A/N: My first HA! fic. Please be gentle! I own none of the characters. Reviews greatly appreciated. - Sky.
Phoebe Hyerdahl sat on a bench in the playground of PS118. All around her she could hear the familiar chatter of kids laughing and joking with one another, the echoing thuds from the kickball square, the screams of the older girls involved in naughty games of kiss chase. She smiled. This was when she was happiest, this was her calm. The world around her was so busy and yet she sat motionless, only her legs swinging back and forth where she was too short to reach the ground. Recess was a serene time for her, when she managed to snatch the time alone. No one went to bother her, no one wanted to disturb the most intelligent girl in the class. They knew she was thinking, deeply about whatever, homework the majority assumed. Her best friend, Helga G. Pataki, knew otherwise. She alone knew exactly how much there was under the surface of Phoebe, but she had stayed home today, struck down by the flu and rendered speechless by the very same. She had phoned Phoebe that morning, and croaked at her in a very threatening manner not to ask Mr. Simmons to send her homework out.
She placed the book she was pretending to read face down on the bench. Recess would be ending soon, and she wanted to spend the last few minutes looking around at the classmates who she adored more than they could ever know. Rhonda and her clique, walking around as though they owned the place but being just as frail as everyone else on the inside. Harold, Stinky and Sid, class clowns in her eyes, crouched on the floor around a chalked circle. They had been playing marbles, but now Sid and Stinky were searching for Sid's "Eliminator", which Harold had swallowed and was not admitting to. Dancing around by the four sqaures were Sheena and Eugene, Sheena with her oh so conservative values and Eugene, brimming with optomism despite being the world's biggest jinx. And speaking of optomism there was Arnold, sitting next to Gerald on the swings. Gerald Johanssen, she was still on the road to figuring him out. She could feel the warmth spread from her toes to her cute yellow scrunchie whenever he passed by, but her shyness and her uncertainty were her most crippling features, and she just couldn't take the next step. And then there was Arnold. She would never tell a soul, but deep down inside she hated him.
The bell rang, signalling the end of recess and the fourth grade class trooped back inside. After noisily scrabbling back to their desks, with more fuss than was really necessary, Mr. Simmons pulled down the world map which hung over the top of the blackboard and began their afternoon geography lesson. As the whold class scribbled down the names of cities in Africa that only Phoebe had ever heard of, Phoebe herself shifted uncomfortably in her chair. The weather outside had turned bitter in the middle of the week, and the cold was starting to get down her throat and into her lungs. She did not want to catch the flu that had enveloped Helga. Even if it was the weekend, there was a chance that she still might not be well enough to go back to school on Monday. She realised this was a goody-goody attitude, but she enjoyed school, she loved learning and she didn't care who knew it. She coughed politely and continued copying the names down in her extra neat handwriting.
Phoebe found that she had a slight headache developing towards the end of the lesson, but she carried on diligently anyway. The gaps between her polite coughs had become less and less, and the coughing itself was turning into a slight hacking. Her eyes began to water so much that she found she could not focus, so she allowed herself a few minutes break and stared at the back of Arnold's head for a little while, which was free of spitballs for a change. She didn't mean to hate him, she really didn't. In fact, she often considered herself to be one of the most well spirited people in the class, trying to see the good in everyone. But despite the fact that Arnold was the epitome of good, warm and friendly, there was just something about him that Phoebe couldn't stand. He was so perfect, so good, so always damn well right. She was caught unawares by a particually loud and violent cough, forgetting to cover her mouth and spraying the back of Arnold's head. He turned around to face her.
"Ooops, sorry Arnold," she said genuinely, in her sweet voice. She didn't like him, admittedly, but she wanted to and she wasn't in the business of being mean to anyone.
"That's ok," Arnold said with an accomdating smile. "Are you ok Phoebe?"
"Yes, Phoebe, are you feeling alright?" interjected Mr. Simmons. "Do you want to go to the nurse's office?"
"No thank you Mr. Simmons, I'm perfectly fine, but would it be alright if I stepped out to get a drink of water?"
