Burning Love by King Cheetah

I own none of the characters in HEY ARNOLD, But if I did, this is the sort of stuff I'd do with them.
Rated PG-13 cause I felt like it, and some characters might end up nude later. We'll see...

This is a new story which is a side story off of 'Nadine, Nadine' and the 'Trip Wire Hearts' story arcs.
It's also a bridging element between 'Nadine, Nadine'
and 'Bug-A-Loo', featuring Hillwood's premier fun couple,
Nadine and Pea Pod Kid!

Thanks for reading!

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Somehow, the weather was a fitting preamble to the day ahead. Overcast and drizzling, the air was a hot, sticky soup that hungrily sought out any dry spot on the body for contact. Easter approached, and I couldn't help but compare Christ's tortured trek to Golgotha to my own impending task on this cheerless Saturday. Sighing, I whispered, "Let this cup pass from me..." as I gathered my car keys and the few small presents for Rhonda that Nadine and I had purchased the previous evening. A stylish hair barrette, a pair of audio book CD's, some quality chocolates. "Do you think she'll like these, Pea pod?" she asked with a hopeful little smile. I doubted she'd acknowledge their existence, but I smiled and assured Nadine that they were just what our friend needed. I was somewhat baffled to receive an early morning e-mail from Nadine asking me to meet her at the Wellington-Lloyd country home... the very place where Rhonda dwelled in self imposed exile. She would take a cab out and meet me there with a surprise for Rhonda. Ah well, if she'd happened upon a more fitting tribute than those we'd already gathered, who was I to impede her?

The whole affair struck me as being pointless in only the way tragedies tend to be; without rhyme or reason, serving no obvious end. A single oddly shaped piece in a 100,000 piece jigsaw puzzle, too small and irregular to make sense, but important to some greater whole. Rhonda's Christmas Masque was to have been THE social event of the junior year of high school for her and the zenith of her reign as social diva. She'd wearied of the responsibility of throwing bigger and better bashes, and so, having groomed her best friend Lila Sawyer as her worthy successor, she'd throw this one last affair and retire into the cozy position of party attendee and Thaddeus Gamalthorpe's girlfriend. Grand as far as a teen dance could possibly be, invitations to the masque were jealously guarded and distributed with care. As all attendees were to enjoy anonymity, each invite had to have the recipients thumbprint on it, cross referenced with the guest list in Lila's laptop database, and the renting of a thumbprint scanner only added to the hype surrounding the affair. Every detail checked and double checked, all were prepared for a legendary event...

At the edge of town, I pulled off into an icehouse to gas up the fire bird and get a desperately needed drink. The gray pallor of the day seemed to deepen rather that clear, and I began to feel as if Rhonda was situated in the heart of Mordor. Admittedly, if Frodo Baggins would have had one ton of Pontiac's finest sports car wrapped around him, I daresay HIS grim task would have been a tad easier. I sit for a short time behind the wheel, just trying to collect myself. Were we but sport for idle gods, like Odysseus and his tortured return to his home beset on all sides by the whims of Olympus. On with it man, no time for self-pity. As I walk towards the store, my eye catches sight of a large green mid period Packard sitting by one of the pumps, which after a moment I recognize to belong to none other than Arnold. As I reached the door, out he stepped, chili-cheese dog in mid gulp. Gathering himself, we shake hands and exchange banal pleasantries before he finally asked, "So, what brings you out on such a craptastic day as this?"

"Oh, um... Nadine and I are going to pay Rhonda a little visit. A few small gifts and whatnot..." All of the joy drains from his face and is replaced by... pity. "...oh, I see... yikes... um, well then, uh... please tell her I said hi, okay? I hope she's feeling better..." he says, green eyes downcast. I agree to, then let him off the hook as I retreat into the store for my own purchases. Yes, I'll give her your best. You and all the other goddamned cowards who can't be bothered to make the trip and show her the smallest bit of actual affection. You who freely enjoyed the good times with her now scurry under the refrigerator like cockroaches in the bright glare of troubled times. Arnold above all others disappoints me in this matter, as I SO thought better of him than to likewise shun Rhonda. Granted, he lost more than most of those who survived, but still...

Thankfully, Lila and Gerald are in the habit of visiting Rhonda as much as Nadine and I, and this in some ways makes our task all the easier.

