She was cold, and her fingers were numb, but teeth chattering or not, she was determined to keep watch as sentinel. There was no way she was going to allow her best friend to have her heart broken, not even by the second most popular guy at Hillwood high. Rubbing her hands together, Helga watched Phoebe from behind a bush, half chuckling, half scoffing as the short raven-haired beauty gracefully glided across the ice, giggling as she circled Gerald Johansen's tall, wobbling frame. Rolling her eyes, Helga sat back on her haunches, wondering how Hillwood's top baseball star could be so inept at something as simple as skating.
A cold wind passed causing Helga to wrap her arms around her knees, desperate to keep her body heat to herself as small flakes fell from their perch on the lifeless branches of the tall maple trees above. It had been five years since her family had lost their business, and three since she was able to buy herself a new coat, and that, only because she was able to land herself a temporary babysitting gig. She had long since grown used to the feeling of chill settling between her bones - the winter frost failing to measure up with the cold harsh reality of what her life had become: a dead-beat dad, an alcoholic mother, an out of touch sister, and a dismal social life. Helga sighed, the heat leaving her body in a cloud as she looked back at her best friend and smiled gently.
Phoebe had been one of the few rays of light in her life. The two had met in pre-school and had remained inseparable throughout the years and despite what others thought, Helga knew they were a match made in heaven. While Helga herself was sarcastic, abrasive, temperamental, and prone to fits of passion, Phoebe was demure, patient, empathetic and reserved. They balanced each other's temperaments perfectly, and challenged each other intellectually and emotionally. They had each learned and grown because of the other and Helga knew she would never find another friend like Phoebe. That fact alone terrified her.
Helga bit her lip and refocused her gaze on the teenagers circling the ice.
Although not above sabotage -she had ruined dates Phoebe had accepted from guys in the past (the ones she deemed losers or overheard discussing ways to take advantage of her brainy, beautiful friend) – she knew how much Phoebe liked Gerald. He was all she talked about in Junior high school, and although she learned to be more discreet since they had entered high school, Helga knew Phoebe like the back of her hand. Phoebe's loyalties ran deep, even when they were undeserved.
Helga shook the thought from her head as she watched Phoebe take Gerald's hands to begin leading him across the ice. 'Gerald's a good guy' she reasoned with herself, trying to smother the rising doubt by listing his accolades in her mind: top 20 student, star on two of Hillwood's athletics teams, well–respected by his peers as much for his achievements as for his witty humor and good looks. Helga knew all of these things were true because she had always done her homework when it came to Phoebe and dating, and as far as the last point went, even Helga had to admit that he was nice on the eyes, though her eyes were often set on someone else - a fact that Phoebe unfortunately frequently pointed out.
Adjusting her squat, Helga tried to ignore the tingling in her legs, an endeavor made easier by the realization that Phoebe was now in Gerald's arms, and he was…leaning. Helga growled, fist clenching as she tried to remain calm. As much as she tried, she couldn't find anything wrong with Gerald. All the threatening and stalking that usually led to confessions or revelations had turned up nothing.
A stream of doubts continued to bombard her as she squinted at the pair at the other end of the rink. "What's tall-hair boy's game anyway? How is it that he is just now noticing her? God, how I wish I'd brought my binoculars." She grumbled to herself, failing to notice the soft crunching of snow behind her.
"Isn't it a little too cold to be crouched up in the bushes?" a warm rumbling chuckle came from behind.
"Oh buzz of bucko, before you regret ever living." She threatened, attributing the sudden tingling in her spine to the cold wetness of fresh snowflakes landing on her nose.
"I would, but I have two cups of hot chocolate here and I couldn't possibly drink both and I, well, I kinda need some help. What do you say, Helga?"
"I say if you don't stop interrupting me, I'm gonna rip your esophagus right outta your mouth football…" Helga mouth grew dry as her mind caught up with who her body had been trying to tell her was behind her. Standing abruptly, she turned to face the newcomer.
"Ar-Arnold?" She stuttered before hissing out in pain, the tingling from her numb feet making it's way up her calves and thighs. She stumbled forward, stabilizing herself on the tree beside her.
