I hope you guys enjoy the conclusion to this story. It's a little more on the fence than some of the things I've written, but I'm happy with how it came out and I hope you like it as well. Thank you all for your reviews and messages, I always appreciate them. I'll hopefully be doing one more update to something later tonight, so look for that too.
Dinner AND a Show!
The Quickest Way to a Person's Heart is Only Partially Through Their Stomach
Friday night again, and, like most young men about town, Arnold was sitting in a fine restaurant awaiting the appearance of a lovely young lady who would be his date for the evening.
Now, Arnold not only knew who his date was going to be this time, but also he had recently become very familiar with that particular girl, 'dates' between them had really never been like dates, andwas absolutely no pressure at the moment to do anything beyond exploring this strange yet sweet intimate friendship they had chosen to pursue together. So, really, this night was not an incredibly big deal in any particular way.
Yet, regardless, Arnold felt somewhat nervous as he waited for Helga G. Pataki to show up.
He was blushing slightly, he couldn't help adjusting his tie and straightening his jacket every few seconds, he kept pushing his fingers through his hair when he had nothing else to do, and he couldn't decide whether he wanted to stare at his pocket watch or the Chez Paris entrance more. He also kept clearing his throat and lightly rehearsing to himself how to greet her. "Hi Helga. You look really pretty tonight." 'The first words out of her mouth back to me would be, 'Oh, so I don't look pretty all the other times you see me in the week then?' She'd be joking, but still…' Or maybe instead, "Helga, there you are. It's so great to see you again." 'No, no…we see each other every day even if it isn't quite like this.' How about, "Hello, Helga. I'm glad you could make it." 'But of course she was going to make it, she's the one who asked me out.' Or possibly, "Helga, there you are—let me pull out your chair for you. How was your day?" 'Uh, I'm a big girl, Football Head, I can pull out my own chair. As for my day, we spent most of it in class together so you tell me. Doi!'
Arnold just sighed and rested his chin on his hand. "Why am I letting myself get like this? She's just a girl and I'm very comfortable around her. Why get nervous tonight?" Of course he supposed there were technically a few possible reasons—they really hadn't spent any one-on-one time together this week since their little talk in his room Monday night; this was his first chance to make sure things ran smoothly on this, their first planned intentional 'date' together; and of course there was the eternally awkward fact that she was completely in love with him. Yet, though Arnold considered them all carefully, none of those single reasons felt right for explaining his slight anxiety at the moment as he continued to wait. Unless, of course, his anxiety was just a product of all of those reasons put together. Who knew?
Or maybe he was just anticipating whatever Helga would have in store for him tonight as a means of making him finally make up to her for his behavior last Valentine's Day.
Arnold smiled a little to himself, thinking about the possibilities as he looked out to the courtyard fountain through the window. "She'll probably make me tell her all about the busboy story over and over again while we're eating…or maybe she'll make me tell her everything I don't like about Ruth and Lila…or maybe she'll spend the whole night making me run out of the restaurant to get things for her." He chuckled a little to himself, then sighed. He could see the spot near the back of the fountain where they had sat upon its ledge and talked last weekend. "No, she's too creative. I'll never guess…" Just like he never would have guessed that she loved him, and just like he never would have guessed about the poetry or the crazy schemes or about how caring she could be for other people's feelings. He had always suspected a softer side to her deep down of course, but he had never expected such softness and strength all woven together into one very passionate woman. He loved getting to know her better. And he wished, in a quiet way, that he was older or that he understood some things in life a little better so that he wouldn't be so afraid of getting to know her love a little better too.
His eyes came to focus on the empty chair across from him. He frowned a little as he imagined Helga last Valentine's Day looking across to his own empty chair. But then he smiled to himself again. 'I'll make it up to her no matter what. As long as I get to see her sitting across from me and smiling, it'll be worth it.' He sighed with a touch of dreaminess to himself and ended up saying aloud, "She has the best smile."
"Hey, Football Head, I don't know who this 'she' is that you're mumbling about, but I certainly hope it's me. In which case, please go on about my stellar smile." Arnold had been too far gone with daydreaming to notice Helga's entrance into the restaurant, and now she startled him quite a bit by making this witty little announcement as she appeared suddenly before him and plopped herself into the seat right across from him with a grin. "Oh and, Arnold—talking to yourself?" she asked with a dry look, shaking her head. "Bad sign. I told you you'd pick up some bad habits from me if you hung around me too much. Oh well, damage is already done I suppose." She laughed a little and leaned back in her chair. "Anyway, good evening, Football Head, and you're looking particularly sharp tonight if I do say so myself, good buddy!" She winked at him.
Helga, in fact, was having a lot more fun with the current situation between herself and Arnold than it was necessary for her to have, and she knew it. But to be perfectly honest she hadn't felt this…well… 'Happy…. Huh, that's it. I haven't felt this happy in…since before I can remember.' No tension about Arnold, no fears about him finding out her secret, no desperation to be around him and yet to be as far away from him as possible—she could crack jokes and smile and even blush and everything was just okay. Such a release. Helga sighed, smiling more. 'Who cares if our friendship is doomed to failure—I love this.' She leaned her head upon her hand.
"Helga!" Arnold started in surprise at her sudden arrival, which caused him to lose balance in his chair and then to actual topple in it to the floor.
Helga blinked and stood up, walking over to give him a hand. "Sheesh, Football Head, calm down—sorry, I didn't mean to scare you. Are you okay?" She held out her hand.
Arnold nodded and took her hand, standing up and fixing his chair as he tried not to blush too much. "Oh, sure, Helga, I'm fine. Thanks." Seated once again he cleared his throat and figured he might as well try to give her some greeting even if his timing was all off now. "Hi Helga, it's really great to see you tonight. You look…um…very nice." It had taken all of his wits at the moment to stop himself from telling her that she looked 'very cute' instead of 'very nice.' She was wearing a dress she had that was similar in style to her usual jumper but cut differently and which she had worn to a few of Rhonda's parties this year. Over it she wore and soft, white cardigan, and her hair was up right now in a loose but elegant bun with ringlets of blond framing her face here and there and her pink bow perched atop her head. And her shoes, he finally noticed before she sat down, were the red ones from last Valentine's Day, now restored to her by him last Monday.
Helga sat and pulled in her chair to the table with a small giggle. "Thanks, Arnold. I'm glad you like the look. This is much more me anyway—no fake French hairstyle or accent and no over-the-top ballroom gown to seem sophisticated. Just plain old Helga G. Pataki getting cleaned up for a night out with her beloved." Helga picked up a menu and started to look inside of it, still smiling to herself.
Arnold blushed again but then finally smiled a little and seemed calm. "Helga…" he said softly, swallowing shyly, "Can…Can we save that world for only in private?" He couldn't ask her not to call him that at all; he wouldn't. It sounded so pretty when she said it, after all.
Arnold picked up his menu, hoping to move his thoughts along.
Helga just laughed warmly at his request and shook her head. "Oh relax, Football Head, no one can hear us—just pretend that the whole world's melted away and tonight is just you and me. Okay?" She looked over at him, her eyes full of understanding but also looking a little half lidded with affection.
Arnold smiled and looked back at her with his own half-lidded eyes. "Whatever you say, Helga."
"Good." Helga grinned more and then reached over and took his menu out of his hands. "Speaking of that, Helga G. Pataki says you won't be needing your menu—I'll be the one doing the ordering for both of us this evening, Arnold. As part of making up for Ruth, remember?" She raised part of her brow, almost smirking.
Arnold sighed and nodded. "Yes, I remember, Helga." He looked at her with interest. "So, you'll be ordering the food for both of us…. What are you planning to order for me exactly?" He was a little intrigued.