The guest list for the masque had finally stabilized at 300 people, and as such the affair required a bigger hall, one in the downtown coming highly recommended. By all accounts, a great establishment run by a reputable company. The hall was a roomy structure with a good sound system and laudable acoustics, and was set up and all made ready in record time. The night of the grand affair came and as the fates would have it, I came down with a record case of stomach flu, and was in no shape to attend. Nadine, ever the angel of mercy, made her apologies to Rhonda and stayed by my side that evening. A day does not pass that I do not thanks those powers greater than us all that we missed that night, not for any sense of my own wellbeing, but rather for Nadine's. I cannot imagine dealing with her name on the list of injured or dead...

I was in no great hurry to get to this thankless task. The Wellington-Lloyds had exhausted all possible ways of saying thank you to those of Rhonda's friend's ceaseless efforts to comfort Rhonda in her despair, and we'd run out of ways to say that it was our pleasure, which in truth it was. Rhonda had always been... well, a bit of a bitch in grade school, and her close friendship with Nadine had always baffled me. But as grade school became high school, Rhonda matured and blossomed into a right proper young lady, and a joy to be with. Nadine maintained that she'd always seen this coming, but I chalked that up to a case of the cock taking credit for the sunrise.

And you know, had Nadine not so completely and utterly stolen my heart, it's not unimaginable that Rhonda and I... well... She was and is a valued friend, and given my nature, I have few that I hold so dear.

With a heavy sigh, I turned off the main highway and down the road towards Rhonda's country house.

On the matter of what exactly happened that night and why it had happened at all, there would be days of media hysteria and weeks of accusations. In the final analysis, the building was in a horrible state of upkeep, especially the electrical system, and a cascading series of bribes to building inspectors ensured that a collection of minor problems festered into a major one.

The resulting inferno that evening was caught on video by several people and the unending visual dirge on the evening news gazettes, served only to inflame public outrage. The subsequent scandal was earthshaking in Hillwood governmental circles and Mayor Dixie only just escaped with her political skin intact.

The fire had killed 28, and injured 91. Arnold, Tommy, and Thaddeus stayed behind to ensure all escaped the rampaging fire, which only claimed one of our number... El Curlito, Thaddeus Gamalthorpe. Evidently, he'd gone back inside one more time to make absolutely sure that Phoebe had escaped... An exceptional human being to the last.

Pulling into the cobblestone drive, the weather has further decided to make it's intentions clear, as now it's manner had turned surly and downright unpleasant, the drizzle becoming a hot, steady rain... and of course I'd neglected to fetch my umbrella before departing. Typical for this day... Once again I take a few moments to merely sit and brace myself for the coming task. Whether alone or in groups, it is always the same. The same flat, lifeless conversations. The same pleasant but forced cordiality from Rhonda. The same desperate attempts on our part to momentarily make her forget her loss...

Though deemed by all quarters to be absolutely blameless in the matter, Rhonda assumed full responsibility... especially for the death of Thaddeus. After several public apologies and attending every funeral of those taken by the tragedy, she sought to give succor to those she felt she'd harmed. Broken and lifeless, she retreated from all public life and settled here in the country house, a new ghost to be added to the myriad legends surrounding this ancient place. There is no describing the experience of watching someone whither away. Day upon day she dwelled here, no... more correctly, she lingered here. Living, but without life, she existed each day in a pathetic torpor, marking the moments 'til she joined Thaddeus in the afterlife, the full time house staff on constant suicide watch lest she hasten the process...

Brooke and Buckley Wellington-Lloyd are there as always to greet me, and I note without comment the ghastly effect Rhonda's downward spiral is having on them. Pale and haggard, they erect a facade of strength and confidence, in truth I think for each other more than anything. Our weekly salutations and pleasantries behind us, they're somewhat taken aback by Nadine's absence, but I'm quick to reassure them that she's merely tardy and not AWOL. Unfortunately, Lila was unable to make it out this week, so our visit is seen as all the more important.

Small talk exhausted, they lead me back to Rhonda's room. While normally housed upstairs, a game room on the first floor had been rebuilt into sumptuous living quarters for the most cherished item in the Wellington-Lloyd household. That this arrangement lessened the chance of Rhonda recreating the demise of Icarus, is never openly discussed. They are somewhat on edge this morning due in large part to some manner of odd behavior of late on Rhonda's part, though they are vague in their descriptions...

