This was not exactly his idea for a fun weekend. He was supposed to be home, enjoying the break, maybe playing a little ball in Gerald Field with the guys… not here. Anywhere but here in this stifling kitchen reeking of piecrusts and apples.
And certainly not with his despised project partner, who at the moment was busy fuming at the sink and grumbling to herself, viciously scrubbing a filthy baking pan.
He wondered how large the odds against his fate had become after years and years of the same accident happening to him. This time he was sure he had dug through the little slips for at least twenty seconds, to the annoyance of his classmates, desperate to escape to the sunny day outside. He could only come to one conclusion as he thought about that stupid hat with those stupid little slips of paper.
He was cursed. Totally and completely, hopelessly cursed.
The only solution was to move to Antarctica. Yes, that's it, he thought as he rolled out the same stubborn piece of dough yet another time with the rolling pin. A bright ray of hope seemed to shine for a moment in his upturned eyes, and he paused to contemplate the joys of ice fishing, maybe building an igloo, and the open, blissfully silent range of glaciers…
But the next freezing thing he felt dripping down the back of his shirt was not satisfying at all.
Arnold's facial expression went from happily engrossed to one of anguish in merely three tenths of a second.
"Helga!" he whined, shaking his head furiously, terrible exhaustion apparent in his voice. "What was that for?"
She was still standing at the sink, but he could glare fully at the hose she was still aiming at him. "You were drifting off again, Bucko. I am not going to do all the work by myself, you lazy oaf. You've been rolling that stupid piece of dough for over five minutes while I've been slaving my butt off!"
"But you told me to come over here in the first place when I tried to help with the dishes. You said I was getting in your way," he spat, growing more and more confused and upset.
"That's because you don't know how to do anything right, Football Head. Look, it was me who made the first pie, and you screwed all of my effort up when you forgot to take it out of the oven—"
"Hey! That wasn't entirely my fault. I was busy arguing with you over who was going to get credit for this assignment! You were going to tell Simmons that I didn't do anything so I'd fail! That's not fair, when I did help and you—" A full blast of freezing water went straight into his mouth, choking him with a mouthful of gurgles.
Arnold coughed violently and grabbed hold of the table to steady himself on the slippery floor.
"You know what?" His voice was soft, but Arnold's anger was steadily leaking into it. He took a shaky step forward, wiping his face with the back of his flour-encrusted arm. "I am fed up with this. Every time we have to do a project together, I get treated like some kind of pest that gets in your way. Not this time." He took another step. Helga raised the hose and her eyebrows a little higher.
"This time, you're going to listen to me. You're going to work with me, not against me, whether you like it or not." He was halfway to her, and she slid backwards into the cabinets, cornered and growing wary. He shook his head, sending tiny droplets of water across the kitchen. Helga crouched, ready to spring.
Remembering his Grandma's advice, and deciding action was clearly needed at this point, he leaped.
Twenty minutes and several doused appliances later, Helga was busy with wondering why her second toe was much longer than her big one. She wiggled it, grumbling sourly that she was beginning to lose sensation in it.
"Shut up," came his annoyingly smug voice. "Now that we're on the same page," Arnold turned away from the brimming trashcan, having just tossed their last destroyed attempt, "you can guide me through all the steps, oh high-and-mighty cooking goddess."
Helga growled menacingly, and then strangely smirked in a way that greatly troubled Arnold for some reason. He knew that look. And it wasn't good.
"Oh, I don't know, Football Head. Why don't you just give it a shot and see what happens? I'm sure you still remember how to read—the recipe's right over there," she indicated the specific corner of the messy kitchen with a roll of her large eyes.
"Now, Helga," he was beginning to panic. She was trying to beat him at his own game, and the only thing left to do was plan his escape strategy when he finally released her. "Be reasonable… you and I have got to learn to work together—"
"Fine strategy you've come up with!" Her voice shot painfully upwards from a calm monotone to a crazed shriek. "Oh, yes, let's get on Helga's good side by tying her up to the hardest, lumpiest chair in the house! Oh, if Bob got his hands on you…" Thankfully, Big Bob and Miriam were out for the day, shopping for a new television, ignorant of the dripping state of their home and screaming daughter.
Suddenly an idea struck Arnold. Talking rationally was getting him nowhere. He dropped to his knees and seized one of her bare, kicking feet and pinned the other leg between his free arm and sore side. He would remember for a long time that Helga G. Patacki had other bragging rights besides strong fists.
Holding his index finger only about an inch from the ball of her left foot, Arnold, breathing hard, glanced painfully up into Helga's twisted face, his mind set on what he had to do.
"Arnold, I'm flattered and all, but I don't think I can accept a proposal when you've tied me to this friggin'—"
"Okay, Helga." He was so dead. "If you won't cooperate, I'll be forced," he grunted as she gave a particularly mighty squirm, "to do it." His finger twitched closer.
She snarled, her eyes becoming slits of blue. "Do your worst, you little shrimp. You can't scare—"
Five minutes and several bruises later, Arnold sat panting on the floor with Helga's legs still pinned between his arms. He had underestimated Helga's kicking abilities, but the pain was worth it. Still tightly bound to the rickety chair, Helga's tear-stained face glared at the ceiling.
"Give up yet?" he gasped. She resolutely shook her head. "Alright, we'll give it another go, I guess—"
And the battle ensued once again. Helga twisted and coughed, grunted and laughed till she cried, until finally a strained voice piped through her overworked lungs—"Okay! For cripes' sake, mercy! C'mon Football Head! I give up, I give up!"