Helga just smiled quite mysteriously. "Oh, you'll see…"
Just then their waiter slipped up between them. Of course, it was Jacques. "Bon soir, mademoiselle and monsieur. My name is Jacques, and I will be your waiter toni—" Jacques stopped—he had finally really looked at who his two latest patrons were. His eyes went wide.
Helga swallowed, smiling sheepishly. She held up a hand and gave a little wave. "Hi there, Jack. Long time no see, heh."
Arnold looked quite sheepish too. "Yeah. Hello, Mr. Jacques."
Silence still remained from the wide-eyed maître d'.
Arnold and Helga looked at each other uneasily and then back a Jacques.
Then finally Jacques let out a deep breath and knelt down, his elbows resting on the table as he looked back and forth to each of the children desperately and spoke very quickly to them in his French accent. "Listen, you two, friends of Mademoiselle Rhonda—the little girl who finds cockroaches and throws up and the little boy who thinks hamburgers are French food—I know that according to Miss Wellington-Lloyd I have to serve you, but please, I am begging you, no problems, no shenanigans, no lack of funds, no running out, no people running in. Please, just one normal dinner with you two—for my sanity!" He looked at both of them quite pleadingly.
Arnold and Helga blinked at the request and then looked at each other. They communicated silently and nodded and then turned back to Jacques.
Arnold spoke for them. "It's okay. We'll have a very slow and nice dinner, and we're not expecting any of our friends, and we definitely have money. It'll be an easy night—we promise."
Helga nodded, speaking soothingly and calmly too. "Yeah, of course, Jack, we'll be the model couple tonight, Pataki's honor." She held up a hand solemnly.
Jacques just sighed deeply and straightened up. He shrugged, resigning himself to the task of serving these two this evening yet again in his restaurant career. "What choice do I have? I have to take you at your words. Now…" he brought his pad up listlessly to take their orders. "Can I start you both out with something to drink?"
Helga nodded, relaxing quite a bit now that things with Jacques were squared away. "Of course—two yahoo sodas to drink, please. And as long as you're here we'll order our main courses." She held up a menu to him, and pointed out what two orders she wanted. "I'll have that…and the gentleman will have that rare delicacy. Merci." She handed the menus to Jacques.
Jacques eyes went wide, but then he just sighed deeply and put a hand to his forehead as he took the menus. "Oh, mon dieu…. on, fine, I don't care anymore. Just try not to make a mess." He walked off, shaking his head to himself.
A grinning Helga looked back to a very confused Arnold.
She wasn't saying anything, so Arnold prompted the conversation. "So what did you order us, Helga?"
She sighed, stretching up. "Oh, steak tartare for me and cow brains and eggs for you, my beloved. Cow brains and eggs for you." She sipped her water like it was no big deal.
Arnold's eyes went very wide in surprise.
"Arnold, not that you aren't very cute when you pout, but, seriously, it's been about ten minutes—get rid of the frown already and just accept that I ordered you cow brains and eggs to eat," Helga mused with a grin as she drank some of her soda, which had just arrived, while the two of them continued to wait for their meals.
Indeed, Arnold was sitting across from her right now with a distinct little frown on his features and his arms crossed over his chest, ignoring his own soda for the moment and with good reason. "Helga," he didn't let the 'very cute' comment get to him, "It's not fair. What if I don't like cow brains and eggs? I'd like to have a nice meal too you know."
Helga just chuckled a little to herself. "Oh, I'm banking you finding cow brains and eggs disgusting actually, but, hey, you wanted to make up for my suffering last Valentine's Day, and I do think this is the best way to do it." She let out a sigh and shook her head and added a touch more seriously, "Look, they'll come, you'll try a bite, you'll be disgusted, I'll get a good satisfying laugh, then you can have my steak tartare and I'll order another one for myself. Do we have a deal?" She held out her hand across the table.
Arnold considered. Then he sighed. She wasn't entirely being unfair. He reached out and took her hand and shook it. "Deal." He even smiled a little.
Helga smiled too as they lightly shook…and kept lightly shaking. Her eyes were a bit half lidded and so were his as they looked into each other.
At some point their hands stopped moving, though the appendages remained clasped, and Arnold and Helga were still just oddly looking at each other with affectionate smiles.
Helga realized the situation first and quickly broke it off. She took her hand from Arnold's and cleared her throat as she looked down and played with her napkin. "Well, so…yeah, um, deal. A-Anyway…" she clasped her hands together on the table and managed to look back to Arnold, not smiling too sheepishly. "Nice night, huh?"
Arnold blinked and blushed a little as he realized what had happened. His hand went to his soda. "Oh, um…yeah, I guess so." He looked at her a touch curiously. "How do you mean exactly?"
Helga shrugged. "Well, it's clear and a little cool, and just look at the moon." She glanced over her shoulder and out the window where a large, full silver disc shown high overhead in inky blueness. "It's soft glow shines over everything like a pale daylight, and the stars help light up the sky a little too so that it looks blue instead of black, like an ocean full of diamonds. It almost makes you wonder who needs streetlights, right?" She looked back at him with a smile.
Arnold had one of those utterly gone looks on his face again this evening. Completely gone.
Helga's eyes went very wide. "Um…Arnold?" she tried softly, glancing around and hoping no one would notice. She looked back at him when he still didn't respond. "Arnold…?" She snapped her fingers a few times, but he seemed to remain completely lost in thought. Helga sighed deeply and rolled her eyes. 'All right, that's it.' She frowned a little and then moved in her chair and gave his shin a swift little kick underneath the table. "Hey, Football Head!" she did her best not to yell too loudly. "Wake up!"
"Ow!" Arnold winced at the kick, and then scowled at Helga. "Helga, what was that for?"
She rolled her eyes. "It was for me just happening to say the moon looked nice and for you going all gaga for me or the moon or the stars or whichever one of us exactly you were busy ogling just now. Crimeny I called your name twice and you still didn't snap out of it—I had to do something! You looked like you were about to crawl across the table!" She blushed a lot and looked to the side.
Arnold blinked at this information. Then he sighed very deeply and sunk low in his seat, closing his eyes and putting a hand to his forehead.
Helga considered for a moment. Then she raised part of her brow and asked hesitantly, "What exactly just got into you anyway?"
Arnold sunk a little lower in his chair but he did reply to her nonetheless. "The way you described the moon and the night sounded nice, like poetry. It was pretty and I liked it and I wasn't expecting it." He opened his eyes and crossed his arms over his chest, still looking embarrassed.
Helga noticed and a touch of pity came to her features. She quickly hid it though, and just did her best to smile a little. 'He's got a lot of conflicting feelings about me, and he's prone to daydreams anyway. It makes sense he'd get a little loopy on me sometimes.' "Oh." She nodded, taking up her soda in her hand and swirling it around in its bottle a little. "I see. You were just having another moment of being unable to deny that you're madly in love with me. Ah, okay, makes perfect sense." She smirked and looked over at him in a meaningful way, hoping her efforts would help ease his distress. 'Jokes work for us—Arnold's used to me making jokes, even if he's used to me making them at his expense instead of to help him at all.'
Arnold frowned and blushed at Helga's very stark comment at first, but then he noticed her smirk and the look in her eyes. He considered for a moment…and then smirked a little too and sat up a bit again. "Actually," he took up his soda, "I just happen to be a very intense lover of poetry. You weren't really a part of anything—I was just staring at the beautiful moon." 'I was just staring at you and the moon and watching it reflect on your golden hair and wishing you would say more poetic things and that you would call me 'darling' and ask to go lie down somewhere just like on the FTi roof.' Arnold swore to himself then and there that he would never tell Helga one bit of that daydream he had suddenly stumbled into. It was way too embarrassing, way too intimate. He wasn't even sure where it had come from—nothing like that had happened to him before. Sure, he had looked at Helga a few times over the week and maybe thought about the secret memories they only shared, but his head hadn't actively started imagining new things with her. He just sighed on the inside now and hoped they could get through this with a joke.
