Chapter Nine: A Plot Between Best Friends

Arnold was worried about his best friend. Gerald's behavior earlier had been to put it mildly strange. Not only did he skip out on hanging out that evening, but when Arnold called him, Gerald sounded completely out of sorts. It wasn't like him.

It must have been all that stress with Helga, he thought as he lay back on his bed looking up at the evening stars overhead. Helga was certainly enough to stress a person out, a fact Arnold was all too familiar with.

Thoughts about Helga Pataki were often enough to give Arnold either a headache, or another feeling since saving the neighborhood that he really didn't want to consider at the moment. Of course sometimes those feelings would pop up when he least expected, and with them the memories of several long kisses and a confession that still made his heart pound every time he thought of it.

Still those feelings aside—even though Arnold confessed to himself that sometimes he didn't want to push them aside—he always knew that deep down Helga wasn't the bully that he thought she pretended to be. It wasn't any one thing that convinced him, but several smaller things over the years. Her friendship with someone like Phoebe and those occasions when she did the right thing no matter the cost to her personally were among the few most important. In them Arnold saw beyond the scowling and the sarcasm and saw something much more underneath.

He sighed wishing that Gerald could see the other side of Helga that he could, the tenderness beneath the mask Helga put up to hide herself from the world. Arnold wished that both of them could get along somehow. He cared about his best friend and—though the idea was still a bit of a surprise to him at times—he cared about Helga a lot too.

Arnold was just about to thing more about those feelings when the phone rang. A moment later his grandpa knocked at the door. "Arnold, you have a call from a young lady." There was a teasing quality about his grandpa's tone when Arnold opened the door and went to the phone.

A girl calling me? Arnold thought surprised. Granted he knew several girls in his class but they never called unless they were doing a project with him for school or something. He took the receiver from his grandpa, ignoring the teasing smile the old man was giving him and put it to his ear. "Hello?"

"Arnold, it's me, Phoebe." The mousy, meek-sounding voice said on the other end.

"Oh hey Phoebe, is everything all right?" Arnold asked this because he remembered how they were looking for their best friends before.

"I'm not really sure, Arnold," Phoebe answered sounding a little thoughtful. "I called Helga when I got home and she was there. Apparently she just went home after leaving class. She sounded really strange, like something was bothering her."

Arnold blinked hearing that. "That happened when I called Gerald's house also! When I got home I also called and he was there. He sounded really off also, like something was bothering him."

"You don't suppose that Gerald and Helga got into another altercation sometime during the last period do you?" Phoebe sounded as worried for the both of them as Arnold felt.

"I don't know, but it sounds as likely as anything else," Arnold said and then sighed. "I really wish that the two of them could get along better."

"I agree Arnold, these confrontations are not good and they can only escalate and get worse. I'm afraid that they could do something that both of them may regret later on."

Arnold thought for a moment then that familiar far away look came to his eyes when he was putting together one of his bold plans. "We can't let that happen, Phoebe. They're our best friends and we care about them both. We have to do something to make them see the other one's better sides."

"But how can we do that, Arnold?"

"I have an idea, Phoebe. Tomorrow morning you pick up Helga and I will meet Gerald and we will both meet up on the corner of Lang and Purdy streets. We will all spend the day hanging out together and make them both see that the other isn't so bad once they get to really know better. We'll stay with one of them so that they will not start another fight and head off any trouble if it starts. How does that sound?"

"Do you believe that will work?" Phoebe sounded a bit dubious.

"To be honest I'm not sure, they can both be stubborn, but it's the best thing I can think of and I'm desperate."

"Same here Arnold. I don't like watching them fight."

Arnold nodded in agreement. "Then it's settled. Tomorrow we stick to both of them and make them spend time together. Let's just hope that we can show them that the other isn't so bad."

"I hope so, Arnold. I really do." Phoebe said still sounding dubious, but determined to try.

That night Helga lay in her bed in her nightgown determined to come up with a way to rid herself of the thoughts that were plaguing her all evening. Everything kept reminding her of that awful kiss.

Helga almost gagged on the liver Miriam fixed for dinner when it reminded her of the way Gerald's tongue felt in her mouth. Later on, she flinched when Bob was watching some old show on television in the living room and the character on the show said, "One of these days, POW right in the kisser!"