The effect on her friends was as pronounced as it was on anyone else. The fire coupled with El Curlito's death served to strain all relationships to the breaking point and them some, the saddest example being Arnold and Helga. In stark contrast to the watery terror that had served to cement the affections of Nadine and Brainy for a time, these two found that the other was too closely linked to the horrific moment. Their relationship became troubled, then fractured, and finally bitter. The breakup was both public and apocalyptic, ending with the two of them shrieking curses at each other in the tomblike silence of the very full cafeteria one rainy day late in March.

About a week ago, everyone began to notice that Helga seemed to have disappeared, and the whispered rumor was that she'd run away from home. Where to, no one knew, but I had my suspicions. Lila and Gerald seemed to go through a rough patch as well, but in the end managed to weather the storm, I think to everyone's relief. Arnold and Helga's romance was viewed as a constant on which the movements of stellar bodies could be measured, so to lose a second very beloved and public couple would have been complete ragnorok...

As her mother finishes introductions, her father nods to me, a lifetime of thanks in a single motion, and I enter Rhonda's flat. It is stunning in it's design and cunning in it's plan; every edge and curve of every surface crafted to reflect a cool soothing sense to the room. The furniture likewise was chosen with care to reflect a healing place for the one and only daughter of Brooke and Buckley.

As I entered, I saw Rhonda sitting in a chair across the room, looking out the large bay window at the gray world beyond, but oddly upbeat in stark contrast to ALL our previous visits. Still somewhat gaunt from her weight loss, her hair streaked with bands of gray and white, she seems much healthier this morning, there being new color to her cheeks and an eager smile on her lips.

"Morning lady fair! Would you by any chance be accepting guest right now?" I say as happily as I can manage. Looking over to me, her face brightens noticeably as she sees me. "Ronson! Oh thank goodness you're here! Did Thaddeus come with you? I wasn't sure if he had access to his father's car or not." she smiles brightly.

My throat almost clenches shut. Oh god no... Gathering myself, I smile weakly and say, "Ah... um, no... perhaps he'll be arriving when Nadine does..." and I instantly wish my tongue had popped off. What was I thinking saying that! Thaddeus was deader than Vanilla Ice's career, of course he wasn't coming... EVER.

"I talked to Thaddeus last night... " she's smiling as she flits about the room, "This has all been some horrible misunderstanding. He'll be here for lunch!"

I'm not quite sure exactly how to deal with her dementia, though I have to admit that she does indeed look better than I'd seen her in weeks. I'm distracted from my shock by some commotion out in the foyer, just as Brooke Wellington-Lloyd comes tumbling into the room almost in a panic, "D-Darling? Thaddeus is here to see you..." she beams through tear swollen eyes.

Good as her word, Thaddeus Gamalthorpe lopes into the room, cane supporting his right side. He is thinner, looking none the worst for wear, and a few signs here and there of small skin grafts, but it is indeed he. Rhonda is across the room and on him in a second...

As hard as it was to tear my eyes away from this incredible scene, I looked back and caught sight of Nadine in the doorway, looking just a little too pleased with herself. She sauntered in and gave me a sweet little kiss as I asked, "So then, you can raise the dead as well? Any other little hidden talents you possess that you'd care to spring on me before I give any more serious consideration to a future union between us?"

Nadine grinned broadly and put on a shocked expression, "Why Ronson Edward Tatum, is that a proposal of marriage I'm hearing? This is all so sudden! I need some time to think about it... okay, I'm yours." she grinned as she threw her arms around my neck. I turned my attention back to the dead man and his girlfriend. "El Curlito, your are an unending string of surprises, aren't you?" I smile.

"Oh baby, I just knew you couldn't be dead, I just knew it! The universe couldn't be so cruel..." whispered Rhonda between kisses.

Thaddeus looked at me with a tired smile and said, "Evidently, I've been in a coma in the burn ward for a few months. I was John Doe No.5... Some other poor bastard was misidentified as me..." he took a moment to nuzzle and hug Rhonda. "I really shouldn't be here, but Nadine told me that Rhonda REALLY needed to see me... If you think you guys are shocked, you should have seen my parents!" his grin was infectious.