Helga, not possessing 'mind reading' as one of her many talents, just laughed quite a bit in both amusement and relief at his poetry comment. "Ah, my mistake—and, hey, if you and the moon want to be alone at all later tonight, just let me know." She shook her head in more amusement. "And, meanwhile, if admiring me for my poetry alone really is your story, Romeo, then you're in luck, and I'd prepare myself if I were you. As of Monday I'm going to start handing in love poems about you to Simmons to read out loud again, so enjoy listening to those when we're right in the middle of class and surrounded by half the people we know." She almost bit her lip, actually not sure how he might take that news.
"Really?" Arnold smiled a little and looked at her with interest. "I was hoping…I-I mean, I've been waiting all week for him to read one of yours about me but none of the ones he read were by 'anonymous.'" He raised an eyebrow. "Why didn't you submit any in English for this week?"
Helga blinked at his enthusiasm for her poetry, then glanced down and played with her soda bottle a little. "I-I did submit my poems this week, I just…" she sighed and looked back at him, speaking plainly, "Arnold, I know the last few weeks regarding me have taken a bit of a toll on you, so I wanted to give you as much of a chance as possible to ease into our new circumstances. I submitted my love poems for English class, but I asked Mr. Simmons not to read any of them out loud just for this week. Told him it was a personal matter, he was cool with it." She shrugged a little, looking a touch shy. "I just didn't want to make you uncomfortable, Arnold. That's all. You've been cool to me, and I want to be cool to you too." She met his eyes.
Arnold smiled in warmth and appreciation at her revelation. "Helga…I think that's one of the nicest things you've ever tried to do for me."
Helga just scoffed with a grin and rolled her eyes, crossing her arms over her chest. "Yeah, well don't get used to it, I still hate your guts." She laughed a little.
Arnold laughed too. Then his voice took on something very sincere. "It was still sweet of you."
Helga blushed and glanced to the side with a little smile she couldn't help. "Thanks, Arnold," she replied softly.
"Mademoiselle, Monsieur, your dinner is served." Jacques suddenly appeared with two silver trays, which he placed before Helga and then Arnold. He straightened up and glanced down at both children plainly and yet with a touch of hesitance in his tone. "You two have not caused a fiasco yet. I am impressed. Please try to continue in this fashion so that all of us may have a pleasant evening. I will return shortly with more sodas for you both."
He was about to walk away to get the refills when Helga held up a hand and stopped him with a hesitant look on her features. "Uh, Jacques, wait a sec—can you also bring us another order of steak tartare, well done please? We'd appreciate it, thanks."
Jacques eyed her suspiciously for a moment. "Miss 'Van Buren' isn't ordering extra food to cover up the fact that she forgot her money again…is she?"
Helga just sighed deeply and then reached into her pocket and pulled out two twenties, giving him a dry look.
Jacques nodded and gave a small bow. "Oui, thank you, Mademoiselle. I'll return with your fresh steak tartare as soon as possible."
Helga put the money away and then looked to Arnold. He was about to take the lid off of his tray, but she stopped him by reaching out to hold down the lid. "Arnold, wait a sec." A touch of pity came to her features. "Look, I'm sorry—it seemed like a good gag when I was planning it in my mind, but you don't really have to eat the cow brains and eggs if you don't want to. I forgive you about the Ruth thing already, I really do, and I did plenty of nearly equally underhanded stuff myself that night anyway, so just put that aside and share my plate with me for now until the new steak tartare comes, and then we can share that one too, okay?" She smiled compassionately and sincerely.
Arnold smiled back at the kind offer. Her hand was still on top of his tray, holding down the lid. He placed one of his hands over hers and looked over at her. "Thanks, Helga. But I don't mind at least trying, for your sake. You did go through a lot last Valentine's Day after all. And the food is already here. It's the least I could do."
"Arnold…" Helga still looked at him uncertainly.
He just sighed softly, still looking so compassionate and understanding. "Helga, take your hand away from the tray before I have to make you do it."
Helga blinked and then looked at him a touch challengingly. "And how are you going to 'make me do it' exactly?"
Arnold grinned and shrugged. "I'll simply take your hand," he lifted it up from the tray in his own, "And I'll kiss it." He leaned down, clearly ready to—
Helga pulled her hand away, blushing and looking confused and smiling all at once. "Okay, okay, you made your point. No need to start mauling me in public." She smirked at that comeback.
Arnold dropped his fork and put his head in his hand. He couldn't help grinning a lot though, despite his blushing. "Whatever you say, Helga, whatever you say…" he managed to mumble as he lifted the lid off of his plate.
Helga caught sight of the plate and instantly had to look away for the sake of keeping that 'no puking' promise to Jacques. She took the lid off of her own plate and looked down at simple, normal beef and potatoes with a little bit of green beans almondine on the side. The sight made her feel better. Hesitantly Helga then looked back to her beloved.
He was just eyeing his dish of pink and yellow curiously, fork in hand.
Helga just waited, hoping this whole thing wouldn't turn out as badly as she was now starting to fear it would.
It would be fair to say that last weekend's dinner that Patty had hosted for Harold and Arnold and Helga had been 'tense.' The dinner had somehow managed to work itself out, of course, but arguably there had been major resistances and problems and awkward developments between the four people at the table which had bred an atmosphere of what any reasonable person might agree was tension.
The tension of that evening could not hold a candle to the level of 'tense' currently present at Patty and Harold's little outing with Rhonda and Curly at Slausen's at the moment.
There was actual fear in both Harold and Patty's eyes as they sat at the table with their dining companions and waited for something or someone to snap. Indeed, the problem was so extreme that people who had been in the ice cream parlor before the foursome had entered and people who came in afterwards had slowly sensed the situation and fled accordingly.
At first glance, the scene may have seemed simple enough—four youngsters sitting in a booth together, girls on one side, boys on the other, each enjoying a frozen treat.
Ah, if only there weren't more to it than that. So much more.
First, the only reason Patty was sitting next to Rhonda and not Harold was because without trapping Rhonda in the booth up against the window, Rhonda had made it clear to Patty and everyone at the table that she would have bailed instantly. Thus, Patty sat at her side on the outside end of the booth, essentially standing guard. And Harold was sitting with Curly and not Patty for two reasons—one, Rhonda insisted that Curly be guarded in case he tried any funny stuff, and, two, Curly had made it very clear to everyone at the table that he was just raring to try some funny stuff with his beloved Rhonda.
There was also the strange state of everyone's desserts at the moment to make the scene a bit peculiar. Harold was barely eating his banana split, he was so alert to the idea that any moment Rhonda or Curly would do something to break the tension and he would have to jump up and handle it somehow. Patty was just too amazed at the fact that Curly and Rhonda actually seemed a more difficult, stubborn and emotionally charged potential couple than Arnold and Helga to do more than absentmindedly touch her chocolate sundae with her spoon. Curly, on the other hand, was smilingly sucking down his dessert (pistachio ice cream, wet walnuts, licorice, and peanut butter all blended into a milkshake—wow) with gusto and giving Rhonda the occasional saucy wink. And Rhonda was eating too—a Mocha Vienna Chunk sundae—though her bites were small and deliberate and bespoke something almost violent as she just glared stonily over at Curly with a dark frown.
'I miss Arnold and Helga,' Patty couldn't help but think to herself, shaking her head. Indeed, the worst Arnold and Helga might do to deal with tension was yell a few soft insults at each other and then possibly kiss in a passionate slip up. But Rhonda and Curly…Patty didn't have the slightest clue: they might stay in this silent stalemate for the rest of the night or they might be up and waging world war three throughout the ice cream parlor before she knew it.
