WRITER'S NOTE: The following story is my depiction of Arnold's thoughts and point of view following the events in the holiday episode of Craig Bartlett's HEY ARNOLD! series: "Arnold's Valentine"

Disclaimer: I do not own Hey Arnold! Nickelodeon and Viacom own the show, nor are the characters my own, they are the intellectual genius of Master Craig Bartlett...The Force is defiantly always with him! -DarthRoden

The Most Beautiful Gift

By DarthRoden

Arnold walked into class that cool, but sunny day on the fifteenth of February, one day removed from Valentine's Day. He sat down in his usual desk near the front next to his best friend Gerald just as the tardy bell rang.

"Hey Gerald," Arnold said, looking at Gerald with his usual half-lidded look.

"Arnold, my man," Gerald greeted, as both he and Arnold did there usual best friend handshake. "How are you doing this morning?"

Arnold smiled slightly, "I'm doing okay, I guess." He looked thoughtful for a moment, as if something was still on his mind, then asked, "How was your date with Cecile..." he amended himself, shaking his head, "...the REAL Cecile, last night?"

Gerald smiled widely, "Oh it was great, man. We went out and got a couple of hamburgers and talked a lot. Your pen pal was a real funny girl, Arnold."

Arnold nodded, smiling slightly. "Oh Gerald, thanks for covering for me and letting me talk to the other Cecile." His face showed a look of real gratitude for his best friend.

"No problem, man," Gerald said, smiling. "That's what best buds are for."

Arnold sighed and looked down a moment before he said, "Yeah, it was a really mixed-up night last night. First Ruth turns out not to be the girl I thought she was..." (he avoided looking up at Gerald, who he knew would give him an 'I told you so' look) "...then I have a really good time with a girl I thought was my French pen pal Cecile, only to have the real Cecile turn up."

"Um, um, um," Gerald said, shaking his head in amazement, "Arnold, my man, I don't know how you got to be such a chick magnet. I mean, three girls in one night...I guess hanging out with me has rubbed off on you." Gerald said this half-seriously, polishing his fingernails on his shirt.

Arnold smiled and gave Gerald a 'yeah right' look through his half-lidded green eyes.

Gerald turned in his desk seat to face Arnold, "So tell me, Arnold, what happened after I left? Who was she?"
Arnold shifted uncomfortably in his seat as he said, looking down again, "I don't know, Gerald."

Gerald blinked, "Huh? What do you mean you don't know? Didn't you confront her?"

"Well, this is what happened," Arnold began...

(flashback)

Arnold watched as Gerald and the real Cecile walked away, their arms locked and Gerald whispering something to her to make her giggle.

He then turned his head to see the other girl, the one who, until a few moments ago, was pretending to be his pen pal, standing there, looking at him, only half of her face visible through her long, blonde hair.

The girl looked at him and gave a small chuckle that was clearly made out of nervous embarrassment.

"Um, what a...crazy night, huh?" She said to him, in a soft, and clearly nervous voice.

Arnold looked down at the fancy cobblestone sidewalk outside the Chez Paris, also a bit nervous, and confused. "Um, yeah."

He looked over and saw one of the girl's red shoes laying on the ground near him where she'd thrown them down earlier. Arnold reached down to pick it up and saw her thin, feminine hand reach out also. He looked up into her face, which was only a few inches away from his own, he could see the concern and worry clearly in the large, blue eye that was visible from beneath her golden bangs. She withdrew her hand slowly and Arnold picked up the shoe.

He looked down at the red shoe in his hands a moment, as if he were studying it. "There's just one thing I still don't understand," his eyes narrowed in confusion as he looked up into her face and asked simply the question that was most on his mind at the moment, "Who are you?"

The girl, blinked and looked away, "I, um...I can't tell you."

"Why not?" Arnold asked, confused.

The girl turned away from him quickly, embarrassed and a bit afraid. "I just can't that's all! Okay?"

Arnold blinked, from where he was standing, he could see how shy and nervous the girl was. She was visibly shaking and her voice sounded almost on the verge of tears.

He really wanted to know who she was though. After all, she impersonated his French pen pal, Cecile and took a big chance just to be with him tonight. It was something that took a lot of guts to do, for someone so shy...

Yet, at the same time, another part of him deep down told him that it really didn't matter who she was. All that mattered was that he'd had a great time with her."

Arnold made his decision instantly.

"Um, okay...I guess," he said to her, nodding slowly.

The girl looked at him, the surprise that he was going to let her escape with her secret identity intact clear on what he could see of her pretty face.

She was about to walk away, when Arnold reached out and gently grasped her left arm, stopping her before she could run off.

"Will I ever see you again?" he asked her, softly.

The girl turned to face him, smiled slightly and said thoughtfully, "Oh, probably."

Arnold released her arm and took her right hand. "I just wanted to tell you, that this was the best Valentine's Day I ever had," he told her truthfully. Whoever she was, she'd been very pleasant company.

The mystery girl, who somehow seemed so familiar to Arnold, smiled again and said, in her gentle voice, "Me too, but now I have to go."