The worst had been when she tried to write some poems about Arnold to try and take her mind off it and in her imaginings Gerald kept popping up and kissing her.

Criminy! Why did it have to be Gerald-o who got a crush on me?! She thought miserably, cursing her existence. Why do I have to keep thinking about that stupid kiss! Why can't I just put it out of my mind?!

She knew the answer to that, but she didn't want to admit it. The fact was that up until the moment she saw it was Gerald, Helga actually enjoyed that kiss. It was after all her first open mouthed kiss and it had been pretty good.

It was this knowledge that renewed Helga's feelings of guilt that she somehow cheated on Arnold.

I don't want to think anything like that about Gerald! I love Arnold, not him! I want to have those thoughts about Arnold! I wanted my first French kiss to be with him! Criminy this is so unfair! Helga almost cried again at those thoughts.

"What am I going to do about this? Think Helga! Tomorrow I'm going to have to see him again somehow. What if he tries to come onto me or something? What if he tells someone and embarrasses me in front of the whole school?" She sat up and hugged her knees thinking.

Then it occurred to her. Why did Gerald send the note in the first place? Because he was too shy to tell her about his feelings—even though there was absolutely nothing shy about the words Hot Lips.

Wow he must have it bad for me, Helga thought, although for a moment the idea of a guy being that obsessed over her was thrilling. Too bad the boy in question didn't have a football-shaped head.

Anyhow the point was that like her own feelings for Arnold, Gerald wouldn't want them to get around so he wrote her an anonymous note and made sure she got it. Why? To reveal his feelings to her alone and keep them between them of course. Gerald wasn't about to tell anyone else, probably not even Arnold—at least Helga desperately hoped not at any rate.

"That's it! All I have to do is stay away from him. Ignore him and then he will get tired of this crush and go away. Tomorrow I'll just have to make excuses and stay away from him till he cools off. Yes, that has to work!"

It did occur to Helga that for years Arnold ignored her and it didn't work, but that was irrelevant. That was true love; this was just some stupid schoolboy crush. Plus she wasn't worried, Gerald would get over her and move on to someone else and call them Hot Lips.

For a moment though, the thought did make Helga pause. She was actually concerned about Gerald's heart being broken by her? As she laid her head down on her pillow she considered that and again the kiss came to mind. This time though she didn't try to push it away. Helga thought about her own attempts to get Arnold's attention over the years and how most of those schemes backfired. A part of her was a bit annoyed that Gerald somehow came up with a plan to kiss her that actually worked while her own scheme to kiss Arnold once took so much effort. Still, she had to admit that Gerald-o had been cleaver.

The more she considered it the more she realized to her surprise that she did indeed now have a little soft spot for Gerald and yes, she didn't want to hurt him too bad. Her own experiences with love reminded her of what sort of pain you opened yourself up to.

Never the less she resolved tomorrow to ignore him till he got the message that Helga G. Pataki's heart wasn't up for grabs. And if that didn't work, well then she could always flatten his nose—that at least would be less painful than heartbreak.

Somehow that evening Gerald managed to brave down a little ham and vegetables for dinner, despite the fact he wasn't all that hungry. Mostly he did it because he didn't want things to seem out of the ordinary, especially with his mom who still gave him knowing smiles every once in awhile.

Gerald was worried that she might bring the subject up and ask that he invite his new "girlfriend" over for dinner right there in front of his dad, Jamie-o and Timberly. The idea was enough to make him cringe every time she opened her mouth.

Thankfully his mother seemed to understand his need for privacy—at least for the moment—and didn't say anything. None the less, when dinner was done he excused himself and went back to the solidarity of his room.

He lay back on his bed with his hands behind his head starring up at the ceiling thoughtfully. A couple of times he thought about trying to call Arnold again, but he would always chicken out, never getting any farther than taking the phone off the receiver.

He also considered calling Phoebe and talking to her awhile, but for some reason he couldn't bring himself to do that either. Even though it was irrational, Gerald couldn't help but feel in some strange way that by kissing Helga, he somehow went behind Phoebe's back. It was ridiculous to think that way since he and Phoebe were not officially anything more that school friends at best, not matter what his feelings for her were. He certainly didn't own her, and it wasn't like there hadn't been other girls. A sixth grade girl named Connie, Arnold's French pen pal, Cecile (the real one) and Chloe "the liar" sprang into mind a moment before he pushed them aside.