Finally Patty just sighed deeply. She couldn't take it anymore. She slipped out of the booth and stood up. "Harold?" she looked to him meaningfully. "Can you, um…come with me for a second? I need to talk to you about something."
Harold was more than ready to oblige any request that got him away from this table. He was instantly up too. "Yeah, sure, absolutely!" he replied affirmatively with a big nod.
At the sight of their two friends suddenly abandoning their posts at the ends of the booth, Curly grinned and rubbed his hands together maniacally just as Rhonda turned, scoffed and opened her mouth, clearly about to protest.
Patty held up a hand and addressed them both firmly if a touch impatiently. "We are going to be right across the room. And we will be back very quickly. Rhonda, calm down and promise me you'll stay here and finish your ice cream. Curly, remember that felonies are impolite even if you can plead insanity to get out of getting in trouble for them. Okay?" She scowled a little, not in any mood.
Curly gave a light sigh and sat back a little, though his grin was still wide. "Okay, Patty, not a problem."
Rhonda just rolled her eyes and turned back to her ice cream, still fuming a little. "Whatever," she mumbled acidly.
Harold and Patty just kind of backed away slowly and then shuffled quickly over into a corner of the restaurant.
Once alone, Harold turned to Patty and gave her a rather dry look. "Now do you believe me that this was a bad idea?" He shook his head. "I told you, Arnold and Helga only worked because…I don't know, somehow something works between then and there was already something going on there anyway. But Rhonda and Curly just want a chance to explode at each other." He held out his arms.
Patty sighed deeply and had to nod in a touch of agreement. "Okay, maybe this evening is going kind of bad, but I'm sure there's something there with Rhonda and Curly too even if it's buried very, very, very, very, very…very deep, Harold. You wouldn't believe how much Rhonda talks about Curly to complain about him," Patty tried to explain.
Harold raised an eyebrow. "And that shows that she like likes him…how?"
Patty crossed her arms over her chest. "He's on her mind—it doesn't matter if it's positive or negative attention, he's there. And we all know she's on his mind constantly."
Harold looked concerned though. "Patty, what I'm trying to say is, even if there is something there, tonight really isn't working for anybody. So before something bad happens I say we just cut our losses and let them go home."
Patty considered but then shook her head. "Not just yet, Harold. Please? I'd like just a little more time with keeping the two of them together and watching how they behave toward each other. And I'd at least like to give them the chance to finish their ice cream."
Harold considered her point but then had to look at her curiously and finally ask, "Why is this so important to you anyway, Patty? You always say meddling in private stuff people do and problems they have is a bad idea, and now you're being just as much of a kibitzer as Arnold is half the time." He crossed his arms over his chest.
Patty frowned a little and rolled her eyes. "I'm not…I just…I don't know." She sighed and put a head to her temple. "I just…like the fourth graders, and like helping them. And…" she put her arms behind her back and shrugged. "Maybe I also think it's sort of nice to have someone special to be close with, and if I can help anybody have that if they seem like they're close to it, well…why not?"
Harold blinked and then glanced to the side in a touch of shyness. "Oh…okay. I think I understand." His eyes came back to looking at her. "We can stay together for a little while longer then, I guess, if it means that much to you for Rhonda's sake." He sighed and rested back against the jukebox on the wall. "But can we at least hang out here just for a couple more minutes? Those two are so stressful that I can barely digest my ice cream." He put a hand to his stomach, which grumbled on cue.
Patty nodded and leaned against the front of the jukebox. "I agree. I could use a break myself. They'll be fine for a couple more minutes." Her eyes went to his. "And thanks, Harold," she added appreciatively.
Harold smiled and waved her off. "Aw, don't mention it, Patty." He sighed and shrugged. "I think maybe from now on, though, if we can't get Arnold and Helga to go out with us, we should just try going out on our own." He blushed a little, rubbing the back of his neck. "I mean, not like 'dates' really necessarily, just spending time together for now like we always did but closer maybe."
Patty smiled and blushed a little too. "Maybe you're right, Harold. We'll should definitely keep that idea in mind." She glanced down shyly and thoughtfully.
Meanwhile back at the booth on the other side of Slausen's…
Only ten seconds alone and already the name-calling had started between Rhonda and Curly. It wasn't loud or anything, just words said with calculation and precision and a touch of underlying emotion back and forth.
"Enchantress whom I cannot be without. Let me smell your hair!"
"That hand comes one inch closer to me and I'll stuff you in an ice cream freezer!"
Okay, that last statement had actually been yelled quite firmly by Rhonda as Curly sat up and reached out to grasp one of her black locks. She also had her spoon held up in a defensive gesture now.
There was a momentary standstill, and then Curly let out a sigh and sat back down.
Rhonda lowered her spoon and put it back in her ice cream.
Curly had his head resting on his hand. "Rhonda baby, not that hard to get isn't a turn on for me, but you're being even feistier than usual tonight. What gives?" he asked simply.
Rhonda just rolled her eyes, still scowling. "First of all I am NOT playing hard to get, Curly. And second of all, what gives is that I am furious that Patty and Harold tricked me into this evening and I'm appalled that I'm stuck here with you now until they finally regain their sanity and call off this little 'double date' and let us go home!"
"Hmm…" Curly sat back in his seat, stroking his chin a little in thought. "Yeah, you never do like being ordered around, Rhonda baby. My girl's way too take-charge for that kind of nonsense."
Rhonda nodded affirmatively. "Yes, thank you, Curly, that's precisely it—I'm a leader, not a follower." She held her nose up in the air proudly.
"Exactly!" Curly winked and pointed at her. Then he considered. "Hey, sugar lips, I have an idea if you're willing—it'll get you out of here…" he offered temptingly.
Rhonda looked at him hesitantly. "What's the catch?"
Curly shrugged. "No catch. You just gotta stick with me until we get out of here…and let me walk you home tonight, and let me give you a goodnight kiss!" He pumped up his eyebrows, grinning.
Rhonda cringed. "No way!" She shook her head and made a rejecting gesture with her arms. "I'll sit here trying to 'get close' for another hour if I have to until our friends are ready for us all to go as long as it means I get to walk home a free woman and with full legal recourse if you try to follow me."
"Okay, okay…" Curly held up his hands in a diplomatic gesture. "I see—bucking for a deal, huh? Very persuasive, Rhonda baby. You're a negotiator—I'm one too. There's gotta be an exchange you'll agree to for my help in getting you out of here, or something extra you want from me for doing the extra stuff I suggested you do. Let's talk." He leaned forward on the table, looking at her intently.
Rhonda let out a deep sigh and just looked stubborn and angry once again. But then her eyes couldn't help going over to Curly…and she couldn't help considering…and, well, there was one thing…. She sighed and looked at him seriously, naming her terms. "If you help me get out of here, I'll let you walk me home. And…I will let you kiss my hand—MY HAND…but only if you'll got to school on Monday and tell the all of the boys that you were lying about the two of us being secret boyfriend and girlfriend!" She glared at him.
Curly just beamed and grinned even more maniacally. "Ohh, you figured out my secret revelation of our undying hots for each other, huh? Did I mention I love that brilliant mind of yours too, Rhonda baby? You don't miss a trick!"
"Will you make the deal or not?!" she prompted forcibly, holding out her hand stiffly to him across the table.
Curly looked rather intrigued as he considered. Then he offered finally, "I help you, you let me walk you home, I get to kiss your hand, then on Monday I tell the guys it was a mistake for me to 'make such a rash announcement' about our relationship and that you and I are off again for the moment."
Rhonda eyed him closely. "Also promise you won't go telling flat out untruths again about me having confirmed feelings for you."
"Deal!" Curly reached out and shook her hand heartily.
Rhonda just rolled her eyes and pulled her hand back as quickly as possible. "Great, fine, okay, now how are you going to get me out of here?"