Arnold, overjoyed, leaped up from the wet floor and grinned triumphantly, "Now, that wasn't so hard." He waited a few seconds for Helga and himself to regain their breath, still frenzied from the struggle. "You know the deal. Instruct and I'll learn. If you don't cooperate—"
"Yeah, yeah. Less talk, more baking," she snapped. "I haven't got all day here." Sighing, Helga rattled off all the ingredients he needed and Arnold obeyed, setting them all in a neat row on the counter.
"Oh, you idiot!" Helga yelled as Arnold struggled with the can-opener.
"What?!" Arnold did not need any more frustrations on his growing list.
"You're doing it the wrong way!" Helga thumped around in her chair-prison, fighting the cord that bound her.
"It's not my fault your can-opener is weird!" Arnold had had enough. "I'm doing my best here." He turned to face Helga and waved the can miserably in the air.
"Just untie me already and let me do it," she snapped.
"Like I'll let you free to spray me again. Sorry, I'll pass."
She looked for a moment as if enduring an uncomfortable inward struggle and finally spoke. "Arnold… please. I know I'm being… well, mean… but you have to untie me. Nothing's going to get done otherwise and besides, my circulation is suffering here."
Arnold looked unconvinced. He frowned and started to turn back to the stubborn can-opener.
"Alright! I'm sorry! Happy?" He brightened a little. "I promise I won't spray you again. And I'll let you help, okay? Now can you please let me go? My butt is killing me!"
Laughing, Arnold trotted over behind the chair and started to work on the knots he'd hastily tied. "You know, Helga," he began as the first few layers of rope loosely drifted down her midsection, "this hasn't been so bad."
Helga gave a huge snort. Her right arm slid free and then her left. She flexed her fingers a few times.
"I'm serious. I'm actually having some fun, you know, with you. Sorry about the whole tying you up thing." He shrugged. "I think you finally drove me crazy back there..."
"Let's just get this over with, Nancy Boy, before you smother me with gooiness." Helga stood shakily as the last bit of rope dropped to the floor. Arnold hastily reached out a hand to steady her. Surprisingly, she took it, but then realizing what she was doing, snatched her hand away and turned, kicking at the coils on the floor. "We've got a pie to bake."
Half an hour later, Helga and Arnold were sprawled exhausted on the kitchen table and covered in flour, but contentedly waiting for the oven timer to go off.
"Something sure smells good," Arnold mumbled. A tiny white cloud puffed itself into the warm air and floated away.
He waited for a sarcastic remark, but rolling over slightly, Arnold noticed his companion sleeping soundly, her mouth slightly open and face pressed on one side to the cluttered table. Just as he began to smile, the timer shrilly sounded. Helga's body sprang from sleep and rocketed from the table, thudding a few feet away onto the hard floor.
Arnold quickly sat up to see if he'd have to take someone to the hospital yet again. "Helga! Are you okay?" He lightly slid off the table's edge and hurried to lift her from the floor.
"Get off me…" she grunted, "I'm fine."
Arnold squinted at her face, delicately prodding her forehead with a finger. "No, you're not." He located the bump. "That's going to be a nasty bruise. Here," he lifted her to the chair, "I'll get you some ice."
"Hold up, Bucko. Let me take the pie out—"
"No, I'll do it," Arnold insisted, lunging for the oven. "You just sit there and don't move."
He rummaged around in the drawers and found a plastic bag, then filled it with ice from the freezer. Then he pressed it into Helga's protesting hands and turned back to carefully pull the finished product from the oven.
Helga got up to walk towards the island in the middle of the kitchen, tossing the ice pack carelessly over her shoulder. It hit the wall behind her with a thud and slid to the floor. "Arnold," she whispered to the boy beside her, "it's… perfect!"
"You know Helga," he took a moment to inhale the lovely scent of the masterpiece in front of him, "we make a great team."
"Yep. I guess we do, Football Head." Helga smiled for the first time in what seemed like months and beamed unrestrainedly at her partner.
"Um, Helga… I think you've, um, got a little something right…" he reached up and pulled a glob of dough out of her hair, holding it up for her to see. Helga glanced at his hand, then at their close proximity, obviously nervous.
"Uh… thanks… Arnold. Not that I could've done it myself or anything, with my weak girly arms," she scowled, crossing her arms in front of her, and then grimaced. She held one of her hands tenderly to her bruised forehead.
"Here," Arnold grabbed her face gently on each side, to Helga's amazement. Before she could register it, he gave her a quick peck on her crown and hastily went back to staring at the pie. Apparently noticing her shocked expression, he admitted, "Grandma always did that for me when I got hurt… It always made me feel better… Sorry."
Helga, glad he was facing the other way, swayed a little on the spot, dazed. Willing herself not to give herself a good slap, she stammered, "N-no, it's no problem, Football Head. N-no one's ever… done that for me around this sorry excuse for a home… I-it was nice."
"Oh, okay." He smiled brightly. "You wanna," he suddenly looked shy and glanced down at his feet, "come over to Gerald Field for a while? The guys are meeting at three, you know…"
"And when have I ever missed a game? Doi! C'mon, Arnold…" She gave him a small, almost affectionate punch on the shoulder. "I'll go get my mit."
He watched her climb the stairs, leaning slightly on the banister, until her legs finally disappeared beyond his vision, and sighed. It was amazing how things always turned out better in the end with Helga.