"Helga! Are you alright?" Helga looked up, meeting the dark-green eyes of the most popular guy at Hillwood High. She struggled to suppress the swoon that threatened to burst forth as she noticed his brows pinch in concern for her.
Shaking her head to clear her thoughts, she looked down at her stupid legs wondering how they could embarrass her like that. If only she had a hacksaw, they would think again before…
"Helga?" She flinched as she noticed Arnold taking another step closer.
'When did he get so close anyway?' She thought to herself as she stuck out her free hand, signaling for him to keep his distance.
"I'm fine Arnold-o. What are you doing here anyway?"
"I could ask you the same thing Helga? What's wrong?" he pressed on, pointing down at her legs.
"It's nothing, my foot just fell asleep that's all, now, answer my question. You can't just go sneaking up and spying on people. I mean, what kind of crazy person does that?"
Helga was taken aback as his brow relaxed and he stared at her with half-lidded eyes, and when he smirked, she could feel the heat pool in her stomach and the blush rise to her cheek.
"Nothing." He chuckled. "It's just, you're right, that would be crazy. But fortunately, I was just out for a walk when I noticed the infamous Helga G. Pataki shivering in the bush." He took a sip of the drink in his right hand before continuing and she found herself wishing she was a Styrofoam cup, just so she could feel his soft thin lips on her. "Out of curiosity, what does the G stand for anyway?"
"Geraldine" she whispered, before slapping herself across the cheek for revealing a long cherished secret. Arnold raised a brow at her behavior but remained silent, causing her to lash out in panic. "And if you ever tell anyone I'll…"
"I know, I know," he snickered, "what was it again? Rip out my esophagus from my mouth?" Helga gaped as Arnold let out another loud chuckle. "Anyway, this is for you. I hope you like hot chocolate with whipped cream. I asked them to put a lot, cause you know, I know how much you like sweet things."
Now it was Helga's turn to raise a brow as she wondered to herself how he had known she had such a sweet tooth? Her eyes darted questioningly from the proffered drink to his handsome face, tinted a slight pink. 'He must not be used to the cold.' She thought to herself.
"What's the catch?" she eyed him wearily as he smiled brightly back at her.
"No catch. Remember, you're just helping me out." Helga rolled her eyes at his blatant lie before taking the drink from him - the tips of her fingers purposely brushing against his gloved ones - he obviously had just admitted buying the drink specifically for her.
"So," he continued rubbing the back of his neck as she took her first sip of the warm drink, "what are you doing here anyway?" Helga facepalmed as she turned abruptly back to the rink, cursing herself for losing sight of her mission. Her eyes darted back an forth in their search as she ignored Arnold calling her name. Finally, her eyes caught sight of Phoebe making her way out of the rink with Gerald by her side. If she left now, she would be able to catch up and follow them.
With that thought in mind, she turned quickly, walking straight into Arnold's broad chest. Luckily, he caught hold of her wrist, stabilizing it so that they miraculously avoided being covered in hot chocolate.
"Oof, hey watch where you're going!"
"Me?" Arnold countered, "You're the one who dozed off and ran into me!" Helga huffed as she ignored the truth in his statement and instead tried to step around the clearly flustered Arnold.
Throwing up her free arm in frustration Helga shouted at the tall blonde blocking her path. "Would you move out of my way already?" Rolling his eyes Arnold stepped aside, signaling a path with his outstretched arms, being careful not to spill his own hot chocolate. Helga stomped pass and Arnold quickly followed in her wake.
"Hey, where are you going?" Helga quickened her pace, noting the irony of the situation as she tried to lose her stubborn tail. At any other time of the day, week, month, year, or lifetime really, she would have loved to have Arnold following her around, seeking out her attention. But Helga knew she needed to prioritize, especially since this sudden attention made no sense. Ignoring the warning bells going off in her head, Helga continued in her pursuit, taking long strides and occasional sips of the ever-cooling hot chocolate – what could she say, she did love her sweets.
Catching sight of her prey leaving the park, Helga slowed her pace, recognizing the need to be discreet. Having finished her drink, she quickly disposed of the cup in a dumpster, a convenient cover as she continued to spy on her friend.