Curly shrugged. "Simple—I'm practically a criminal mastermind. Coming up with a plan and enacting it shouldn't take long, especially since we'll be working together. Now just give me a few seconds to hammer out the details in my head." He took a big sip of his pistachio and peanut butter milkshake and leaned back, considering. "Now let's see…" he started to mumble to himself… "No, no, that would require me to have access to zoo animals…hmm…No, for that I'd need chloroform and my supply of that is running low…hmm…"
Rhonda just sighed deeply. 'Please let this work.' She tried to eat a few more bites of her own ice cream as long as they had some time.
"Ah, eureka!" Curly suddenly announced, slapping his hand down on the table. He was looking across the ice cream parlor to where Harold and Patty were currently situated, just leaning against the jukebox and chatting. "Excuse me for a sec, doll face. I'll be right back." He then slipped out of the booth and dashed across the room.
Rhonda watched him with curiosity.
Meanwhile, back over at the jukebox while Rhonda and Curly had been scheming…
"I don't know, maybe you're right, Harold—maybe we should just call it a night early," Patty admitted truthfully to her companion. "When I tricked Arnold and Helga it was to help them get closer, but…maybe what I'm doing with Rhonda and Curly tonight isn't any better than how Rhonda tried to interfere with everyone at our dinner last weekend." Patty had to admit that possibility to herself now that she thought about things more. She had really been hoping there would be a little spark between Rhonda and Curly tonight, that they would at least laugh at finding themselves on an unexpected outing together. But instead Curly just seemed restless and Rhonda just seemed mad. She had wanted to let them find mutual enjoyment together, not to have them become miserable and agitated.
"It's okay, Patty," Harold assured with an encouraging smile. "You tried. Your heart was in the right place at least, and that's one difference between you and Rhonda. Up until the very end last weekend she was mostly just trying to get gossip."
Patty did her best not to laugh at the accurate assessment of her friend's tendencies. "Yeah. That's true, Harold." She looked down in thought. "I guess I just like the idea of people finding someone special to spend time with, like I said…like you and me found each other."
Harold blushed just a little, a small grin coming to his features. "Oh, well…yeah, like I said, that's understandable." He cleared his throat with a touch of shyness.
"Excuse me, you two crazy kids!"
Curly suddenly came right up between them to the jukebox, a dime in hand.
Patty blinked in surprise. "Curly?" She looked at him curiously. "What are you doing here?" She glanced back over to the booth, but Rhonda, far from having fled, was still sitting there dutifully.
"Oh," Curly explained, inserting his coin and waving Patty off, "I'm just looking for a little romantic music to add the right mood to my date with Rhonda. Thanks again for the invite, Harold—it's been a great night so far." Curly chuckled maniacally, selected a song, and then dashed back over to the booth.
Patty and Harold just watched him go then looked back at each other.
Harold made a comment first. "Are you sure Curly should be with Rhonda…or anybody, Patty? He's…well, he's insane. I worry about him most of the time."
Patty considered and nodded. "Yeah, I'm starting to see what you mean."
A romantic, crooning song started to play.
Back at the booth Curly slipped back into his seat, rubbing his hands together maniacally. "Perfect! Okay, Rhonda baby, it's all set!"
"What is?" Rhonda asked skeptically, pushing aside her now finished sundae cup.
Curly leaned across the table a bit and jerked his thumb in Harold and Patty's direction. "Those two are already distracted enough with talking, and now just to add to it I set some sappy romantic music to play from the jukebox. This night may be a battle of emotions for us, but it's a potential romantic date for them." He smiled more while Rhonda looked back at him with curious interest. "My point is, just watch them for a few more seconds—they'll get completely distracted with each other, and then we'll carefully slip out of the booths and edge our way to the front doors. Then once we're outside we'll bolt. Easy as pie, baby, easy as pie." He sat back and rubbed his hands together with a satisfied grin.
Rhonda considered. "Well, I suppose it's better than nothing. At least for now having them over there puts some distance between us." She gave a nod of approval. "Okay, Curly, you take the lead then, and I'll follow."
Curly winked. "You've got it, Rhonda. Okay, now move to the edge of the booth with me…. We have to time this just right." His gaze went over to Harold and Patty again as he shifted down the booth.
Rhonda nodded and sat at the edge of the booth too. "Curly? What if this doesn't work and they catch us before we leave?"
Curly shrugged. "Then we'll go with Plan B."
Rhonda raised an eyebrow. "What's plan B?"
Curly just grinned even more. "You'll see…"
Rhonda just sighed and rolled her eyes and went back to watching their friends along with Curly.
They both waited patiently.
Back at the jukebox, Harold and Patty were still talking and quite unaware of the suspicious activity going on just behind them back at their table.
"Well, at least we know for a fact Curly wants things to work out with Rhonda," Patty offered with a grin and a shake of her head at Curly's gesture with the music. He had selected some sort of slow, candlelight mix of that Ronnie Matthews hit from a few months ago—"I Saw Your Face and Wow." Kind of sappy but also a little awkwardly romantic at the same time. It was sort of cute, even if it was a little embarrassing standing here listening to it with Harold and especially having it be so loud considering they were leaning against the jukebox it was coming out of.
Harold rolled his eyes and grinned. "Yeah, Curly's not exactly good at keeping his feelings a secret." Harold considered. "Do you really think there's a chance Rhonda could like him the same way?"
Behind Patty and Harold and near the front windows of Slausen's, Rhonda and Curly were stealthily sliding out of their booth, eyes wide and alert.
Patty shrugged in response to Harold's question. "I think it could happen, at least. I really do think she has a soft spot for him. And I don't think she minds the attention he gives her as much as she says she does, as long as he doesn't take it too far—Rhonda loves attention."
"Yeah, that's true," Harold nodded in agreement. "So does Helga, actually. And she would always act super angry at Arnold for giving her attention just like Rhonda acts about Curly, even though I'm guessing she always secretly liked it. So maybe Rhonda secretly likes it somehow too."
Behind Harold and Patty, Rhonda and Curly were now tiptoeing toward the door. Rhonda accidentally tripped, she was so focused on making sure Harold and Patty weren't watching them, but luckily Curly caught her before she fell. Unfortunately, he caught her around the waist and then proceeded to turn her in his arms, swing her around and dip her back in an almost tango-style move. Rhonda scowled darkly and shoved against him until she was finally released. She took a moment to catch her breath and then gave him such a glare and a stern wag of her finger while Curly just shrugged sheepishly and then turned his sights back to the door.
"Exactly," Patty nodded, finding Harold's comparison very suitable (and still totally unaware of the events going on in the background.) "So, who knows…even if it can't work out now, there still might be something there for them later. They just might need to be a little older to find it. Like our age even." Patty smiled at the confidence-boosting thought.
Harold grinned and shrugged, shuffling his feet. "Yeah, that might be it. I mean, I know I usually think of myself as the same age as everyone else in my class, but when I try to remember back to really being ten-years-old it feels like back then I wouldn't have had any idea what was going on. And I still don't sometimes." He considered. "I give everyone else in the fourth grade a lot of credit—I think most of them are way more together than I am even now…I mean except maybe Curly with his craziness."
Rhonda, meanwhile, just rolled her eyes at Curly's shenanigans with romantically catching her like he had. She straightened out her Cabrini sweater and fixed up her hair slightly, and then went back to carefully making for the door with him, both of them creeping forward with a somewhat over the top sneaky gait and demeanor.
"We all go at our own pace, Harold," Patty assured Harold, reaching out and putting a hand on his shoulder. "Personally, I think you're very together. You're kind and your helpful and pretty mature…just look at how well you handled last weekend."
Harold shrugged and looked down awkwardly. "Patty, I was kind of not mature for most of that."
