I guess I'm doing this right. Here's a disclaimer! I OWN NOTHING!!! *sob*

He wondered about things sometimes.

It was she who occupied his rambling thoughts the most, though. Her image seemed to slip in and out of his consciousness when he least expected it, often throwing a random comment at his utopian opinions. Though most were as negative as possible, he learned to trust them. She WAS very intelligent, after all...

"Hell-O!!!" He was immediately and unceremoniously slammed back down to Earth by a hand waving impatiently in his face. "C'mon Football-Head, stay with me here! No WONDER you're failing--"

"Am not, Helga! I still have a D--"

"Oh give it a rest! You're obviously heading in the general direction. Criminy! Look, I agreed to help you (couldn't STAND to see ya beggin') with your trig homework, but we're getting nowhere when you keep spacing out like that."

"Fine... I'll try harder. So, can you explain that formula one more time?"

Ever since their best friends had started dating, who knows how long ago, Arnold and Helga had been "forced" to spend more time together. Neither really seemed to mind, though they did tease each other to no end. Helga's bad attitude had lingered, but wasn't as irrational as her younger years-- she now seldom resorted to violence, Old Betsy retired from its long battle against the chuckle-heads she had been forced to be in contact with (when you didn't count Brainy, of course), and her friendlier side was shown more openly to those she cared about. However, the biting sarcasm was as strong as ever, and if needed, would shut the meanest enemy's mouth in seconds flat if he knew what was good for him. Helga's appearance had changed much too, her face had softened (Rhonda and OLga finally had to bribe her to accompany them to the beauty salon to remove that 'horrifying unibrow'-much screaming, cursing, and fist-shaking was involved as the wax was violently ripped off) and her string-bean frame of earlier days matured. Arnold had matured as well, his football-shaped head less overwhelming. He had grown taller and stronger, yet still stocky compared to the rest of his classmates. He and Helga were JUST about the same height--he never admitted to being shorter no matter how many times Helga tried to convince him. Since Phoebe and Gerald were spending more and more time together alone, Arnold and Helga considered themselves best friends. When it came to Helga, Arnold seemed to have developed a sixth sense. Whenever Helga and her dad had had an especially draining argument, Arnold seemed to call at the perfect time to console her. And when Arnold found the boarding house way too out-of-control, as it often became, Helga had the perfect knack for bumping into him on the way to the park. Many sunsets, evenings, and thoughtful conversations were spent strolling through the park or just sitting on the docks. In this way, the two blondes got to know each other inside and out. As each year brought them closer and closer, they now could hardly imagine life without the other.

Arnold listened to Helga with rapt attention at first, but slowly his mind began to wander back to that comfortable dream-like state. Instead of concentrating on the math problem, his eyes wandered up to her face. Her long blonde hair, tied up in a ponytail, complete with ribbon, framed her face and rippled down her back, glistening when she moved. Her deep blue eyes glinted with a hidden light every so often, hinting at a blazing, passionate flame deep within her soul. Only in her most vulnerable state could that flame become totally revealed. And NOBODY was about to see that side of her, not if she could help it! But all the same, he was beginning to crack the code of that seemingly impenetrable mask, the wall no one had yet scaled, slowly discovering all the hidden mysteries within.

"OW!" This time he was flicked on the nose. "You didn't HAVE to do that, you know."

"Oh, yes I did! You had that stupid, sappy look on your face like you used to get with LIla back in the fourth grade. Don't TELL me you're still not over Little Miss Perfect yet!"

"Come ON Helga, you KNOW I can't stand Lila. I don't buy that fake crap anymore, well, not since 6th grade anyway. That's when I overheard her motives to lead me on at the school dance, remember?" He laughed, wondering why she still brought up the subject of Lila.

She chuckled. "It took you TWO WHOLE YEARS to figure out that she was evil, Hair Boy? Man, and I thought three seconds were long enough for me to conclude that she wasn't all sugar and honey on the inside."

"Nobody's perfect. If I recall correctly, Pinky, you pull off a few dirty scams on your own time."

He watched her as she chuckled mischievously. He was very relieved that he was on Helga's good side now. As the years had passed, her pranks had grown with her. If somebody was spotted at the high school covered in a nasty green sludge, it was Helga. If a car was sighted on the roof, Helga. If someone discovered that a laxative had been planted in their lunch a little too late-you guessed it, Helga. If anything was to be feared, it was her Terrible Wrath. But Arnold still was hit with a few pranks now and then. These times, he was all too happy to retaliate. The do-goody side of him had somewhat receded into the past as he grew older, not completely disappearing, but not as strong either. And you had to be crazy to keep ignoring pranks from Helga all the time. You'd snap within a few weeks.

"Remember back in the fourth grade when you pretended you were blind?" he asked suddenly.

"Yeah, that was the one time you actually pulled off a good one-upper on me, Football-Head!" she laughed. "Never would've suspected perfect little Arnold to throw a blind girl into a swimming pool."