"Wow Helga, you sure are quick." Arnold huffed as he copied her gesture by throwing away his empty cup. "I should have expected as much from our school's track star." Helga turned to face Arnold, eyebrows once again furrowing in confusion. Although she had admired Arnold since junior high school, and knew practically everything (superficial) there was to know about him, they most certainly weren't friends, and they rarely ever talked at school (besides the occasional hurling of an insult on her part). Sure she had seen him in the hall, in class, and even on the baseball diamond, but she'd never seen him so much as notice her. So why was it that he knew about her sweet tooth, and that she ran track: the only sporting event the students at Hillwood high weren't excited or invested in?
"How'd you know I run track?" she inquired, voicing her suspicions as she crossed her arms to hug herself protectively.
"What do you mean?"
"Don't play coy with me Shortman. No one ever pays attention to the track team, so I'll ask you again," she raised her finger to poke at his chest, "How-Do-You-Know-I run track?" Arnold raised a brow, looking down at the finger pressed against his chest.
"Lots of people know you run track Helga." Came his easy retort as he reached down, covering her outstretched hand with his own. "Plus, I'm on the school's newspaper. It's our job to report things like our classmates winning state championships. I've even been to cover some of your meets."
"Yup, you could even say I'm your number one fan." Helga could feel the heat rise to her cheeks in response to Arnold's wink. Snatching her hand from his, she muttered a "whatever" before looking away to avoid his gaze. Realizing that she had once again lost sight of her best friend. She groaned in defeat realizing that there were a many number of places they could be headed and she had lost the trail. Looking down at her feet, her shoulders slumped in dejection.
"Hey," Arnold called softly, dragging Helga out of her melancholy by placing a hand on her shoulder. "There's a bookstore two blocks from here. You look cold, maybe we could head over there and warm up for a bit. What do you say?"
Helga's forehead creased as she contemplated Arnold's offer. Sure, it was strange for him to suddenly show up and offer her so much of his attention, but the universe was strange and she had already failed in her mission, so why shouldn't she take a break and bask in the glory that was Arnold Shortman. Helga sighed, allowing a soft smile to grace her otherwise sharp features.
"Sure, I don't have anything better to do now anyway." She relented.
"Great." Arnold replied with a boyish grin before offering his arm to Helga.
"What is this, 'Driving Mrs. Daisy'. Geez, Leopold, I can walk on my own thanks very much."
"Whatever you say Helga" came his soft chuckle, as he followed her the two blocks to the bookstore.
When they reached the store, Helga's stopped abruptly, dropping to a crouch outside of the store's window.
"What are you doing Helga?"
"Shh!" Helga shushed the young man before grabbing his hand and pulling him down beside her. Peeking into the window, Helga saw Gerald and Phoebe browsing through some books together.
"Eureka! Just my luck!" she mumbled to herself, forgetting the boy next to her.
"Helga," Arnold called softly, looking down at their enjoined hands, a light blush gracing his cheeks. "What's going on?" Helga glanced at her companions face and then followed his gaze to their hands.
"Oh, sorry" she released her grip on his hand and continued "I, uh, I was just so excited. I mean, 30% off of all books. Golly, isn't that just the Christmas spirit. I think I'll just head inside, see ya Arnold." Jolting back to her feet, Helga quickly made her way inside the store, jumping at the ringing bell that alerted her to Arnold's presence behind her.
"You're right. It is such a great discount. Let's look around." Taking Helga's hand, Arnold led Helga further into the store, stopping at the non-fiction section. Helga sighed. She pretended to peruse the shelf in front of her while keeping an eye on her best friend across the store -it was a good thing Gerald was so tall.
"Hey Helga look at this. For Whom the Bell Tolls. Hemmingway is great isn't he? The way he depicts war and the feelings he is able to evoke. The way he talks about love…"
"What?" Helga, who had not been listening was suddenly drawn back into the conversation at the mention of the 'L' word.
"Well you know, I thought the love between Robert and Maria was extraordinary. 'And another thing. Don't ever kid yourself about loving some one. It is just that most people are not lucky enough ever to have it. You never had it before and now you have it. What you have with Maria, whether it lasts just through today and a part of tomorrow, or whether it lasts for a long life is the most important thing that can happen to a human being. There will always be people who say it does not exist because they cannot have it. But I tell you it is true and that you have it and that you are lucky even if you die tomorrow.'