Patty shook her head though. "No, I mean, overall you were and especially at the end—like with how much you helped Helga. A lot of guys would have just avoided her and stayed out of what was going on because it would be easier, but you sat down with her and actually talked about her feelings and helped make everything better and the night a success. I'm proud of you, Harold. I really think you're one of the most capable guys I know." She leaned over and gave him a small kiss on the cheek before pulling back shyly. Perhaps it was the romantic music or just a natural compulsion on her part, but she felt like being a little affectionate with him in this moment.
Harold looked very bashful. "Oh, well, um…I…" And Harold couldn't deny to himself that maybe he liked the affection complete with music and while he was in one of his favorite places, an ice cream parlour.
Harold and Patty stopped in the middle of their moment together and looked toward the front door of Slausen's at the sound of the bell overhead jingling.
Over by the entrance, Rhonda looked at Curly, who had his arm propping open the now ajar door, with such a glare.
Patty and Harold then observed Rhonda and Curly look up and over to them in a great deal of shock and uncertainty.
Patty and Harold blinked, and then Patty started to approach their friends followed by Harold. She was smiling but also looking a little confused. "Hey, you two, wait a sec." What were the two of them doing sneaking around together? 'Even if Rhonda was leaving, there's no way she'd let Curly tag along with her—she would have called me over to stop him until she got a ten minute head start on heading home.'
"Yeah, guys, wait up!" Harold called to them, looking a little confused as well. 'They've gotta at least let us say goodnight.'
By the door Rhonda just stood there with wide eyes and looked to Curly desperately. Then she grabbed him by his collar. "What are we going to do now?!" 'I am not staying in this restaurant any longer! I can't!' she thought to herself firmly.
"Plan B, Rhonda, Plan B!" Curly assured, freeing himself from her grasp. Then he dashed over to the table, grabbed what remained of his milkshake and tossed it right at Harold, hitting squarely on the shirt.
Harold stopped dead. Patty stopped her approach as well and just looked to Harold with complete surprise at what had happened.
Rhonda's jaw fell open.
"Quick, they're distracted, let's go!" Curly suddenly yelled, grabbing Rhonda's arm and then dashing with her out the door.
Harold blinked, looked down at his stained shirt and then looked back to Curly and scowled, punching his fist into his hand. "Aw, Curly, you're dead—I'm gonna pound you!" He ran out of the ice cream parlour, chasing Curly.
Patty blinked several times and then ran after the lot of them, sighing deeply. "Harold, Curly, Rhonda, wait!" She held out her hand. 'What the heck was all that about?' Patty was very confused and very tired and getting very annoyed…yet at the same time she sort of had to smile a little. 'Finally, some fun—it's been such a dull night so far.'
The chase proceeded through the city streets.
Back at Chez Paris…
"Arnold…I don't even know what to say…" finally came Helga's almost weak sounding voice as she just sat there in her seat like she had been doing for the last fifteen minutes, steak barely touched, eyes wide open in disbelief and maybe a pinch of disgust as she observed her beloved.
Her reaction was due to the fact that Arnold was sitting across from her and about halfway through with eating his plate of cow brains and eggs, an average smile on his face and no sign yet that he was about to cease in his consumption of the French delicacy anytime soon (or that he was about to puke it all up). He just shrugged at her statement and sipped some of his water. "Helga, don't you want to eat any of your dinner before it gets cold? And there's also the second steak tartare you ordered." He gestured to the still covered plate with his fork—Jacque had brought it a few minutes ago.
Helga had to put down he fork now. She didn't even have enough strength to hold it up anymore. "How am I supposed to eat anything when you're sitting there totally ruining my humorous plans for revenge by actually eating and tolerating cow brains and eggs?" she finally asked pointblank, unable to help herself.
Arnold tried not to smile too much. He had never seen Helga G. Pataki look so…perplexed before. He picked up his napkin and dabbed at his mouth for a moment, and then put it down and shrugged, still with that charming yet simple little grin upon his lips. "Helga, you've never eaten over at my house. My Grandma's kind of an…eccentric cook. I've eaten everything from cooked insects to seaweed soup to smoked herring and liver sandwiches to Grandma's secret recipe stuffed bell peppers. And either way I did win the neighborhood eating contest this year. So eating this…" he gestured down to the cow brains and eggs with his fork, "Is really not much of a stretch for me." He took another bite and smiled. "Besides, I remember last Valentine's Day you liked it a lot until you found out what it was."
Helga blinked and scoffed. "Uh, hello? You. Are. Eating. Brains. Brains. This isn't like you've just discovered some new taste for coffee or sushi or French fries dipped in milkshake—you are eating brains with eggs!" She held out her hands to him, her blue eyes wide as she tried to make this fact as clear as possible.
Arnold just swallowed again and looked down at his plate pensively. "You know, it's really actually more than not bad—it's kind of good. It's got kind of a creamy, spongy texture but it's close enough to the eggs that it all blends together. And then there's kind of a unique kick to it." He smiled over at her. "Are you sure you don't want to take a bite and give it a second chance, Helga?" He held out some toward her on a fork, trying his best not to smirk at his little attempt at bugging her.
At the sight of the pinkish, yellowish substance on the fork, Helga's eyes bugged out a little and she had to put a hand to her mouth. She grew a little pale and then lowered her hand, leaning back in her seat. "Ugh…I think there's actually a chance I may never kiss you again after this meal."
Arnold had actually been about to pop the bite he had offered her into his own mouth with a grin, but he paused now. He swallowed once, did his best not to blush and then let out a breath and calmly put the fork down and pushed his plate to the side. "I'm done, I think," he said quietly. Then he calmly dabbed at his mouth with his napkin and took a sip of water.
Helga blinked at the sudden change in Arnold's gusto for the food. "Really?" She grinned a little and raised part of her brow. "The grossness getting to you?"
Arnold smiled and looked down toward the candle on the table between them. "I-I just don't want to make you uncomfortable anymore. You deserve to enjoy your dinner too. And if you just threatened never to kiss me again, then I must really, really be making you uncomfortable." He grinned more and sipped some more of his water.
Helga blinked at this observation and paused in commencing to eat her food. She blushed and tried to smile and make a joke. "Well, sheesh, Football Head, you act like my disgust for your lips won't pass quickly enough on its own." She looked to the candle now too. "You'll shoot me one of those boyish smiles of yours and say something so decent that you're the only person in the world who would say it and mean it and then I'll catch sight of you at just the right angle and in just the right lighting and…boom. I'll be back to wanting to kiss you again." Her gaze came up to look at him and her smile grew and her eyes hazed over. 'He's gorgeous in candlelight.' She wanted to swoon at the adorable image of him slightly looking downward even if the thought did still linger with her that his precious lips had just seen more than their fair share of cow brains and eggs.
Arnold blushed softly and looked down even more, still smiling. "I'm…honored, Helga." He shrugged modestly.
Helga just laughed and shook her head, finally starting in on her steak tartare. "See, there you go—you just said something so decent that I wouldn't believe it if it had come out of anyone's mouth but yours." She sighed, swallowing a bite of food. "Football Head, you never disappoint."
Arnold looked up at her with a curious smile. "But, Helga, it's the truth. You're a smart, funny, passionate, cute," he decided to wrap this up, "girl. I'm sure there are a lot of guys besides me who would be honored by the idea of you wanting to be close to them."
Helga scoffed and smiled more and shook her head. "Oh, believe me, Arnold, I've run into my fair share of those already. But none of them ever took the time to get to know the real me, and either way you're just special to me, Football Head—nothing could ever change that." She shrugged, glancing over at him.
Arnold suddenly looked back at her in surprise. "What do you mean?" he asked curiously.
"Hmm?" Helga asked, putting down her fork for a moment to take a sip of soda.