The difference there was that despite all of his ladies man routine that he pulled with Arnold; Gerald had never really done much with any girl before. A simple chaste kiss on the cheek from Connie after a sixth grader dance was the most he'd gotten from a girl prior to the ill-fated closet lip lock with Helga.

Those other girls were distractions at best and at worst potential heartbreakers. Phoebe was good to talk to and he enjoyed flirting with her because he felt comfortable around her. There was no challenge to be with her, she enjoyed his company for him and that was enough.

Gerald didn't believe the simply liked Phoebe because she was convenient. He knew how he felt, but somehow—despite all of that—he still couldn't tell Phoebe he wanted to be her boyfriend somehow. Maybe it was a part of him that couldn't endure teasing from the rest of the class, or maybe he just felt comfortable with the way things were that he hesitated.

At least until this afternoon when he thought he was finally going to get a serious kiss from the girl he wanted.

Any ideas he had on what would have happened after that flew right out the window now and Gerald was in a huge mess with Helga G. Pataki. The idea made him feel really sick all over again. So far he managed not to throw up at the idea of kissing that loud-mouthed, pigtailed tomboy who had about as much in common with femininity as Harold had with being a size seven.

Gerald still couldn't believe that Helga send him a love note. If it hadn't been for the actually kiss and how good it had been—not that he wanted to think about that—Gerald would have been certain that the whole thing had been a plot on Helga's part to get even for all the stuff he did to her today.

Yet the idea that his mother gave him about how picking on someone could also be interpreted as a sign of affection, or a desire for attention wouldn't leave his mind. Could it really be that fighting back against Helga somehow made her develop a crush on him?

On the surface of it the idea still seemed silly. Heck, if that were true then Helga must have been in love with Arnold for the last six years or so since she picked on him all the time, and Harold's been in love with almost everyone in the class, Gerald thought, smiling a little to himself at the ridiculousness of either of those ideas.

Still, Helga was a bully and she did things to get attention because she loved pushing everyone down. That was just how she was and always had been.

Or so he always thought.

Arnold and Phoebe's words about Helga came to his mind again, about how she wasn't as bad as she seemed and deep down she had a more tender side. As he considered those words the memory of that lingering kiss filled his thoughts and abruptly his heart began to pound remembering it was his first real kiss . . . .

"NO!" Gerald said sitting up and stopping the thought before it got any worse—or worse yet, he started thinking about something he had no business considering. He had to do something about this, but what?

Then he thought about what his mom said again about how such attention led to affection. Picking and affection—affection from attention—attention equals crushes and . . . and . . .

"That's it!" Gerald thought and a smile appeared on his face. "If Helga got a crush on me because I focused my attention on getting back at her, then all I have to do is ignore her and avoid her like I always do! All I have to do is stay away from her and she'll move on and get over this stupid crush on me!"

"Ohh, someone has a crush on Gerald!" A small girlish voice said from the doorway. Gerald looked over wide-eyed as Timberly's head peaked into the slightly open door looking at her smirking in that all-too knowing way whenever a sibling has dirt on another.

"Timberly, get out of my room!" Gerald shouted, looking at her annoyed. He started toward her to get her to shut up.

Timblerly laughed and said, "I'm telling Jamie-o! Gerald has some girl crushing on him! Kissy smoochy!" Gerald ran after his little sister, feeling the need to wish he was an only child again.

At PS 118 after hours of futile pounding on the door, Curly resolved himself to being as comfortable as possible till someone opened to door in the morning. He curled up in some old coats he found in a box and even found a stash of mouse-eaten crackers to munch on.

He resolved to find out what went wrong with his plan and to find a way to make Rhonda his girl. It was only those thought that kept him from going insane—or at least more insane—in his mothball-smelling solitary confinement.

To Be Continued . . . .

Sorry for the long delay football-head fanatics, but certain unavoidable problems kept me off the computer awhile. Haven't been able to catch up in a couple months but I will do my best to have things updated soon. This fic has but a couple of chapters left. What do you think will happen next when two different sets of plans clash? Let me know. Read and Review. As soon as I get ten reviews I will get the next chapter ready to post. D.R.