"Love makes difficult things easy and almost unworthy of note." -St. Thomas Aquinas

Chapter Twenty-Four: Surprising Realizations and an Early Arrival

After signing them out at the office, Arnold walked Helga home, both of them not really saying too much, but just enjoying the early afternoon. The sun was out again and the weather felt perfect for swimming, or a nice game of baseball. Occasionally, both Arnold and Helga would glance at one another and then turn away and smile when they noticed the other was looking, blushes on their faces.

On the way, a few people who knew them passed them by on the streets. Among them was Harvey the mailman, who was giving some mail over to Stoop Kid, a teenage boy known for practically living on his stoop and annoying anyone who got too close to it. Harvey turned walking their way and saw the two of them. He gave them both a friendly smile, "Hey Arnold. Hey Helga. Why aren't the two of you in school?" He smirked and raised an eyebrow. "You two aren't playing hookey are you, Arnold?"

Arnold blushed a little. He didn't have to look over at Helga to know she was probably either annoyed or embarrassed, or possibly both. "No Harvey, Helga got sick in school and I'm just walking her home." It was a little white lie, but far less embarrassing than the truth would have been.

Helga smiled a little and said, "Yeah, my stomach was upset today." She put her hands over her stomach and winced a little playing along. "You know what that mystery meat the cafeteria lady serves is like."

Harvey made a face and nodded, "Yeah, I remember all too well." He shook his head and then smiled. "Well I better get going; it's going to be a hot summer this year. You two have fun, okay?"

Arnold smiled and said, "We will, Harvey. Thanks." Then he and Helga walked away toward her house.

Helga snorted as they got out of earshot of the mailman. "Can you believe him, thinking you, of all people, would play hookey?" She actually let out a little laugh.

Arnold blinked and looked over at her, eyebrow raised. "What do you mean by that?"

"Oh please, you're Mister-Do-The-Right-Thing. You playing hookey is like me becoming a professional ballerina." Helga said snorting.

He stopped and looked at her surprised, "You really think that I've never played hookey before?"

Helga shrugged and said, "Some kids can do things like that, heck lots of boys do all the time, but not you. You're too moral and . . . (she trailed off realizing that she was close to sounding like one of her usual romantic rants about him) W-Well, it's just not something that you'd do, that's all."

Arnold smiled a little and said, "You really think so, huh?"

"I know so, footba– um, Arnold," she said, remembering she promised to stop calling him that name, even though it was in a good natured way.

"Actually, one time me and Gerald did play hookey from school." Arnold told her this, surprised to hear himself reveal something that only he and Gerald knew about.

Helga looked over at him and blinked surprised. "Huh? When was this?"

"Remember that day about four months ago when we had that surprise carnival day at school and me and Gerald were out because we were sick?"

Helga nodded and said, "Oh yeah, it just came right out of the blue." She smiled at the memory and then she looked at him surprised, "You mean you two were actually playing hookey that day?"

Arnold blushed a little and said quickly, "Well it was really Gerald's idea; I just sort of went along with it. We were bored by the routine at school and so we played hookey."

Helga raised one side of her unibrow and just looked at him strangely a moment. Then she said, "Wow, I never would have thought that you of all people would do that."

"Why? Is it so surprising that I haven't always done the right thing?" Arnold asked, looking at her face carefully as he asked that. He was a bit surprised at her reaction to his story. Does she really think I am not capable of making mistakes? He asked himself. Another thought occurred also, Wow, does she really think that highly of me?

For her part Helga just shrugged and answered, "A little, I guess." She blinked again and added, "It's just that you're usually so good at helping people with their problems and doing the right thing, I just guessed it was all second nature to you to do the same yourself." The fact of the matter was Helga was a bit stunned that Arnold, whom she'd always put on a pedestal in her mind, was just as capable of having faults—well, other than being totally dense about a certain girl's feelings.

Arnold smiled a little and said, "Nobody's perfect, Helga. I've done my share of dishonest things that I haven't always been so good."

"Oh yeah?" Helga asked surprised again but grinning a little. "Care to share some of them?"

He looked at her slightly, smiled a little, and said, "Well, there was the time I snuck into the movie theater late last year . . ."

For the rest of the way to Helga's house, Arnold told her about some of his less that noble moments, including the whole story of his and Gerald's misadventures playing hookey and the bad fortune that followed them the whole way.

Just as they were coming into sight of Helga's house, Arnold was finishing with his story about his failed crush on Lila ended two months ago when Timberly had a crush on him also and he used Gerald's little sister to get Lila's attention. He was embarrassed by the story, and rubbed the back of his neck when he told some of it, blushing a little. Yet, for some reason, he found that he could talk to Helga, who seemed to be taking all of it in with rapt attention. She never once interrupted him, he noted.

Finally Helga just looked at him, her face neutral and said, "Wow, those are pretty bad. Never guessed you'd do those sorts of things, Arnold-o."

Arnold looked ahead a moment, suddenly a little shy about looking at her. "Like I said, I'm not perfect. I'm not proud of any of those things I've done though." He chanced a glance at Helga and—to his surprise—he saw her smiling at him.

"Well, who would have thought it," Helga said, a small twinkle in her blue eyes. "Arnold has a dark side. Wonders never cease." She shook her head, but smiled none-the-less.

It made Arnold somehow feel good to know that Helga didn't think any less of him after his stories. He was surprised to find out that his opinion of what she thought of him really did matter a great deal.

Helga was also surprised to realize that the boy she loved unconditionally all these years was just as capable of being bad as she herself was. Of course, of all the things he confessed to, none of them compared remotely to the sort-of things she had done. Arnold may not be totally perfect, but he was as moral and giving as she herself wished to be at times. She was just about to remark on this, when she suddenly heard a very unwelcome sound.

