056. I know
A chorus of voices echoes through the boarding house. Arnold's brand new red sneakers skid across the newly swept floor. They race into the dining room and wave to their parents.
"Hi, Mom. Hi, Dad," Arnold says beaming. "I'm glad I caught you. I kinda wanted to ask you if—"
Their mom leans over, rustling Arnold's blond hair and interrupting, "What did you want for dinner tonight, Arnold? Dad is cooking." She drops her voice exaggeratedly in Arnold's direction, grinning, "I tried… but I couldn't talk him out of it."
Arnold's dad hums cheerfully, banging around pots and pans onto a kitchen countertop. "I gotta say!" he shouts. "It sure is nice not to be cooking lizards over an open campfire anymore—"
"—actually I was gonna ask Helga what she wanted," Arnold tells their parents matter-of-factly, but nervously. "I invited her to our family dinner."
They figure the answer will be yes, but Arnold sometimes can't guess what their parents reactions will be — both of them were far more emotional about Arnold confessing to being nonbinary and wanting to be referred to as they/them, or gender-neutral in public and private situations, but it had all been clapping and tears.
Their parents were new to parenting Arnold as much as Arnold was new to having parents at all.
"You really like this girl, don't you, honey?" Arnold's mom holds her child's face, looking them over and kissing the tip of their nose. "Then we are so happy for you," she gushes.
"I like like her, Mom," Arnold corrects her softly, their cheeks blushing red. "It's different."
She clucks her tongue in mock-disapproval, rubbing Arnold's cheeks against her palms.
"Don't you be growing up too fast on us now."
Arnold's dad hollers over the boiling water, "Wait, isn't this the girl Grandpa was telling us bullied you all throughout elementary school?"
"Helga doesn't do that anymore," Arnold yells back, frowning contemplatively to themselves.
The kinda lingers halfhearted on their tongue, as the front door rattles, being kicked in noisily. A pair of feet stomping closer and closer.
"Arnoldo! Where the heck are you hiding, ya bozo?! I cannot believe you roped me into—"
"Helga," Arnold speaks firmly over her, meeting her in the hallway and pointing over their shoulder. "You remember my mom and dad, right?"
At the semi-pleading stare, Helga calms down, looking over to Arnold's mom rushing in.
"It's very nice to see you again, Helga," she greets her, tilting her head with a friendly, huge smile. Helga takes her hand, politely shaking it.
More pots and pans banging on the distance.
"Arnold wanted us to ask you what you wanted for dinner tonight! You got any food allergies?"
"No, I don't! And, uh, anything you got is good, Mister Shortman!" Helga answers, her eyes never leaving Arnold. "Hey, um…" she mumbles shyly. "I got the homework you missed on Tuesday…"
Arnold's face reddens slightly. "Thanks," they mumble back, smiling goofy-big. Helga tuts, rolling her eyes and gently punching their arm.
"We are gonna watch some playthroughs," Arnold says suddenly and excitedly to their parents, grabbing Helga's hand and pulling her to the staircase. "We'll come back down at 6."
"Dinner will be done by 5:30!" Arnold's dad pokes his head out, concerned. "Hey, Arnold—!"
Arnold's mom shushes him, waving a hand.
"It's fine, darling. Let them play upstairs for a little while and then I'll call them down to wash up."
This seems to placid him for the moment — that, or the needed distraction in the form of leaping, bright flames sprouting from his cooking pan, creating enough smoke to tick off the fire alarm.
Arnold's room-lights dim comfortably. Both freshmen pile into leather-padded, wheely chairs.
"You gonna tell anyone about being sapphic?"
Helga lets out a nasally snort-laugh, bumping her shoulder to Arnold's while they both halfway pay attention to the UWatchVideos stream.
"If I so much as breathe the word lesbian at my place, Big Bob would keel over. He's already confused about Olga coming out as bisexual… and then my mom coming out as bisexual right after…" Helga confesses, her unibrow furrowing.
Arnold remembers hearing about that. Their girlfriend sent Arnold a hurried, garbled phone call, hanging up and then sent an even more garbled text message that Arnold still couldn't figure out.
With a light, encouraging touch, Helga's fingers slip between Arnold's, squeezing on.
"Harold has been making butch lesbian jokes about me since third grade… he would have been right, except I'd say I'm more futch on the scale."
Arnold's mouth twitches.
"Somewhere in the middle between butch and femme, I guess," Helga tells them, relaxing at the appearance of Arnold's teeny, amused smile. "Hey, don't enbys have inside jokes…?"
Arnold shrugs, easing Helga's fingers closer. "Maybe," they admit quietly, using the momentum to lean in, touching their lips warmly to Helga's.
In the past, Helga would either reject outright, affectionate gestures with threats or freeze up with shock. It took time and patience. This time, she smirks against another light, giddy kiss.
"Hm. You getting fresh with me, bucko?"
"Never," Arnold murmurs, chuckling and effortlessly ducking out of a face-palm shove.
Hey Arnold isn't mine. Okay so who here was watching this back in the 90s? RAISE YOUR HAND IF YOU ARE A 90S KID! -RAISES IT HIGH- Arnold/Helga was one of my first childhood OTPs and even my mom loved them! I don't usually headcanon Sapphic!Nonbinary!Arnold/Butch Lesbian!Helga... that was kind of just an idea I wanted to explore for the hell of it... and I think it turned out okay! It's definitely different from my headcanon. Any thoughts/comments appreciated!