Arnold shrugged, playing with his napkin a little. "You just said you'd run into a ton of guys already who wouldn't mind kissing you."
Helga considered his query, but then just waved him off and went back to her steak. "Oh, well, I don't think I said a ton. Just more like…" She considered. 'That little stalker Brainy…Stinky that one time he lost his mind…Oh and Arnie…', "…Three so far. Huh, not a bad track record for one of the most awkward and blustery girls in school, I guess." She sipped her water and glanced out of the window to enjoy the view for a moment.
Arnold looked surprised again. Then he pouted just a little and slumped a bit in his chair, looking down toward the tabletop.
When Helga turned back to look at him and continue their conversation she was surprised to find him in this state. She raised part of her brow, still smiling. "What's up, Football Head? Getting a stomach ache from the cow brains?"
Arnold just sighed lightly. "No, Helga." He really wasn't in the mood for jokes and teasing at the moment.
She still smiled and just took another bite of her food. "Are you getting bored with the fact that we haven't had to participate in a single wacky shenanigan so far this evening?"
Arnold let out another breath. "No, Helga." He was sounding a bit less annoyed now. He just wished she would give him a minute to get over things before they went back to talking normally.
"Trying to lay low in case someone accidentally takes you for a bus boy?" A grinning Helga couldn't help herself.
Arnold's eyes popped open wide and he looked to her with a touch of a glare. "No," he said firmly. Then he sat up straight and brought the second steak tartare in front of himself. He uncovered it and took up his fork, though he seemed more interesting in playing with the plate's contents than actually consuming any of them. "I just didn't realize you'd had other guys be your 'friend' before me. It's no big deal though, I'm already over it." He lightly stabbed at the steak.
Helga blinked at this response and then scowled at him just a little. "Well, gee, Arnold, thanks for being so shocked that I'm an enjoyable enough female human being to actually have gotten a little male attention in the past. Your confidence in my attractiveness is duly noted." She got a little more aggressive with her food than she needed to be as well.
"Helga, you know that's not what I meant." Arnold sighed, looking over at her and losing his frown. "I was just surprised. I don't know—I figured, being in love with somebody, a person would normally discourage other people getting crushes on them, that's all."
"Hey, I do discourage them!" Helga countered back. "It's not like I can control people's feelings. Feelings were had for me, I found out about those feelings and I rejected those feelings. Crimeny, Arnold, what's your problem?" She scowled at him more.
"I don't have a problem," he asserted, frowning again at her. "I told you, I was just surprised."
Helga just sighed and looked down at the remains of her meal in frustration. "Whatever."
They were both quiet for a moment, playing with their food more than eating it.
Then Arnold sighed, coming out of it a bit. "Helga?" He glanced over at her, all anger gone from his features.
She was still frowning and stabbing at the remains of her food a little.
Arnold put down his fork and spoke sincerely. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to insult you. I just felt jealous for a moment." He blushed. "I-I like this friendship we have, and part of why I like it is that it feels special. It's just between you and me. And the idea of anyone else sharing in it bugs me. But I really don't have any right to be bothered," he added, looking over to her again, trying to catch her eyes. "You're right, no one can control anyone's feelings, and either way even if you had gotten close with anybody else before, I can't really complain. I've been close with a few girls, and I imagine it must have been upsetting to you when that happened. All I can say is I think I'm starting to understand a little bit what that must have been like for you. And I just hope you can forgive me if I got a little stubborn about it just now." He considered and then held out a hand hesitantly for her to shake.
Helga paused in stabbing at her food. Then she let out a breath and put down her fork too, her voice sounding calmer and her look bespeaking understanding. "It's maybe not entirely your fault for being jealous, Arnold. I always have given you a lot of attention, even if it's been mostly negative. You're used to that by now. Of course the idea of someone taking that attention away a little would upset you. You lost my attention for only a few weeks after my confession and you were freaking out. Which leads us back to the friends thing we're doing now." She looked over at him and smiled softly. "Of course I forgive you, Football Head. Just try not to let it get around that I apologized a little just now." She took his hand and gave it a shake.
The children's appendages separated. Arnold didn't seem entirely relieved yet though. He had an eyebrow raised, actually. "I'm not 'jealous'…exactly." He sort of pouted again.
Helga gave him a bit of a dry look and a small smile. "Arnold…" She crossed her arms over her chest. She didn't take her eyes off of him.
Arnold just sighed and had to smile a little too. 'She knows me too well.' "Okay, okay…I was jealous. I'm sorry again. And thank you for forgiving me, Helga."
She smiled more. "You're welcome, Arnold." She went back to eating her food. "Hmm…you know, not to add even more awkwardness to our situation, but you're kind of cute when you're jealous, Football Head." She picked up her napkin. "You lose that calm reasonable 'cool' you usually have just a bit. It's fun to see you get all worked up and frustrated—well, fun for me at least, but then I've spent the last seven years turning torturing you into an art form so, you know, I'm a bit biased." She laughed to herself.
Arnold just blushed, playing with the food on his plate again though eating some as well. "It was just a momentary lapse, Helga. After seven years, I've learned how to always keep myself calm and reasonable around you no matter what. You're going to have to start doing better than defensive insults and romantic teasing to get under my skin anymore." He sipped some of his soda, looking quite content and confident with his reply.
Helga just grinned. She sipped some of her own soda, and then said back casually as possible, "Would it do the trick if I told you that while two of the guys who've expressed an interest in me have barely been more than passing fancies, the third one professed his undying love to me, and that third one was your cousin Arnie?...Arnold!" Helga's exclamation came from her having to shift back far in her seat as Arnold had just done a spit take across the table with his yahoo soda the moment she had finished asking her question.
Arnold just coughed a few times and grabbed a napkin, wiping his mouth and a few places on the table as he blinked and blushed and tried to get himself under control.
Helga looked at him in perplexity. "Crimeny, Football head! Okay, that one had to be in part of realizing that up until a few minutes ago you were eating COW BRAINS AND EGGS!"
"What do you mean, Arnie's in love with you?!" Arnold asked instantly, scowling and pouting again and crossing his arms over his chest now. "That doesn't even make any sense!"
Helga scoffed and gave him a bit of a scowl again. "And once again, thank you for your unshakable support of my ability to attract boys, Football Head." She shrugged and added, smiling a little just to bother him. "Oh yeah, he's in love with me. Wants to run off with me, can't stop thinking about me—told me all about it last time he was here just before he left. Apparently, in his words, I am the woman of his dreams." She laughed warmly to herself at the idea. There was just too much sweet irony in never being able to attract Arnold, but accidentally successfully attracting his cousin.
"So that's why he always asks me how you are when he calls…" Arnold mumbled to himself, stabbing the remains of his steak now as he looked down.
"Oh, and what are you going to do about it, Arnold?" Helga asked, rolling her eyes (and trying not to think about how creepy it was that Arnie asked about her whenever he called Arnold). "Call him back up and tell him he can't have me because you're concerned that the torrid love affair he wants between us will get in the way of the 'friendship' I have with you?" She leaned across the table, scowling at him deeply.
"I-I might!" Arnold countered, leaning across the table and scowling as well.
There was a standstill.
Just then Jacques popped up. "Bon, you are done with your meals, and you two have managed not to cause damage to the restaurant or disturb the guests. C'est magnifique. I will take your plates and leave you with dessert menus. And if you order our bananas foster cake again, try not to douse it in water. Hmph!" Nose turned up in the air, plates gathered up on a tray, and dessert menus in front of each of the two children, Jacques departed. "Guttersnipes…" he was just barely heard to remark under his breath as he left, as well as a few French words that surely had a questionable place in the polite atmosphere of a five star, upscale restaurant.
Helga and Arnold continued to stare each other down in perfect, tense silence a little for a moment or two longer.
Then they couldn't help it.