Arnold smiled and said, "We'll always have Chez Paris." Then he bowed slightly and kissed her hand, a thoughtful look crossing his face as he did so.

The girl sighed and looked into his eyes, smiling happily. "Au Revoir, Arnold," she said to him as she walked away, her hand slowly releasing itself from his own.

Arnold waved to her and she waved back slightly before he turned away to go home.

For a brief moment, Arnold actually considered following her to find out who she was, he still wanted to know...but he decided to respect her wishes and walked home, the whole night on his mind.

It wasn't until he reached the stoop of his grandparent's boarding house that Arnold realized that he still had her red shoe in his hand. He stopped at the top of the stoop, opened the door, but instead of going in, he turned, looked down at the red shoe a moment, then looked up at the starry sky above him.

(Flashback ends)

"...and that's all that happened, Gerald." Arnold told him as he finished his story.
Gerald looked at him thoughtfully and asked him, "Hey man, do you think that the girl who pretended to be Cecile was also the one who wrote all of those mushy love poems about you a couple of months back?"

Arnold nodded and pulled a little pink book out of his book bag, along with the infamous Cecile letter from yesterday with the message to meet her at Chez Paris on Valentine's Day.

"I thought about that Gerald, and last night, I compared the handwriting on the letter with the handwriting of the poems," Arnold said, showing him both of them. "Most of the letter has the real Cecile's handwriting on it, while the rest has the same handwriting as the girl who wrote those poems."

"Woah man, your secret admirer strikes again," Gerald said, shaking his head in amazement.

Their conversation was interrupted by their 4th grade teacher, Ms. Slovak starting class.

"Good morning, everyone," Ms. Slovak said happily. "I hope that everyone here had a wonderful Valentine's Day yesterday."

Arnold smiled to himself, remembering the date with his secret admirer.

Ms. Slovak continued, "Today, we will be passing out the valentines that you made for your classmates yesterday."

The memory of that projects brought another memory to Arnold's mind, one that made him frown slightly.

For months, Arnold had been hopelessly infatuated on a crush with Ruth McDougall, a beautiful sixth grade girl with auburn hair, blue eyes and braces.

Arnold first saw Ruth at the annual Cheese Festival earlier that year and absolutely fell head-
over-heels for her.

He'd been so infatuated with her that he watched her from afar, and a few times, thought he'd seen her smiling at him in return.

Soon, his crush on Ruth turned into an obsession, with fantasies about Ruth having her own secret love for him too.

Arnold had just known that if he could talk to her somehow, he would find someone who had as much beauty and grace on the inside as she had on the outside, right?

Wrong.

Ruth P. McDougall turned out to be nothing but a self-absorbed snob who did little more than talk about her auburn hair and her classmates. She didn't even turn out to be very bright either, nor did she even know who Arnold was.

Arnold sighed, the memory of that disappointment still stung, as did the lesson that he learned from it: beauty is only skin deep.

'Well,' Arnold vowed to himself, 'I'll never let myself fall for someone who seems to act so sweet on the outside again.'

Still, even though losing his crush on Ruth still hurt slightly, somehow it wasn't so bad deep down.

He had his secret admirer to thank for that.

(Flashback)

Arnold struggled to maintain his balance as he appeared in front of "Cecile" holding a handful of quickly-pulled flowers in his grip.

She blinked at him, he looked down, then smiling slightly with embarrassment handed them to her. "Here."

The girl looked down at them a moment and said, almost in a whisper, "I thought you'd left."

They sat back down.

"N-no," Arnold said, distracted as the memory of his recent disappointment filled his mind. He looked down at the table, forlorn and depressed.

"Is something wrong, Arnold?" "Cecile" asked him, looking up at him thoughtfully.

"No, nothing, it's just that..." Arnold said at first, but then paused and sighed. He had to tell someone. "Have you ever noticed that sometimes when you think you like a person from far away, you find out they're not what you thought they were when you get up close?"

"Cecile" leaned forward, resting her arm on the table, the deep blue eye visible from her golden hair looking at him, with concerned attention.

"What do you mean?" She asked him.

Arnold continued, "Well, there's this girl I thought I liked, but then it turned out, when I got to know her, we had nothing in common."

He looked down, holding up his head on his hand, thinking about what a waste of time it had been blindly worshiping Ruth as he had. Arnold felt so confused, he thought that Ruth had been the girl he was looking for.
"Cecile" looked at him thoughtfully and said, "Well, maybe she is not the girl for you, maybe the girl for you is someone you didn't expect. After all, the most beautiful gift can come in the plainest box."

Arnold looked up at her, thinking about those words and said, thoughtfully, "You know, I think you're right."

The girl smiled at him warmly, the smile and the affection in her beautiful eye was made even softer by the soft glow of the candle on the center of the table. Romantic violin music played in the background.

Somehow, she made Arnold feel a lot better.

Arnold smiled slightly, "I'm really glad you came to visit me, I'm having a great time at dinner with you." There was nothing but truth to that, she was very pleasant company.

"Cecile" smiled more, somehow happier. "You are? Me too."

