A Friend in Deed
Also by gwendarwen
"Stupid teacher!" Anton, a red Hissi, tried not to make eye contact with his history teacher as he slumped down further in his chair. He knew she was looking straight at him.
"The group project will be due in five weeks. Groups will be assigned on Friday. Remember, anyone who does not turn in a project will receive a zero for this class." The teacher walked past Anton's desk and placed her hand on it as she said the last sentence. He stared harder at the floor.
A few rows away, Justin, a blue Gelert, was looking at the glass bowl in front of him. "Ha, Alien Aishas are such dorks," he thought as he watched the helmeted figure take notes. "And she's been taking notes all day! She thinks she's so smart..." Deciding this know-it-all needed a lesson, Justin fired a short-distance spit wad that landed, and stuck, right in the middle of that annoying glass helmet. The teacher didn't notice; she was ignoring him, as usual, and going on about some 'group project'. Well, if this Aisha was so smart, maybe he could 'persuade' her to work with him.
Yygzrck. Ugh. The Alien had always liked her name until now, but whenever she introduced herself, people either said, "Bless you", or looked at her like they had found her on the bottom of their shoe. Notes. She had to concentrate on her notes. A group project... maybe that would be a good way to get to know people. It could be fun! Just then, she heard a 'ping' as a spit wad hit the back of her helmet. Fun... or not.
Anton had tried to do the last class project. He really had. But honestly, how can you write a five-page paper on why King Coltzan was killed??? Duh, because he ate poisoned food! And how was Anton to know the EXACT thoughts in the killer's mind? He would have to do an interview with her to write five whole pages! That wasn't exactly his life dream. Anton thought his 'paper' (it WAS written on a piece of paper) had said all there was to say:
"King Coltzan III died because his food was poisoned. He was murdered so that the killer could rule the Lost Desert instead of him."
Anton actually did turn in five pages. They were blank, but the teacher didn't specifically say they had to have words on them...
Oh well. He could pick the topic of this next project. He could pick something definite, something he could study. He would know, without a doubt, what had happened and why... without having to interview murderers. Now to find someone to work with... that would be the first obstacle, and probably the hardest. Everyone in the class ignored him because he always wanted to be exact, sure of everything he did and said. He tended to get on their nerves. But what was WRONG with wanting to be RIGHT? Anton certainly couldn't answer that one. Hmm... a new kid... standing all alone, too! Maybe Anton could convince her to work with him. He gulped and started toward her.
After his daily beating-up-a-nerd and lunch money collecting, Justin decided it was time to talk to The Alien Dork about being his project partner. She had to be the smartest kid in the class. Besides, aliens are supposed to have 'advanced technology', right? Maybe she even had something that could do the project for him! He was sure he could convince her to work for... er, with him. After all, Justin could persuade anyone to do just about anything if he really wanted to. Hey, that Hissi-sissy was already talking to her! He would fix that! He walked over and forced himself into the conversation. He tried to sound friendly, but he sounded rather menacing anyway.
"Hey, Anton! Who's this you're talking to?"
"I'm Yygzrck... do not try to pronounce it. Please." Yygzrck couldn't believe it! Two people talking to her at once! But wait... wasn't this guy the one who had fired a spit wad at her?
"Umm... are you not the one who fired a spit wad at me?" She flinched slightly as she said it. Who knew what he might do next?!?
Justin could handle this one. "Oh, did I hit you? I'm sorry... I was aiming at a fly on the wall. I happen to be the classroom fly exterminator! Anyway, I was wondering, you wanna be partners for the project? Maybe I can make up for that spit wad." He smiled his best, friendliest smile. It made him look like he was about to beat you up. Still, it was better than his usual smile. That one looked like he was about to eat you up.
Anton couldn't stand Justin! Justin had ruined his whole first quarter, and here he was trying to claim the only person who would work with him!
He wouldn't let that happen. "She's working with me, Justin."
"That's what you think, Hissi!" Justin walked menacingly toward Anton and balled his hand into a fist.
Yygzrck was confused... very confused. This was the first time she had even gotten anyone to talk to her for longer than a minute, and now these two were fighting over the right to work with her? Wow. Things happened so fast on this planet.
"My friends, we can all work together! The teacher said we could have more than one partner!"
"Yeah... sure, we'll work together. All three of us. Won't this be fun." Anton seethed as he spoke.
Seeing the way Anton and Justin were glaring at each other, Yygzrck shivered. She really wished she hadn't made the suggestion.