"Of course Phoebe, and don't hesitate to tell me if you change your mind about the nurse." Phoebe slipped off her chair and walked to the door. Arnold shot her a warm smile as she left, and her insides burned with guilt. It wasn't right for her to dislike him, he was such a nice guy. She tiptoed down the halls, her tiny footsteps echoing louder than she would have liked. She stopped at the fountain leaned over to drink. For a second she was overtaken by dizziness, and slipping forward a little she managed to drench the left side of her hair. Phoebe cursed in Japanese and set off to the girl's toilets to dry herself.
When she arrived home later that day, Phoebe's headache had all but disappeared, and even her coughing had quietened down. Maybe it wasn't the flu catching up on her, maybe a slight chill had just crept down her chest. Nevertheless, her father gave her some Japanese herbal remedies that he said would 'nip it in the bud', and Phoebe decided to drink her special teas upstairs in her room while she got started on the weekend's homework assignments.
Midway through the poem she was writing for English, she heard the phone ringing from downstairs. She continued with her homework and let her mother answer.
"Phoebe!" he mother shouted from downstairs, "It's Helga for you!"
"Thank you mother!" she called back, and reached over to pick up the extension in her room. "Hello?" She heard the click of her mother replacing the receiver downstairs.
"Hey Pheebs," Helga said. Phoebe smiled.
"Hi Helga," she said cheerily. "You've got your voice back I see."
"Oh yeah, cleared up a treat as soon as Miriam phoned the school and told them I wouldn't be in today." Phoebe giggled along with Helga. "Look, I can't go out tonight, I've got the pretence to keep up, but do you wanna come out for ice cream tomorrow?"
"Ice cream?" Phoebe repeated in a sly voice.
"Yeah, ice cream," Helga said, sensing Phoebe's mental suspicions and aggressively bulldozing over them. "You know, cold stuff that tastes good." Phoebe stopped making implications about Helga's use of the phrase 'ice cream' straight away. It wasn't fair for her to make light of something Helga was so passionate about.
"I'd love to Helga," she said sweetly.
"Cool. Be round yours about three?" Helga may have been the bossy one of the outfit, but Phoebe loved the way Helga walked her everywhere, but graciously went home by herself after dropping Phoebe off. She knew that Phoebe had a slight fear of the dark, even though Phoebe had never mentioned it. Whenever Phoebe slept over at Helga's she always left her table lamp on, no questions asked.
"Excellent, bye Helga," said Phoebe, and she replaced the receiver.
The next day Helga arrived at Phoebe's way ahead of schedule. She seemed bubbly and nervous to Phoebe, as though she had drunk a whole pot of coffee during exam week. She rang Phoebe's doorbell continuously until Phoebe answered, and danced around her as they were walking along, wringing her hands together and making strangled noises. "Helga are you, er, ok?" Phoebe said tentively, worried that Helga might bite her head off.
"Yeah, fine, why wouldn't I be fine?" said Helga, her eyes dancing around the neighbourhood and looking anywhere but at Phoebe. They continued a few more paces along the street. "Ok, maybe I'm not fine," Helga blurted out.
"Really? What's wrong Helga?" said Phoebe, her voice laced with concern.
"Well, you see the thing is, it's like this, and," she was looking around wildly now, as though checking no one was about. Eventually she just swallowed and shook her head. "Never mind."
"Do you want to go somewhere else? Like, to the park or something?" Helga nodded silently, still looking around her like she was about to be ambushed. They walked to the park, through the mass of kids playing frisbee or flying kites, through the parents watching their toddlers play in the sand box. They sat down on a bench, dripping with moisture due to being next to the fountain.
"Aw criminy, that's just perfect!" cursed Helga, jumping up and wiping her hands over her pink dress, trying to get the water off. Phoebe remained seated, guessing that it wasn't going to get any worse. Helga accepted the same thing and sat back down. "So what's wrong Helga?" Phoebe asked timedly.
"Well, it's not so much that there's something wrong, just lately I've been feeling... I don't really know how to put it, I've just been feeling-"
"Like you could really go for some ice cream?" Phoebe said, finishing her sentence for her.