"I've gotten you back a few more times than just ONCE!" his face took on a look of mock hurt as he crossed his arms in indignation. "Give me some credit! Remember the rubber rat back in middle school?"

"THAT took it a little TOO far yutz. You know they scare me even more than Curly does.twisted little freak." She shuddered.

"So? It's not like you let up at all on anyone else!" He poked her in the side, grinning.

"Don't start that with me Football-Head, you know you can't win!" she laughed, poking him back. Pretty soon, neither was willing to back down, both gasping for air, they were laughing so hard.

"Hey Shortman! You two doing okay up here, or do I need to stay a while and supervise?"

"Grandpa!!" Both Arnold and Helga's attention snapped to Grandpa who was leaning inside the doorframe, both of their faces a bright shade of red. They had no idea how long he'd been standing there.

"I was just pulling your legs," Grandpa cackled with a knowing smile. "Just don't get too touchy-feely, wouldn't have to get the hose out!"

"GRANDPA!!!"

"OKAY, OKAY, I get the hint! Just brought you two some milk and cookies that Pookie baked. I tested one on the way up, they're surprisingly edible this time. mmm. oatmeal raisin."

They called their thanks after him on his way down the stairs. "Have fun 'studying!'" the old man called, his cackling carried all the way down the hall.

Helga had taken one of the cookies and began to thoughtfully munch it. She looked very nervous. "Man, you have some crazy old fossils for relatives... Kinda funny how I'd still trade you for 'em any day..."

"You know, I think trig can wait," said Arnold after eating his cookie. He stood up to put his jacket on and began to ascend his ladder to the skylight of his room. "Come on, let's go for a walk. I need to get out and clear my brain."

"No kiddin'. You got enough cob-webs up there to ensnare a fly with a 10 foot wingspan," came the inevitable sarcastic reply from behind as she climbed up behind him, following him onto the roof.

"You have such a way with words," he laughed. They climbed down Arnold's fire escape, Arnold offering his hand to Helga, being the gentleman he was, as she reached the last rung.

"Hey, I can take care of myself Bucko. I'm not THAT delicate!" she grinned. "Save the Boy Scout act for little old ladies."

They shuffled down the sidewalk, talking seldom, just enjoying being in each other's company. Now and then, when the other wasn't looking, they'd sneak a few side glances. The fall of their junior year was especially beautiful, but it was not the leaves that Arnold was thinking about. The crisp cool air flowed about their bodies, making them pull their jackets closer around themselves. When they reached the park, the sun had just begun to set, making the water sparkle under the arched bridge. Here they came to a stop, leaning over the rail and staring off into the multi- colored sky.

"This is one of my favorite inspirations when it comes to writing." She couldn't help venturing a slight glance at her most favorite one. "I love it here." Helga sighed, her hand cradling her cheek, the sun making her eyes shine with their full radiance. Arnold found himself running his hand up and down his left arm nervously.

"Me too." Arnold said, looking in Helga's direction. He suddenly was filled with an emotion, one that had been suppressed lately, but had become more and more difficult to force down over time. He had always hoped. no, she couldn't have felt the same. but all those times he caught her staring at him. oh, she was beautiful. why shouldn't he just go for it?

"Um, Arnold, what're you staring at me for? Do I have something on my face, because if you keep standing there gawking at me like that-"

"No, Helga, your face is perfect." She looked surprised, it was now or never while he had her off her guard. "Actually, YOU'RE perfect, perfect." Helga looked dazed. "I. I. I don't know how to say it-I mean I think I just realized." After all these years, you sure can't talk to the girl, he thought, oh what the heck, might as well go for it-

He leaned in and kissed her gently, wondering when the slug to the stomach would come. Yep, he could see it now, his bruised and bloodied excuse of a corpse floating down the shallow stream, having been shoved off the narrow bridge. When nothing happened, he almost gasped with surprise as she returned his kiss. He was in heaven, nothing had ever felt as satisfying as this.

Simultaneously, they pulled away about an inch, looking into each other's eyes and at the same time, "I love you. You love me? YES!!!"

This time, they leaned in and kissed each other passionately, breaking only to gasp for air. Arnold vaguely noticed he was clinging to Helga, she likewise to him. He felt like laughing and crying at the same time, but continued to kiss her, running his hands up and down her back. He realized this was what he had been craving, pining for, for all these years. He wanted it to last for an eternity.

When they finally stopped, the sun had already set and bright (as they could get considering light-pollution) stars were twinkling in the sky. Helga looked so serene, standing there in the starlight, for a change. Arnold was blissfully happy. Suddenly she snapped out of it and whispered, "Wow. You don't know how long I've waited for that."

Arnold was aghast. "How long? I thought you stopped liking me in middle school! That's when I found out I had a crush on you. I was about to give up hope--"

"Oh, don't worry Football-Head," she was slowly coming back to her old self, a smirk across her face. "I've loved you since I was three, never wavered there."

