

"Y-yes?" At Sra. Irene's look, Phoebe tried again, "¿Si?"

"¿Cómo se dice 'prize' en español?"

Phoebe opened her mouth to answer, but her mind drew a blank. Desperately, she searched in her intellect as Sra. Irene gave her an odd stare. "I.I."

Noticing Helga not paying attention, she called on her instead. "Helga.?"

Helga peered up from her notebook. "¿Si, Sra. Irene?"

Sra. Irene pointed to the blackboard and asked her to finish the sentence portrayed there.

Helga peered at the words for a moment, "She won first prize." Helga said in Spanish, and then went back to her notebook as if it was nothing.

Phoebe gave a soft whimper, checking her forehead, and then buried her nose into her Español notes.

It was the last period of the day and Helga, Harold, Stinky, Sid, Rhonda, Phoebe, and Gerald sat in a small group at the back of English class. Phoebe sat quietly by the window, her chin propped on her fists, weary from the entire day's transgressions. Gerald put a hand on her shoulder. "Are you all right?"

"I.I'm fine," she replied softly, sitting up and sifting through her papers.

Helga turned from paying attention to Iggy reading his essay at the front of the class. "Pheebs has been acting strange all day."

"I think it's on account of she should have won first place." Stinky said, yawning.

Helga glared and Stinky shrank back, Phoebe's face darkened slightly, but she pretended to smile. "No, the judges made their decision and I'm sure it was the correct one."

"Are you sure that's not what's bothering you?"

"I'm sure Helga."

Harold had been ignoring the current conversation, hurrying to finish his essay before he was called to the front to read it. "I don't know what word to use!" He cried in exasperation.

Phoebe snatched the paper from him, desperately trying to prove to herself nothing was wrong. "Let me see."

After a minute of staring at the sentence in seemingly futility, and suggesting several words that wouldn't work, Helga leaned over to read the sentence. "What about 'adroitness'? It sort of means someone skillful with their hands."

Harold snatched it back. "Works for me."

Phoebe's hand shot up and Mrs. Prongs interrupted Iggy. "Yes, Phoebe?"

"May I please go to the restroom?"

Mrs. Prongs blinked and pulled the pass from her desk. "Sure, Phoebe." and then watched as she dashed from the room. The other students all stared at the open door a moment, and Iggy wet back to his essay.

Phoebe dashed inside the restroom, the door banging shut behind her. After quickly checking to be sure no one else was in there, she spun to the mirror, her hands waving. "What is going on? Could the dream possibly be coming true?"

She looked at her image, noticing the dark rings under her eyes and her mussed appearance. Sighing and fixing loose strands of hair, she sniffled quietly. "No, no. Though such things as ESP and the ability to predict future events has not been proved, or disproved, I highly doubt I would be susceptible to such mental capabilities."

Phoebe grabbed some tissue and blew her nose. Tossing the used wad, she turned the water on and splashed herself in the face. "Get it together Phoebe. You're just unhappy you didn't win first place. Your intellect is not in danger here."

Drying her face, she sighed. "This is all perhaps a simple psychosomatic occurrence." With that, she gave another try at straightening her hair and made her way back to class. The rest of english went by smoothly and Phoebe breathed a sigh of relief as the bell rang. Helga chattered to her on the way to Helga's locker, but they were stopped by Mrs. Qwilleran, their history teacher.

"Helga, I've been meaning to speak with you!"

Helga looked at her oddly while she dug through her locker. "What about?"

"I'm happy to announce you got the best grade on our last paper of the entire class!"

Helga raised an eyebrow and prepared to ask why she had to tell her that now, but was stopped by an outcry from Phoebe, who dashed madly down the halls, leaving the teacher and Helga to stare in confusion.