"You can quote Hemmingway?" Arnold blushed.
"Well, yeah" Helga scoffed before rolling her eyes.
"What's wrong with Hemmingway? You like Hemmingway, don't you?"
"Didn't peg you for such a machismo Shortman." Arnold rubbed the back of his neck, eyes clouding as he looked emptily at the book in his hands. Regretting the wounded look her comment seemed to have caused, Helga crossed her arms and leaned back against the shelf, determined trectify her mistake. "Well, Hemmingway is alright I guess. Good writer, great plot, but" she plucked the book from his hand and stepped in front of him to place it back on the shelf "if you want a real love story, you gotta look elsewhere." Arnold raised his head, eyes shining as they met Helga's.
"Well, what would you suggest?" Helga blushed at the intensity of his gaze.
"Well I, I umm" Arnold leaned forward causing Helga to take a step back into the bookshelf.
"Shakespeare, Austen and um Bronte, Emily Bronte." There he was again, looking at her through those half-lidded eyes. Helga gulped as she tried to find her words.
"Ahh, so you're a Wuthering Heights fan. Figures."
"Hey, what's that supposed to mean?" she retorted, leaning further against the bookshelf.
"Nothing, I'm just not surprised your into dark romance." Helga cheeks turned crimson.
"Who says I am into any romance?"
"Oh come on Helga, I know the anonymous poems in the newspaper come from you." Helga gaped in mortification, grasping at the shelf behind her for support.
"Bob" he replied, shrugging his shoulders as he moved closer to the blonde.
"Bob? My dad told you?"
"Wait, what? No, no, I mean Bob, the janitor. When we started getting secret poems, I asked him to keep a look out. You're really sneaky you know. It took him a full three months before he ever caught sight of you. Another two weeks before he was finally able to confirm. Helga groaned as she slumped against the shelf.
"I don't know why you're so secretive Helga. You're poems are amazing." Leaning over he placed a hand on the shelf beside Helga's head. "I'd love to-" but before he could finish his sentence, the shelf toppled under the combine weight of the two teenagers, drawing the attention of all the other shoppers in the store.
"Hey, what's going on over here?" a salesperson cried out as he noticed the two teens tangled on the floor. Helga moaned as she clutched her waist with her right hand.
"Are you okay?"
"I think so" Helga mumbled grumpily. As she opened her eyes, she was met with the concern look of Arnold's face hovering over hers. She flushed, before struggling to push his weight off of her.
"Hey, would you get off of me already?" Arnold scrambled to his feet as he took notice of their compromising position.
"S-sorry Helga" he muttered as he reached down for her hand. Pulling her up, he groaned as he heard the sound of his best friend's voice.
"Helga, what are you doing here?"
"Clean up in the non-fiction section" someone announced over the PA system.
Needless to say, when the store had got whiff of what had happened, the group of teens were kicked out of the bookstore. Seeking refuge in the streets, the group walked in pairs. Arnold and Gerald in the lead, followed at a distance by Helga and Phoebe.
"Helga, what were you doing in the bookshop anyway, and how exactly did you and Arnold manage to topple an entire bookshelf."
"I honestly have no idea Phoebe, we were just talking and the thing collapsed."
"And what were you doing in the bookstore. I thought you told me you would be over at Olga's helping prepare Christmas dinner."
"I, I umm..."
"Don't tell me you were following me again?" Helga stopped in her tracks, gaping at her best friend. Placing her hands on her hips, Phoebe stared back at her best friend.
"Oh please Helga, don't give me that look. I've always known that you had followed me on my dates."
"Of course I did. I'm the only reason your sabotage plans ever worked." Helga's mouth dropped open as she took in what her best friend was saying.
"Then why did you even go out with those guys. And why did you never say anything to me?" Phoebe nonchalantly shrugged.
"I didn't know before hand that I wouldn't like them, but usually within five minutes of the date, it would be apparent that they had no real interest in me either, so I just went along with your plans. As for why I never told you," Phoebe turned to begin walking again, with Helga quickly following behind. "I figured protecting me was your way of showing your love, and I guess I kind of liked knowing how much you cared." Phoebe smiled shyly at her best friend who responded with a brilliant grin.