Wow... three? "Helga, uh. there's something I've been meaning to ask you." He was still holding her. "Will. will you... be my girlfriend?"

"Um, Arnold?"

"Yeah?" A pause that seemed to last an eternity... Oh please oh please...

"DOI!!! YOU STUPID FOOTBALL-HEAD!!!!! WHAT DID YOU EXPECT ME TO SAY AFTER THAT EPISODE!?!? NO, IT WAS ALL IN THE HEAT OF THE MOMENT???? OF COURSE!!!" She grabbed him by the shirt collar and yanked him towards her, laughing and kissing him at the same time. He wondered when this dream would be over, when reality would slap him in the face and wake him up as it did so many times before, but it never came. There was only Helga, Helga in his arms, Helga's hair, Helga's face, Helga's eyes looking into his own. He couldn't ask for more.

They stood on that bridge for hours, looking at the stars and talking and kissing. Their conversation was the deepest that it had ever been that night, many secrets were revealed that may have been sealed away for years.

All too soon it seemed, they found themselves standing at the bottom of Helga's stoop, not wanting to say good-bye. Neither knew how late it was, but they didn't care, now that they had finally made a connection.

"Man, Bob'll sure kill me if he catches me sneaking in at this time of night," she chuckled. "Who woulda thought, me and ol' Football-Head..."

"I know. I bet Gerald'll keel over when he finds out--"

"Uh, Arnold, could we... I mean do we have to--"

"Tell everybody? Not if you don't want to. I mean, we could just pretend to be enemies... I mean friends, or... whatever we were before."

"We'll just have to keep 'em guessing then! I'm sure everyone pictures us as two completely insane freaks of nature by now."

"One of us anyway." Arnold coughed, looking in the other direction and vaguely pointing at Helga.

Rolling her eyes, she crossed her arms huffily. "Oh PLEASE, I only need a shrink for my problems. You're the one who's gonna need reconstructive surgery for that terribly oblong head of yours. How'd it get that way anyway? Unfortunate meeting with a steam roller?" She lightly ruffled his untamable hair.

"Yeesh, you really have to lay it on thick, don't you? Oh well, I'm used to it now I guess..." he grinned.

"Yeah, all that 'looking on the bright side' is bad for you, makes you soft... And if we keep all this talking up till morning, we'll BOTH have Big Bob to answer to... Not a happy prospect," she grumbled in disappointment.

"Hey, I'm not going anywhere. We could go hang out at the boardwalk or something tomorrow."

"Yeah. And if I'm not mistaken, I think we have a rock-skipping tournament that was put on hold last week. Ready to lose?"

"In a parallel universe maybe."

"Is that a challenge?"

"You bet!"

"You're on!"

"How much?"

"I lose, I do your trig homework for a week. You lose, you have to treat me to dinner at Che Paris." Man, there was that smirk again! Guess he was gonna have to get an advance on his allowance...

"Deal..." he agreed half-heartedly, not wanting to back down and sound chicken. More mocking would follow if he did--he had to hold on to a bit of his pride! A thought suddenly came to mind, "Um, you wouldn't happen to own the mate to a single red, high-heeled shoe, would you?" His eyes narrowed skeptically.

"HOW DID YOU FIND OUT?!" she quickly covered her mouth, her eyes wide in embarassment.

There was that annoying half-lidded smile again. "Oh, I've pretty much suspected all along that it was you, although Grandpa DID have to help me out on that one before I guessed. Oh, and thanks for the Snowboots too. That records guy can be bribed both ways, you know."

"You always were pretty dense, huh?" she laughed nervously, her hand rubbing the back of her neck.

He chuckled. After a moment, "It probably sounds pretty corny, but I feel like I'm in a dream." Arnold sighed.

"Me too. but hey, dreams can't last forever, gotta wake up some time, right?"

"Nah, not if you hold onto them," he stepped towards her and hugged her tightly, inhaling the scent of her hair with vigor. He pulled back and kissed her softly one last time, whispered, "I love you," in her ear, and she walked slowly up her stairs.

Hand on the door handle, she looked back, "I love you too, Football-Head, uh, Arnold." she grinned sheepishly. "Old habit..."

"Oh, I've actually grown fond of the name, wouldn't feel right if you gave up that classic!" He felt himself falling for her more and more every second, his famous half-lidded smile plastered to his face. He wondered how on Earth it had taken him so long to recognize that the girl right under his nose was so right, so fitting for him, a perfect match.

"Well, I guess I'll see ya when I see ya Football-Head. And don't forget about our deal!"

"I won't. See ya Helga." He began to walk away down the sidewalk. He glanced over his shoulder and waved. She waved back, smirking and watching him, then disappeared into her house.

He didn't care about the endless teasing he would receive when he arrived home... He was on cloud nine...