"Dash it all, man! Why didn't you just tell us and we'd have come visited you there..." as I finished speaking, all the mirth evaporated from his expression.

"Um... I didn't want her to see me there... the hospital, an' all that. Y'know how it is. It's better that I came here." He closed his eyes and became lost in Rhonda once again.

Nadine and I retreated from the room to give Thaddeus and Rhonda some much-needed privacy, and joined the Wellington-Lloyds in the living room for a proper chat. This was so needed by all, and was uplifting in ways hard to describe. They agreed that they'd offer to cover Thaddeus' medical expenses, that being a small price to pay for bringing their daughter back from the brink of oblivion.

There was also talk of inviting him to stay in the guest bedroom for his recuperation time, not so much in thanks I think, as having him handy to cheer Rhonda, though I opined that his parents, while fond of the Wellington-Lloydes would no doubt want SOME amount of time with their resurrected son. I don't doubt that even with El Curlito back in the land of the living, Rhonda still had a ways to go to recover, but this was without a doubt a HUGE step forward.

My only regret was that the weather wasn't more accommodating, as fresh air and a good stroll in the park would have been the perfect capper on the reunion.

After a time, Nadine and I made our excuses and departed but agreed to dinner together with Rhonda and Thaddeus the following evening. Not yet noon, I was somewhat at a loss as to what to do with the rest of our day, though Nadine was quick to make several suggestions that might have granted us instant admission into the Hellfire Club. Sadly, I needed relaxation more than stimulation.

Gah! Why must she be such a wicked little tease with me?

We settled on lunch at Quizno's and a pair of large, hot toasted sandwiches serves well to shake off the last of the gloom this day was so intent on sharing. Between bites, I close my eyes in a silent prayer. From an event that took so much from so many, it was good to see so much given back. Nadine's hand touches mine and I realize that a tear or two has made a break for it. Laughing, I dab them away and consider our future.

As El Curito's death had caused so much strife, I can only hope his Lazarus impression will help heal those same rifts. Poor Arnold may be the one exception, I'm afraid... I make a mental note to spread the word of El Curlito's return that afternoon. A few e-mails, a few well placed phone calls and the entire school should be up to speed by Sunday evening.

"Don't forget Darling, we have dinner with the Gamalthorpes tomorrow, I think we start making plans now for someplace nice. Do you think we might be able to reserve a private room at Chez Paris?" Nadine asks as she finishes off her carrot cakelette.

"The Gamalthorpes, is it now? Has El Curlito popped the question?" I grin.

She treats me to one of those sly little smiles that never fails to double my blood pressure and says, "My sweet, sweet Pea Pod, do you REALLY think there's ANY chance what-so-ever that those two won't share a long and happy life together? Hmmm...? And I really do doubt Rhonda would try to keep her maiden name."

"Yes, I rather suppose that 'Wellington-Lloyd-Gamalthorpe' is a bit of a mouth full. Still, one might give some thought to that. Would you feel the need for a hyphenated name?" I ask innocently.

Again the look as she says, "I dunno, I might just like to try your name on without accessories. Nadine Tatum... It has a sweet ring to it. Sort of a sleek Bauhaus sensibility to it..." she smiles thoughtfully.

"Yes, agreed, but how do we convince my parents to adopt you?"

...and she punches on me all the way to the car. Ah, love...

THE END

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Shipping and Handling - Phoebe Heyerdahl (revised)

Oft when putting pen to parchment in the noble endevour of fanfic, one can tire after tale upon tale of the perfect Arnold and Helga romance and be tempted to tales of a few of the lesser stars of the show, and who better that Helga's best friend and accomplice to numerous count of breaking and entering, Phoebe Heyerdahl. Only daughter to Kiyo and Rheba Heyerdahl, she is a bright, studious, but socially awkward nine year old who until the introduction of Lila Sawyer, was the smartest forth grader of PS 118. For stories set contemporainiously with the show, Phoebe will no doubt be found aiding Helga in her latest scheme or prank. But if one were to spin the clock forward and set your stories in middle or high school, how might Phoebe turn out?

1) "Wonder Bras only work SO well..."