Phoebe ran down the steps of Bartlett High, ignoring all of the students that were staring at her in her sudden outburst of emotion, and made her way down the street. As she left the school, the events of the past few days flooded her mind, causing her mind to reel. Over and over in her mind, despite trying to convince herself otherwise, she felt as if she were losing that which distinguished her.her "smarts." She felt as if she were losing herself to an arbitrary loss at the science fair, a loss dealt by her best friend, no less. And as these thoughts cluttered her mind and as she continued to blindly run down the street, passing her bus stop and rounding the corner, she was unable to convince herself of her self worth anymore. She lost all focus and composure and suddenly felt compelled to scream based on the events of that day.

Before she had a chance to do so, however, she felt a strong impact and then found herself on the ground, looking up at the hazy sky. As she rubbed her head and waited for her better vision to return, she noticed the figure of Helga before her, doing the same and brushing herself off. Somewhat relieved yet now somewhat nervous about the unprompted confrontation, she stood first and collected herself.

"Man, Pheebs, you oughtta watch where you're running. That was some impact there," Helga said, straightening her clothes and looking down at her shorter friend. "You okay?" she asked offhandedly. Although Phoebe nodded, Helga looked into here eyes and she saw that everything was indeed not. "Come on, Phoebe, now.are you sure?"

Phoebe was finally able to collect herself enough to speak. "Sure, I'm fine Helga, really."

"Well, then, why are you randomly running through the neighborhood like your pants are on fire," Helga wondered, narrowing her eyes at her friend.

Phoebe turned her head from Helga and looked down at her own feet. "Helga, I'm absolutely positive that there is nothing amiss. Now, if you don't mind, I'd like to walk in the direction of the bus stop," Phoebe stated coldly, beginning to sulk in the opposite direction of her running.

Helga looked at Phoebe for a while before continuing the conversation. "Okay, Pheebs, suit yourself. But, if there is really anything wrong, you know that I'm here to listen," Helga said finally, joining her friend as they walked slowly back towards the school.

There was a long moment of awkward silence before Phoebe was finally able to say something. And when Phoebe broke the silence, she shattered it. "Oh Helga, I can't take it anymore, I simply cannot! Ever since your project won in the science fair, so many aspects of my everyday routine have been disrupted for seemingly no apparent reason," Phoebe began, taking Helga by the hands and looking into her eyes, letting tears burst forth. "I've tried to act like everything is perfectly normal and that I am well, but I truly am not. I know it seems absurd, but my very performance in school and elsewhere has deteriorated due to your win, and I think it is more a psychological impact rather than an actual mental failure on my own part. The bottom line is, Helga, I believe I should have won. In fact, I always win. And my project idea was so good, and there was no reason that I shouldn't have excelled."

"Hey Pheebs," Helga interrupted, though she had been listening.

"And I made sure I covered every aspect even the most meticulous judge would have thought to survey."


"And I even threw in some additional research that I though would help my case, but did it, no! It must have been a sham, I tell you."

"Phoebe!" Helga exclaimed, taking that instant to slap some sense into Phoebe. After the slap, Phoebe fell back to a brick wall on the block in which they were walking, and ended her rant about as suddenly as it began.

"Oww, Helga, that hurt," Phoebe finally replied, rubbing her cheek gingerly where she had been slapped.

Helga stood back and sighed, facing the street as she addressed her best friend. "Oh yeah. I bet it didn't hurt as much as what you just said to me," Helga said, turning back to Phoebe as she paused, truly shocked.

Phoebe blinked and then shook her head. "I.hurt you? This doesn't sound like the Helga Pataki I know," she responded, chuckling slightly, as if trying to make light of the entire situation.

"I'm serious, Pheebs. I mean, think about what you were just saying. You basically said that I didn't deserve to win the science fair," Helga replied on a more serious note, averting her eyes from her friend as she uttered the words.

Phoebe, who realized what she said too late, gasped and put her hand to her mouth, and then tried to fix her words. "Well, Helga, I didn't mean.I mean.I said that."