Justin rolled his eyes. "So you're saying you want to do the project on the weapons used during the first Battle of Meridell? That sounds REALLY stupid."
"Stupid? If you such a genius, Justin, let's see you come up with a better idea! Wait, I forgot! You already did! You wanted to do it on the Dimensional Paint Brush. That has absolutely nothing to do with history!" Anton hissed, as he always did when he was angry. Well, he hissed all the time, actually.
"At least my idea is interesting, not boring like you and your dusty old relics!"
"Umm, Justin... Anton is right... your idea IS interesting, but it does not have anything to do with history..." Yygzrck hated this. She had always wondered what it would be like to referee wrestling. Guess she didn't have to wonder any more, she thought with a wry smile.
These people were boring nerds, but Justin wanted a good grade on the project. Not that he usually cared about grades, but his mom had said he wouldn't be allowed to beat anyone up anymore unless he got his grades up.
"Whatever. After all, everyone knows I'm the stupid one." He rolled his eyes again for good measure.
The last day to turn in the projects had arrived. Anton and Yygzrck had worked extremely hard. Justin had... well, he had to have done something. Oh. That's right. He bought the display board with some of the money he had been 'given' from kids at school. Yygzrck had already handed in her accompanying three-page paper to the teacher. Anton had his done, but he said he wanted to turn it in on the last day because there were details he needed to re-check. Justin assured them his was ready, too. He was pretty sure he had some pieces of paper somewhere in his desk.
At last the moment came when the teacher walked around the room handing out little slips of paper with each person's grade for the project, the paper, and the semester. Anton was proud of himself. His details were checked and re-checked (and checked one more time, just in case), and he thought his paper was very well written. He smiled to himself and happened to look over at Justin. That was funny. Justin was smiling, too.
"He's probably proud of himself for getting the ten percent for being in a group," Anton thought with a chuckle.
"No laughing in class." The teacher gave him a severe look as she shoved the grade slip at him. Anton glared back at her. Why was it that she always ignored Justin whenever he did anything wrong, but never him? Oh well. Anton was the one getting the one hundred percent. Justin would be lucky if he got twenty percent! With this final thought about justice (along with just a little revenge) and hard work paying off, Anton turned over his grade slip.
Yygzrck was just admiring her good grade, feeling relief that she had actually finished a semester of Neoschool in Neopia Central (school was so much different where she came from), when she heard it. Something on the other side of the room crashing to the floor, and someone apparently... strangling... someone else. She quickly looked over to see Justin on the floor, choking and gasping, and Anton standing (or whatever Hissis do) over him. Anton actually looked redder than usual. Yygzrck didn't know that was possible.
"YOU PUT YOUR NAME ON MY PAPER!" Anton shoved Justin's grade slip, which said that he had gotten one hundred percent on the project, in his face. Justin gave him a strange look as Anton was dragged out of the classroom by the teacher.
"Really? He got expelled?" Justin was stunned.
"Yes. Apparently, the teacher was telling the principal about the fight and other issues she had with Anton, when the English teacher walked in and started agreeing with her. Eventually, three other teachers also joined in the accusations." Yygzrck adjusted her helmet as she spoke.
Justin lowered his eyes. "Wow. I'm... I'm actually kind of sorry for him. Apparently he only got a ten percent on the project, and I know he worked really hard on it." Justin had never felt sorry for someone before.
"This is most definitely a mistake. As you say, he worked extremely hard on his portion of the project. He said that you put your name on his paper. How did you get such a high score, anyway?"
"Well... I... I'm really good at doing homework at the last minute, actually. I got to school early, found some books about weapons in the library, and wrote my paper when we got to class..." he trailed off. "What?!" Eyebrow cocked and arms crossed, Yygzrck did not look at all like she believed him.
"Do you honestly expect that I believe that? I know how you feel about homework. I am not sure if it is something you have ever done honestly in your entire life." She paused, continuing slowly. "If you stole his paper, you must say something. He has been expelled. Do you realize how serious that is? I visited him yesterday, and his parents say he is grounded for life. They are not letting him leave his room. I had to sneak up to his window just to talk to him."
Justin's eyebrows rose. "Are you serious? They wouldn't do that! For life? You've got to be kidding me!"
Yygzrck shook her head solemnly. "Anton seemed to think that they were quite serious. They have not even allowed him to speak to his siblings."
Justin looked down. He felt strange. What was wrong with him? He wasn't sure... maybe he was sick?