Phoebe, meet puberty. Being a slim, petite young thing, it's easy to imagine her staying that way into her teens... or her thirties. This has lots of story potential both tragic and comic, from ugly duckling stories to Rhonda's nitwit attrempts to "fix" her. The show as is shows Phoebe as somewhat insecure and that would go along way to explain her friendship with Helga. Meek, mousey Phoebe, secure in the personal safty zone of Helga, whom no other forth grader will cross. To add insult to injury, Helga would probably be drop dead gorgeous in high school. Poor Phoebe...

2) "I was a genius... in fifth grade."

I myself was a straight "A" student until sixth grade, when I hit the wall and began my academic carreer as a straight "C" student until graduation. And I wasn't the only one. So what if brilliant Phoebe finds that sometime around sixth or seventh grade that she's no longer having such an easy time of it, and adding to her compusive need to excell, a tougher course load in high school could tip her over the edge. Goth Phoebe, anyone? Suddenly her world is SO unfair and no one understands what she's going through. Or you could have her trying to compensate through social connections (Rhonda's righthand girl) or other outlets like sports(girljock). Lots of pathos potential.

3) "You're my best friend... just not in public."

Relationship going into high school are a tricky thing even in the best of times, but for Phoebe I can see it being especially choppy. First off, I see NO future for Phoebe and Gerald, and evidently the shows writers agree. The fifth season of Hey Arnold show few instances of Phoebe and Gerald together (in contrast to the previous seasons), and Gerald is noticably absent from a few episodes. Phoebe's Little Problem was rather startling in this regard in that not only was Gerald not making any effort to help Phoebe deal with her social stigma, Arnold WAS (Hmmmm, romance in the air?). And Helga will probably go from protecter to buddy, or maybe not even that. So then, what new friendships and/or romances might she have in her future?

Outside of introducing new characters, it's fairly easy to see her hooking up with any of the current female cast, be it as Girl Friday or BFF. She'd share Nadine's inquisitive, natural scientific curiosity, or Sheena's social sensibilities, or Rhonda's gregarious social climbing mania, or oddly enough Lila's oh-so-sweet company (who is alledgedly as good a student as Phoebe, so she might just enjoy having someone on her level). Helga may still be there, though it'd be easy to see the dynamic of their relationship changing (as I'll cover in"S&H -- Helga G. Pataki, I see Helga following the same academic scorched earth policy that Olga did before her, and as such will not being looking to Phoebe as an intellectual resource.).

As for the guys, Park, Robert, and Joey are almost blank slates onto which you could create any sort of boyfriend for her that you like, and all three seem like decent enough fellows. Sid might clean up pretty good, and Phoebe might just be the thing in his life to calm him down a bit (look for A LOT of Sid/Phoebe pairings in upcoming stories). Curly might just turn out to be less of a loon in high school, evolving instead into class clown, but would definately prove that opposites attract. Harlow used Lorenzo to good effect in the "What the Bungalow Brings" and Iggy as a heavy in "Punch Drunk Love" (a MUST READ people).

And then there's Arnold... Word up, I like the Phoebe/Arnold thing, and I'll not apologize for it either. Rather than polar oppisites, they're complimentary in their personality types and if not becoming an outright romantic couple, it's all too easy to see them becoming very close personal friends and confidants. The story possibilities for this are tantilizing to say the least, but how Helga might react to this pairing is half the fun. Now, I know you're initial reaction would be that Helga would plot and scheme to seperate them just like Lila and Ruth, but an examination of her behavior in a few episodes might lead us to believe otherwise...

In "Phoebe Breaks A Leg" we learn some very interesting about Helga, namely that she loves Phoebe as much if not more than Arnold, and in the right circumstances is all too willing to show it. Phoebe is more that her sidekick, and just a little beyong a best friend, but is instead the perfect sister for Helga, and while she may lose sight of it sometime and neglect the feelings of this cherished sibling, when the chips are down, Helga gives 300 to make Phoebe happy. That said, how would Helga react to Arnold/Phoebe? I'd actually say that she'd swollow her gorge and give it her blessing. Remember also what a drama queen Helga can be, so expect the poetry to fly as she sings her owm praises for the sacrifise she made for the two most important people in her life. Think about it...

So there you have it; a lot of good possibilities if you'd like to try something outside of the usual Arnold/Helga stories. Anyone have any other thoughts on this?