Helga shook her head and then glared back at Phoebe. "I know what you said, Phoebe. You said that you should have won.because you always win, and because of that, you deserved it. Tell me something, Pheebs, did you ever think that maybe someone else could win other than you. Scratch that, did you maybe think that anyone else could ever possibly be smarter than you in something?" Helga asked plaintively, looking directly at Phoebe and waiting for an answer.

Phoebe stood on the wall and thought for a while, not removing her eyes from Helga. "Well, of course I don't expect to win everything.I just thought that, based on the competition."

Helga again interrupted Phoebe. "Based on the competition, huh? You truly didn't consider me competition, did you, Phoebe?" Helga asked, stepping back from her friend. Phoebe, who knew that she had been cornered, averted her eyes and leaned against the brick wall and sighed. "I didn't think so. Tell me this, Phoebe, what role do I play in our relationship? Because, up until now, I thought I knew."

Phoebe, now a little upset from the turn of events, began to speak in a tiny, high pitched voice. "Well, you know you've always been my best friend, Helga, you know that well," Phoebe was finally able to say.

"Yeah, I do. I'm just wondering if I were also there because.maybe not intentionally, but in the back of your mind, you knew that I was always someone who you could outdo. If I were someone that would always be there to make you feel that much smarter, that much more talented.that much more knowledgeable," Helga revealed.

"Oh, well, of course not Helga."

"Whether or not you thought this, I'm letting you know that I'm not. Sure, I had some major slack off time way back when, maybe even not that long ago. But, you aren't the only one who's got brains, you know. I'm not the brains of this operation just because I rule with an iron fist most of the time.I've got smarts, too," Helga said slowly, before lowering her head and looking off into the distance. "And I guess it hurts me to think that you may have never thought this much of me, that maybe you so long ago dismissed me as some type of, bully freak, hopeless romantic, girly job with hidden lace underwear or something."

Phoebe sighed heavily as all of this sunk in, and then she looked plaintively at Helga. "Helga, I.I'm sorry in advance. I'm sorry if I ever came off that way, and I'm sorry if I ever do it again, but.seriously, I don't think of you that way. I'm your best friend in more than one way, and I guess, speaking of the subconscious, we got along so handsomely in the past because of our common interests in learning. Although we don't think exactly the same, or perform the exact same way in class, we're both pretty knowledgeable, pretty intelligent for our age. You were always smart, Helga.it's just, well, I never thought to acknowledge it, so I guess that this is one of the former apologies," Phoebe stated, wringing her hands. "I'm glad you brought it to my attention.

Helga waved her hand at Phoebe and smiled obscurely. "Ah, don't sweat it, Pheebs. We all have our days.or weeks, in your case," Helga chuckled as they began to walk in the direction of the bus stop.

"Don't blow me off now, Helga, I'm just getting started," Phoebe responded, as she joined in Helga's quick strides. "You won that science fair, fair and square. I'm just so used to winning everything.I probably didn't put as much effort into mine as I could have.and even if you did, you still would have won. Your project was far superior," Phoebe admitted, shrugging off what had been the grand crisis of the past week.

Helga shook her head and chuckled absently. "Ah, stop sucking up," she said jokingly at her friend, as they continued on their fast pace.

Phoebe suddenly snapped her fingers as they walked down towards the end of the block. "I have an idea, Helga. We never really celebrated your victory. I think I owe you a triple fudge sundae from Slaucen's, my treat. What do you say?" Phoebe offered, smiling genuinely at Helga as they reached the corner.

Helga raised an eyebrow and then smirked. "Now, that's the kind of sucking up that I like. Keep talking, Pheebs, keep talking."

Written By: Old Betsy

Edited By: The Five Avengers

Directed By: Nicole K. and Chinyere

Produced By: Nicole K.

Based on characters created by Craig Bartlett

Most characters are privately owned by such parties as Nickelodeon, Viacom, etc. and are used without permission, but not without respect.