Yygzrck was watching him carefully. "Justin, it appears to me that you are feeling guilty."
Guilty! His head snapped up. That couldn't be right. He had never felt guilty before! He started to protest. "But I..."
Yygzrck raised a paw, cutting him off. "Guilt can be a good thing, sometimes. It tells us when we need to make a correction." She looked at him with a piercing gaze.
Justin paused, thinking. Guilt? Maybe... maybe that was what he was feeling. All of a sudden it flooded over him. Guilty, guilty! "I'm guilty!" he cried. He felt panic start to churn in his stomach.
Yygzrck put a paw on his shoulder, trying to calm him down. "Perhaps it is not too late for something to be done."
Mr. Burrhatt, principal of Neopia Central Neoschool, huffed into his mustache as he shuffled through the mound of papers on his desk. How was he supposed to find anything in this mess? Someone should keep it more organized. Yes, whoever... His thoughts were interrupted by a sharp rapping on his door. It opened a crack.
"Someone here to see you, sir," his secretary curtly informed him.
"Er, yes, um... send them in, I suppose." How did anyone expect him to get any work done with these constant interruptions? As he was pondering this, a young Aisha and Gelert stepped into his office.
The Aisha cleared her throat and spoke up. "Principal Burrhatt? Thank you for seeing us. My friend and I have a matter to discuss with you." Yygzrck pushed Justin, who seemed to be trying to hide behind her, toward the principal.
Principal Burrhatt looked Justin over carefully. Ah, this Gelert looked familiar... the troublemaker! Coming to the principal's office voluntarily? How odd!
Justin looked at the floor. He hated the principal's office. He didn't want to say anything, but Yygzrck kept jabbing him in the ribs, so he finally did.
"Um... Mr. B..." He began slowly, then talked faster and faster until the principal could barely understand him. "So... about Anton. Anton Hissi... he was in my history class. We had to do a group project, and I hate group projects, so I figured he and Yygzrck could do it, and I'd get credit. Then I found out I'd have to write a paper on my own... and Anton just left his sitting on his desk... so I copied it. And turned it in before he had a chance. So... the teacher thought he copied me. And he got expelled and... I guess... it should have been me who got expelled." He ended abruptly, turning away from the principal.
Principal Burrhatt stroked his mustache. That was quite a confession! Of course, if it was true, this Anton Hissi would have to be readmitted to school immediately. As for Justin...
"I'm sure you're aware, young fellow, that plagiarism has severe consequences. You're quite right. You should be expelled." The principal paused, for what seemed to Justin like forever. "However, under the circumstances, since you confessed your misdeed to me while knowing full well what punishment you deserved... I'm willing to make an exception. But only this once! I'm warning you, young fellow, you'd best take care to make better decisions in the future. This time... your punishment will be detention and trash pick-up duty for a semester."
Anton stared at the schoolwork in front of him on the desk in his room. Homeschool wasn't working out so well for him, and his parents barely let him leave his room. Then the door to his room opened. It was his mother. She seemed upset about something.
"Anton, there are some friends here to see you."
What? Anton was confused. This didn't make any sense. Wasn't he supposed to be grounded? His mother stepped out of the doorway, revealing Yygzrck and... Justin? Anton's eyes widened in shock. His mother said, "I think I'll give you three a moment," and left the room, closing the door.
Anton couldn't believe it. What was he doing here? The cheater. The one who stole his paper, got him expelled, and got him grounded for life! Anton tried his best to control his temper, knowing he couldn't afford to be in any more trouble with his parents.
Yygzrck could see how angry Anton was. But she was impressed with how well he was controlling his temper--although his eyes did look about ready to bulge out of their sockets... She walked over to him, placing a paw on his wing, and speaking quietly. "Anton," she whispered, "Justin has something to say to you. You will certainly want to hear it."
Justin cleared his throat. "I'd better hurry," he thought. "I don't want him trying to strangle me again..." Quickly, he said, "Anton. You were right. I did steal your paper. And I'm really sorry. I mean it, I'm actually sorry. I've already told the principal, and your parents. I never should have done it... you worked way harder than I did, and I feel bad that you got in trouble when it should have been me. I may not know what's going on in class half the time, but that's no excuse... If there's any way I can ever make it up to you, I hope you'll let me. And maybe you can forgive me, someday." Finished with his apology, Justin was now edging toward the door, anxious to get away.