"But Helga, you don't have to follow Gerald and I. I'll be fine this time. So let's hurry and catch up with them and you can spend time with Arnold without worrying about me." Helga blushed at her friend's statement, reluctantly agreeing with a nod. Looking ahead, she caught sight of what seemed to be a small argument between the two young men.
"Well, I guess now that I'm done sneaking up on you, what do you say we sneak up on them?"
"You are absolutely diabolical Helga." Phoebe giggled. "Let's do it!"
The two young woman stealthily picked up their speed quickly closing the gap between the pairs. As they drew near, portions of their whispered debate became clearer, aiding the teens in their eavesdropping quest.
"But Gerald, its not as easy as you think. I tried to distract her but.."
"No, no Arnold, no more of your 'buts'. You were supposed to keep cock-blocking Pataki away, not bring her nearer. You're the most popular guy in our school. Girls would kill for the chance to date you, and you're telling me that you couldn't hold her attention long enough to-"
"Long enough to do what? Seduce me?" Gerald shut his eyes tightly, groaning as he turned to face the angry girls behind him.
"That's not what I was going to say Pataki."
"When then please do clarify Gerald, what exactly were you going to say?" Phoebe interjected, stepping protectively in front of her best friend.
"I was going to say-" Gerald was cut off by a tight grip on his forearm. Looking to his right, he saw his best friend shaking his head.
"Look Helga, I think you've gotten the wrong impression." Arnold spoke, eyes never leaving Helga's distraught face.
"Wrong impression," Helga cackled back. "I most certainly did have the wrong impression. To think Hillwood's most beloved Arnold Shortman would show any interest in Helga Pataki was a laughable mistake."
"No- you've got it all wrong Helga."
"And now I'm getting it right. Let's see here, Tall-hair boy over there" she turned to point an accusing finger at Gerald's frowning face before continuing "learns of my reputation, and decides to enlist the help of his best friend in pursuing Phoebe. Of course, that means playing dirty. I can respect that. Phoebe's a catch, and by God you could use all the help you could get," Gerald gritted his teeth biting back his retort to her insult. "But you," she turned to face Arnold again, face full of contempt, "Hillwood's golden boy. They neighborhood goodie two-shoes. Gotta say, I'm disappointed in you Arnold-o. Who wouldv'e thought you'd agree to playing games with a girl's heart. What is this, some kind of ego boost for you. Find out a few things about little old Helga Pataki and see if you can use it to seduce her." Arnold looked panicked as his eyes darted from Helga to Phoebe and then back to Helga.
"Helga, I swear, that's not what I was doing."
"Save it for the jury. I'm outta here." Helga turned abruptly on her heels, sprinting down the street. Arnold took a step forward to follow chase, but was cut off by Phoebe.
"You will not follow her Arnold." Arnold shoulders slumped as heeded the threat of the angry teen before him. He knew she had studied martial arts, as did he, and knew she could seriously hurt him as he was unwilling to raise a hand against her. Arnold sighed in defeat. Satisfied that the tall blonde would not be pursuing her friend, she continued, "I must say, I am deeply disappointed in the two of you. Especially you Gerald." Gerald's eyes fluttered down to Phoebe's.
"It's not what you think Phoebe. She follows you on all your dates. There's talk in the locker room that no guy has a chance as long as Helga is around. Doesn't that upset you at all?" Phoebe closed her eyes, pinching the bridge of her nose.
"I've always known that Helga has followed me, and no it doesn't bother me. What bothers me is that you would try to manipulate my best friend. Gerald, how could you?" she accused, close to tears.
"It's not like that Phoebe, Arnold would never have agreed to it if it was." Arnold quickly nodded before interjecting.
"If you would just let us explain." Phoebe shook her head.
"Maybe another day. I'm going to find Helga. I hope the two of you have a very Merry Christmas." And with that solemn farewell, Phoebe turned to follow her best friend.
Author's note: I know Christmas is supposed to be happy, but my stories are always so dramatic. However, there is actually a happy imagined ending to this and a really good explanation for everything, which I may write a part two for (giving more details on Arnold's perspective.) If I do, I'll try to get it out right before or after new years. For now, I hope you enjoyed this, and if you did, or even if you did not, please leave a review and tell me what you think. Happy holidays or non holidays to everyone.