"Helga!" A female voice cried out several yards away from her front door. Helga blinked and looked up, and as quick as that, her good mood suddenly evaporated on the spot. What the heck is she doing here today?! She thought to herself, the annoyance building within her.

Standing there, on top of the stoop, with the front door wide open behind her was Helga's older sister, Olga Pataki. She was tall, graceful, full-figured, and very cheerful. In other words, everything that Helga felt was not.

Olga had that familiar overly cheerful look on her face as she looked down at Helga. She walked down the stoop as Helga and Arnold walked up. "Is that really you, baby sister?" She asked grinning.

"No, it's a Campfire Lass coming to sell some chocolate covered wafers," Helga answered sarcastically, all traces of her previous good mood now gone. "Criminy, of course it's me, Olga. Doi!" She crossed her arms and her eyes at the last word. Next to her, Arnold blinked at her change in attitude.

Olga, for her part, either completely missed the sarcasm and laughed, covering her mouth with her right hand. "Oh Helga, you are simply too much." She said and then knelt down, grabbing both of her arms and kissing her on the cheek gently. Helga wiped the place off with the back of her left hand and made a face.

"Let me just look at you," Olga said giving Helga a quick appraisal, smiling the whole time. "You're growing up so fast. It's been so long, baby sister."

Helga frowned again and said, in a deadpan voice, "It's only been two months, Olga. You came home for spring break, remember?"

"Oh of course I do, silly," Olga said with a wave of her hand, brushing aside the details. She still had that bubbly smile that completely irritated Helga to no end. Then she turned her eyes and saw Arnold. "Oh hello, Arnold. It's good to see you again."

Arnold was a bit surprised that Olga remembered his name. Usually Helga's parents either got his name confused. He smiled a little and said, "It's good to see you again too, Miss Pataki."

Olga did laugh this time and she leaned over smiling more. "Oh please, just call me Olga. I mean, I'm no longer you're student teacher after all, and Miss Pataki makes me sound so old."

Those words reminded Helga of the time Olga served as assistant teacher to Mr. Simmons class back just after New Year, or so, in an insane attempt on her part to bond with her more. It was marked down in Helga's mind as one of the most humiliating and embarrassing experiences of her life, especially when Olga told the story of Helga's bed wetting problem when she was younger.

Arnold, for his part, just smiled and nodded. "Okay then, Olga it is." Olga smiled and put her hand on Arnold's shoulder gently nodding.

Helga frowned at Olga's touchy-feely behavior, and the fact she was touching her Arnold. She pulled Olga's hand from Arnold's shoulder by one of her fingers and coughed slightly. "Ahem, Arnold was just heading home." She turned to face him and said, "Um, thanks for walking me back home, by the way."

Arnold shrugged and replied, "It was no problem, Helga." Then he thought somehow that it wasn't quite enough and added, "I was happy to do it."

For a moment, all of Helga's good feelings suddenly flooded right back to her being. Her heart began to beat slightly faster. She had to fight not to swoon right there on the spot. Arnold said that he was happy to walk me home! I think I could die happy right here, right now! Her only regret was that Arnold was about to leave.

Olga was watching the two of them and she smiled a little to herself. Then, out of the blue, Olga said, "You know, Helga, I was just about to finish helping mommy fix dinner. Maybe you'd like to invite your friend to join us?"

Helga actually went slightly wide-eyed. "Huh?!" She was totally surprised by this suggestion, feeling both very awkward, yet very hopeful all of a sudden. Olga had just given her a reason to keep Arnold around a while longer. This was perfect!

Arnold blinked also, slightly surprised by the suggestion. "Oh, um, well, thanks anyhow, Olga, but I don't want to impose."

Olga smiled and said, "Oh it's no trouble at all, I assure you. It's nothing much, just some beef bullion soup and salad, along with some dessert I was just making. You're more than welcome to join us. I'm sure that Helga would love to have the extra company."

Helga thought she was hearing things, but she could have sworn she heard a slight twinge of innuendo in Olga's last words. She looked up at her older sister, who stood there grinning like an idiot, and then looked back at Arnold a moment. She shrugged and tried to act indifferent when she asked, "Well, how about it, Arnold? You wanna stick around awhile?" Inside her mind she was pleading, Please say yes! Please say yes! Please say yes!

Arnold looked at Helga and thought he saw something in her eyes that wanted him to stay. He guessed that she didn't want to be around Olga alone right now. Plus, he'd been having a good time with Helga, and was amazed to realize that he did like hanging around with her, just like last night on their date. She really did look desperate too. Arnold made his decision.

He nodded and said, with a small smile on his oblong face, "Well, I guess I can stay for just a little while."

YES! Helga screamed in her mind, and she could not stop the corners of her mouth from moving up slightly. If it hadn't been for the fact both Arnold and Olga were standing there, she would have jumped up shouting and danced around in joy.

"Well, I better hurry up and get things ready. Make yourself at home; dinner will be in about fifteen minutes." Olga smiled and turned back into the house, moving as gracefully as always.

When Olga was inside, Helga looked over at Arnold and let out a small smile, "Thanks for sticking around, foot— um, Arnold."

Arnold smiled and nodded, noticing that she was keeping her promise to be nicer. Then he answered, "Like I said, I'm happy to do it." He smiled knowing he meant those words. He gestured to the open door like a total gentleman, "After you."

Helga again felt like swooning, but once again refrained as she led their way inside. Arnold followed closing the door behind them.

To Be Continued . . . .

"Love can do all but raise the dead." -Emily Dickenson