Then she seemed to come to a decision about something and looked up at him, her visible right eye brightened, "Arnold there's something I have to...I need to say."

Arnold looked up, curious.

She continued, "Arnold, I have to tell you, I really like you, and I have to know, do you like me too?"

She leaned forward more on the table.

Arnold blinked slightly and looked down at her thin, feminine hand, which lay next to his own on the table. Slowly, Arnold reached over to take her hand, but looked up slightly and saw her smile in an almost daydream-like way.

Then Arnold remembered that he still had another "date" he needed to talk to.

He stood up, "Um, would you excuse me one more time, there's something I kind-of have to take care of," he told her, taking her soft hand a moment before departing, never taking his eyes off of her.

(Flashback Ends)

Arnold sighed to himself as he remembered the way his secret admirer had helped him through one of the worst times in his life to date. He wished somehow that he could thank her, whoever she was. She was the sort-of person Arnold felt he was looking for, who seemed to look after him the way he looked after people when they felt sad.

He looked down at the book of poems written by his anonymous secret admirer, opened it and read one of the poems to himself, smiling.

'She's also a good writer too,' he thought idly to himself, blushing slightly as he remembered that he was the object of these love struck poems and thoughts.

Ms. Slovak passed him a pile of valentine cards, all of whom seemed to be from every girl in the classroom.

Arnold looked at them all, Rhonda, Sheena, Nadine, Phoebe...he stopped. There were five cards here. The last one was unsigned. It was plain with a red heart on the front. There was only one girl left in class it could possibly be from.

Arnold felt his stomach turn slightly as he turned his head to look at the desk a few rows behind him.

Helga Pataki looked up at him, scowled and beared her teeth menacingly at him.

He turned quickly and sighed, wondering if he should read the valentine card, or not. Most of his protective instincts told him it was some sort-of trick, or another way for Helga to insult him.

His mind's eye visualized the words: "Dream on, football-head" written harshly in black letters with a skull underneath.

He was about to put it aside, unread, but then the memory of the previous night came to him and he heard his secret admirer say clearly, "The most beautiful gift can come in the plainest box."

Arnold sighed, what did he have to lose.

He opened the card, which had been done fairly neat, and saw the inscription, written neatly in a spot where about a dozen other inscriptions had been clearly erased.

It said simply: HAPPY VALENTINES DAY, ARNOLD,FROM HELGA

She'd even drawn a small, pink bow next to her name.

Arnold blinked, surprised. He didn't expect anything nice at all. Sure it was somewhat plain, but the fact that she'd put her differences aside, and written him a valentine card at all, was amazing.

He smiled to himself, just like when she got his hat back, got the money for the float on Founder's Day and saved him from the flooding greenhouse, Helga somehow found a way to surprise him, again.

Later on after class, everyone was getting up to go to lunch, but Arnold stopped at the doorway.

Gerald noticed and asked, "Are you coming, man?"

"I will Gerald, I just need to take care of something first," Arnold told his best friend.

Gerald shrugged and walked out, smiling when he saw Phoebe waiting outside for Helga. Phoebe smiled back shyly.

Arnold walked over to Helga's desk, where she was looking at one of her text books intently, whispering something Arnold couldn't quite hear...for a moment, he thought he heard her whisper his own name.

"Helga?" He asked, softly.

Helga looked up from her book, which she shut quickly with a loud bang, her blue eyes wide with surprise. "Arnold!" Then, just as swiftly as it came, her surprise wore off and she looked shook her head. She looked back at him, with her usual scowl on her face. She stood up, towering over him and shouted, "Stop creeping up on me, 'football-head'!"

Arnold blinked nervously, he hadn't meant to surprise her like he did. "Sorry Helga. I didn't mean to startle you, or anything, but I just wanted to tell you, thanks for the Valentine card. That was very nice of you."

Helga looked at him a moment, then simply blew some air between her teeth. "Yeah, well, no big deal, it was just something I did for class, so don't start thinking I did it cause I actually like you, or anything, bucko."

Arnold smiled slightly and said, "Right Helga, whatever you say."

As they walked to the doorway together, Helga asked him, looking out the corner of her eye, "So, how was your Valentine's Day, 'hair-boy'?"

Arnold, ignoring the name she'd called him, smiled to himself at the memories of last night and responded, "It was...interesting."

He turned to look at Helga, "So, how was yours?"

Helga smiled to herself also, "Oh, it was interesting too..." She then looked at Arnold and added, "Not that it's any of your business, Arnold-o." She stomped off out of the classroom.

Arnold was amazed. For a moment there, he thought Helga sounded happy also. He smiled to himself. 'She can be annoying sometimes, rude, even a bit mean, but for some reason, I can't stay mad at her for very long,' he mused to himself about his childhood arch nemesis.

Arnold went over to his desk, gathered up his things, including the pink book, the letter from Cecile and Helga's valentine card, which he subconsciously added to the things belonging to his secret admirer.
'Oh well,' he thought as he went to his locker. 'Maybe someday I'll figure out why?'

The End

Man is "football-head" dense, or what? LOL! -DarthRoden (a.k.a. Carl)