Anton couldn't believe what he had just heard. Oh sure, he knew that Justin had stolen his paper. There had never been any doubt in his mind about that. But hearing an apology from Justin was the last thing he had ever expected. He stood still for a long moment, staring at the floor, collecting his thoughts as conflicting emotions jostled inside him.
Finally, he looked up. Justin seemed about ready to bolt out the door, not knowing what reaction to expect from Anton. Anton exhaled slowly, then said simply, "Ok."
After a month back at school, Anton was surprised to discover that Justin wasn't bullying anymore. He seemed, well, decent. If Anton didn't know better, he might have even said he was being nice. But that was impossible.
Yygzrck noticed the change, too. She also noticed that the tables seemed to have turned on Justin. He was behaving himself now, maybe even trying to be friendly. At first, everyone at school was just confused. The school bully being nice? He was probably just trying to trap them somehow. But he kept at it, and the other students began to realize that he just wasn't bullying any more. Which they thought was great – because now they could finally get back at him for all the mean things he had done to them.
In fact, it seemed that practically the entire school had taken this attitude, even young pets who had never encountered Justin before. His fellow students used to respect him, because they feared him. Now that he was no longer a threat, their respect collapsed on itself. No one talked to him, unless it was to make fun of him. Justin, however, did not seem to react.
Yygzrck had been watching him, and she decided that that most rare of events had actually happened – Justin had decided to change. She walked up to him as school got out one day. He seemed somewhat depressed, but smiled as she approached.
"Hey, Yygzrck, how's it going?"
"It is going fairly well, thank you," she replied. "How is it going with you?"
Justin laughed a little. "Well, you know, not great." He smiled a half-smile. Yygzrck had already known the answer, of course. She knew the answer to the next question, too.
"And why is that?"
"Umm... well, I think you know. The other students basically hate me. But, you know what? I don't blame them. I deserve it."
Yygzrck gave him a long look. "You seem to have matured quite a bit since we first met," she said. "I am proud of you."
"Thank you, Yygzrck. I figure things will calm down after a while. If I don't react to people insulting me, I think they'll get tired of it, eventually. And maybe if I keep being nice to everyone, they won't hate me anymore. I don't know. I hope so. You know... I felt so guilty about what happened to Anton. I couldn't stop thinking about it, and how it was all my fault. And then I started thinking about all the other mean things I've done, and the more I thought about them, the more they bothered me... it got so bad I couldn't even sleep. That's when I knew I had to start being different."
"That is very good," said Yygzrck. "You have done what is right." Then she paused. She knew what she was going to ask about next would be a sensitive subject. "However, I have noticed... that in class you still seem to not be doing so well."
"Oh, I know," said Justin. "I'm doing worse, actually, if you can believe that! I'm trying harder, but now that I don't cheat, it's really hard. I just can't see the board, you know?"
Yygzrck was startled. "You... cannot see the board?"
"Oh, no, not for years," he said, and shrugged.
She shook her head. "Then you must acquire a pair of glasses at once!"
"But... glasses are for nerds!" Justin protested.
"No, my friend," she countered. "Glasses are for pets who wish to see."
Anton noticed that Yygzrck and Justin seemed to be hanging out together a lot at school. Not that it bothered him... well, maybe a little. Why should she hang out with Justin, when he was such a jerk? Even if he was pretending not to be one. And those new glasses didn't make him look smarter, either.
Anton approached Yygzrck after lunch one day. "Why are you hanging out with Justin?"
Yygzrck smiled at him. "You do not like him, do you? I understand. However, I believe he has changed. You may decide for yourself whether or not you also believe this."
Anton squinted. "You don't think he's faking it?"
"No. But as I said, you must decide for yourself."
Justin must have known they were talking about him, because he walked up just then. He smiled at Anton, and said, "Hey."
"So... Do you still hate me as much as you hate history class?"
Anton smiled a little. "Well... maybe not that much."
Anton gradually warmed up to Justin as he realized that he was sincere in his friendliness. Yygzrck was glad that things were finally settled between the two, and that they could all be friends. Justin still was not popular at school, but the insults and taunting seemed to be gradually lessening, especially now that Justin had friends to back him up.
One day after school, while cleaning his glasses, Justin looked at Anton and Yygzrck. "So what do you guys think if I get contacts? I was thinking maybe red ones..." He had a sly, mischievous smile, so Anton decided to play along.
"No, definitely not menacing enough. You should go with the Ferocious Jaws Contacts!"
They laughed. Yygzrck laughed, too. Neopia was a strange place, far from her home planet. But even in a strange place, it seemed, one could find friends that made it feel like home.