Chapter 1

Helga was late. The hallways of PS. 118 were empty by the time she finally made it to her fourth-grade classroom. Before going in she took a moment to glance quickly up and down the hall. Then she pulled out a locket from inside her pink jumper.

"Oh, Arnold . . . she whispered to the picture inside. "Once again I am about to be in your most precious presence, exalted by your nearness, and yet as always, unable to speak my yearning for you aloud. Condemned to remain silent, yet longing to say that I love you! Love you! Love you . . . "

Suddenly Helga heard a familiar sound directly behind her—the sound of heavy, raspy breathing. It was Brainy, as usual, the pale, mute, spiky-haired, blank-eyed kid with the eternal half smile. Brainy's constant efforts to get close to Helga were betrayed every time by the sound of his own openmouthed breathing. Helga scowled, stuffed the locket back inside her jumper, and threw a reflex punch that solidly connected with the noise behind her shoulder. Ignoring the thud that was Brainy hitting the floor, Helga pushed open the classroom door and stomped in.

She was just in time to hear Mr. Simmons introduce a tall, sixth-grade girl to the class.

"People, we have a special guest from PS. 118's computer lab with some really exciting news, so please give your attention to . . . Mary Margaret, the club's president!"

"Whatever," the girl said blandly, a large wad of gum stuck in her bright, perfect teeth. "Okay, so, we're setting up a computer bulletin board for you guys. So you can. let's see"—she looked down at a card, checking the notes she was supposed to read—"send E-mail to one another, play computer games with one another online, stuff like that." She tossed her long, thick brown hair back over one shoulder. "It's just for us students only, and you can use the computers here at school, or at home if you've got one. So all you have to do is sign up. I'll pass out the forms. Then you can pick your E-mail name and log on by tonight."

Arnold sat transfixed. She had to be the coolest, most beautiful girl in the entire school.

Gerald watched his best friend and grinned. Here we go again, he thought.

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