"Yeah," said Helga, slumping back in her seat, somewhat deflated. "I mean, I'm just sick of being such a freak, you know? I'm so mean and horrible and there's no way he'd-" Helga paused here and took a deep breath. She'd never outright told Phoebe how she felt about Arnold, even if Phoebe was her best friend. It was her secret, one that she needed to keep, but while it had once kept her sane it was now starting to drive her crazy. "He's never going to like me for who I am, is he? Not when I'm in the shadow of Little Miss Perfect." She scowled Lila's nickname.
Phoebe sighed, and started to swing her legs in that way she always did. She noticed how Helga's feet touched the ground, but didn't know why it mattered. "Have you ever thought that maybe he isn't all that great?" Phoebe chanced bravely, not using Arnold's name just the way Helga hadn't. "I mean he's always so annoyingly good and right and he's so perfect himself. Maybe he and Lila are perfectly suited, they can go galivanting around the country saving puppies fom wells and feeding the ignorant." Phoebe was really starting to warm up now. "And he's so optomistic all the time, nothing ever goes wrong in his world, and he'd never break the rules, would he?" Phoebe had gotten to her feet in her anger. "And how can one boy be so dense to the lives of everyone around him! Oh no, everything will be ok for him! Everything!" She breathed heavily, and then modestly sat back down, shocked at her outburst. Helga was staring at her in astonishment.
"I, er, never knew you felt that way about him Pheebes," Helga said weakly.
"Neither did I," Phoebe whispered, well aware of the obstacle she had just placed between herself and her best friend.
When Helga got home that evening she was still reeling from what had happened in the park. The walk home had been one of the most awkward things Helga had ever experienced. She had tried, for Phoebe's sake, to try and gloss over what Phoebe had said, she had even tried to agree. Arnold was a goody two shoes, he was cringingly optomistic, but every word she had said had felt like someone was plunging a traitorous knife into her own heart. She didn't feel anything that Phoebe did. She loved Arnold's enthusiasm, she admired the way he always felt compelled to help everyone out, he was just breath-takingly amazing. And she felt so much for him, she couldn't betray him to Phoebe, even if he had no idea how she felt. When she had said goodbye to Phoebe from the Hyerdahl stoop that night, her insides boiled with anger toward her best friend.
Her little pink book had been cracked open once more that night, she had wanted to pen the most heart felt poem to Arnold yet, one that truely expressed what he meant to her, not the half-baked she had muttered to Phoebe. Phoebe herself had backtracked as they walked, trying to say that maybe he wasn't that bad, but then eventually confessing that she couldn't really explain why she hated him. Helga paused, her pen an inch from the clean white paper. Inspiration grabbed her, and she pushed the nib down defiantly.
Arnold, my secret love,
Arnold, my one and only,
Arnold, if you could only see me,
Instead I lie here lonely.
Your eyes are distracted,
You are taken in by her,
A girl who's nothing like me,
The Miss Perfect that is Lila.
She will never love you,
The way I want you so,
You are my world, my love,
I wish I could let you go.
But forever I am trapped by you,
And you will never notice me,
Are you as great as I believe?
An angel has delivered me.
Today my best friend told me,
You are not worth my time,
Could she be right about you?
Will you ever be mine?
Tonight I release you Arnold,
Tonight I set myself free,
No longer will I long for you,
You do not deserve me.
Helga dropped her pen onto her bed, stunned at the words she had written. Phoebe's words had really gotten to her, and maybe she was right. She had spent her life longing for Arnold, and he had never so much as looked her way. Of course, she knew she was to blame. She had been the one who had shunned him and pushed him away. Insulted him when he was only trying to help, betraying her heart and digging her own emotional grave. Well, now she was done. She would never let herself be nice to him, and he would never look past Lila. Helga Pataki stood up, walked over to her closet, and dismantled eight years of obsession.
A few blocks over, the smartest girl in P.S.118 finally managed to put two and two together. She jumped up and reached for her phone, hoping against hope that it wasn't too late.