Their mouths squirmed…they started to smile. Then they started to laugh.
They sat back in their chairs and laughed even more, barely able to contain themselves.
"A-Arnold, p-promise me if you ever do tell Arnie all that stuff about torrid love affairs and our 'friendship' th-that you'll let me listen in—I'd love to hear his reaction!" Helga managed between laughs, wiping a tear from her eye.
Arnold laughed more. "H-Helga…" he shook his head, catching his breath a little. "Did…Did we just have our first real fight as friends?" He raised an eyebrow curiously.
Helga took a few breaths to get herself under control and considered. "I think we did. And, uh…what did we fight about again exactly? Not my overbearing affections or your inability to commit; not the fact that I've technically been lying to you for seven years or the fact that until recently you kept nearly giving me heart attacks by trying to talk about my confession in public; not even the fact that I made you eat cow brains or that you liked the cow brains so much that you grossed me out with them during half the meal—we fought over your cousin Arnie!" She almost couldn't contain herself and laughed some more at just how ridiculous the whole thing was.
Arnold smiled so much and shook his head, almost going off into chuckles again himself. "N-No, no, even worse than that—we fought over me being jealous of Arnie."
The two of them looked at each other and then freely gave into some more laughter.
Helga caught her breath again and just smiled at Arnold and shook her head. "Well, well, Football Head…and did you enjoy our fight as much as the ones we've had in the past that you now claim not to have hated entirely?" She looked at him with interest.
Arnold caught his breath again and considered, a smile upon his face too. "Well, it was different… There might have been a lot more emotion involved, but, overall, I did like it a little. But I like how it ended most of all. " His smile softened. "I mean, in the past after we would fight I'd just sort of give in and walk away from it or we'd both walk away from it or sometimes I'd even just be waiting for you to finish getting one up on me with some kind of insult. Either way though, there wouldn't be any closure—no one would win and we'd both just end up frustrated. But this time we could just realize how silly we were both being and laugh about it. Now we both win." His eyes went a little half lidded with warmth.
Helga smiled to herself at his interesting way of putting things. "Yeah, it's sort of a nice change of pace." She swallowed and her voice softened to the calm tone she felt so comfortable using around him now. "I really love tonight, Arnold. I couldn't imagine a better time with you actually. Sorry if I tried to bug you a little too much with the Arnie thing." She looked a touch sheepish.
"Please, don't even mention it, Helga," Arnold insisted. Her hand was resting on the table. Arnold placed his hand atop hers and gave it a little reassuring squeeze. "You know, I meant what you overheard before you sat down tonight…you really do have the nicest smile." He blushed a little and his voice grew quieter. "I'm happy that I get to see it more now." He sighed and glanced to the side for a moment. "I'm sorry. That probably sounded a little stupid, didn't it?'
"No, no…" Helga said softly back, causing Arnold's eyes to come up to hers. She was leaning a little closer to him, still looking intrigued and affectionate. "It was…well, very decent of you, Football Head. Very decent…and kind…and caring…" She sighed softly and added sincerely, "You know, I know I told you that I love you, but I don't think I ever really explained why or how. I know it might sound strange coming from someone like me who always thinks the worst of people and who rarely listens to her conscience but…one of the qualities I find most endearing about you is just how good of a person you are. You're honest and true and so sweet. I adore all of that about you, my righteous beloved. It maddens my pessimism sometimes when I see all of your optimism, but at the same time I pine for your optimism. I pine for you, my noble Arnold." Her blue eyes were full of such warmth, and her tone was full of such simple happiness.
Arnold swallowed, his blushing warming. His voice was quiet too. "You know…speaking of, um…I should tell you, Helga, I know it sounds weird considering how much of a goodie two shoes and how straight laced I am, like you always say, but…I kind of like how you push things and how you're cunning and clever and passionate…and bold, even. I find it sort of attractive, and I couldn't imagine you any other way and I wouldn't want to." He smiled a little more.
Helga felt like her breath could have caught in her throat. "I-I don't know what to say…" She looked down with a touch of fluster. Her heart was racing.
"I don't either…" Arnold replied truthfully, looking down a little as well.
There was silence. Then they both took a breath, raised their heads and spoke at the same time.
They stopped, first as an instinctive response to interrupting each other, and then because they were looking into each other's eyes and communicating something again without actually saying anything, as they had been developing a habit of doing.
Helga looked doubtful, just for a second. "Arnold," she whispered hesitantly, "Maybe we shouldn't—I mean…um…I'm not sure what…"
"Helga," Arnold whispered softly, reassuringly back to her, still blushing rosy, "The last time we had a moment like this at this table, I ruined it by leaving to say goodbye to Ruth. I don't want to lose it again."
They both looked shy and unsure…yet willing.
"I can't stand you, Arnold…" Helga barely whispered as she came closer to him, her eyes full of trust and desire.
"I know." He came closer to her in return, smiling just a little more. "And I think I like you even more now than I did on Valentine's Day."
That was it. They were going to kiss. They were blushing, their noses were practically touching, heads were tilted to the side, their fingers had gotten practically entwined on the table. It might have been a stupid thing to do or an awkward thing to do or a crazy thing to do or the most brilliant thing in the world to do—they didn't care, they both clearly just wanted to kiss and be together, and—
"Monsieur, Mademoiselle, are you ready with your dessert order?"
Jacques suddenly appeared, pad in hand and snooty nose as high up in the air as ever.
Needless to say, the magic of the moment was broken. Now Arnold and Helga were just sitting there nose to nose, eyes wide, not breathing, trying to process how close they had just come to…to…
Helga swallowed and found some words. Anything to get rid of the waiter. "Just, um…t-two chocolate mousses. That's all. Thank you."
"Bon." Jacques replied, giving a nod of his head. He bent low to their level before dashing off, though, lowering his voice and adding, "And, Mademoiselle and Monsieur, I feel I should advise you that while we realize couples come here for romantic evenings, we do not abide with excessive displays of physical intimacy while on the restaurant premises. Please save anything beyond a simple peck on the lips for after the conclusion of your meal." He straightened up, his nose went up in the air again, and then he was gone once more.
Arnold and Helga instantly pulled away from each other and went back to sitting normally in their seats, though now of course they were looking anywhere but at each other and blushing like mad, distress quite apparent in their features.
Arnold swallowed. He had to say something—he felt it was the only right thing to do. "Helga—" he began.
She cut him off instantly, raising a hand, straightening her napkin like her life depended on it. "Arnold, let's just…not, okay? Let's…um…" she swallowed, "Um…" she tried to look back up at him, tried not to feel humiliated, "I-It'll be nice to have dessert here without a bunch of our chucklehead friends standing around and without me getting set on fire and doused in water, huh? Heh…" There was a touch of desperation in her features despite her smile.
Arnold could tell what she wanted from her words, her tone, her look: she just couldn't talk about what had happened right now. The realization made him a little sad. But he did his best to be understanding. After all, she had needed some time after her confession to talk about things, so why not after this as well? 'We should definitely talk about it later though. We have to.' He smiled as best he could. "Heh, yeah, that'll…that'll be nice: just a calm, peaceful, uneventful dessert." He cleared his throat and tried to help her some more with getting them around the awkward moment. "Um, you know, Helga, I was hoping maybe before you and me and Harold and Patty went to that wrestling match together that you could try to fill me in on some things about wrestling in general. Like who the different people are and why you like it so much…that kind of thing. Um…as long as we still have some time here considering dessert and everything, could you?" He looked at her hopefully.
Helga blinked at the request. "I…" she looked confused at first…then surprised…then touched, and Arnold knew she understood what he was trying to do for her. She smiled. "I…would love to, Arnold…Football Head. If you want. It might not interest you that much, and I'm sure it'll kill whatever girly, feminine demeanor I've managed to create for myself tonight in your eyes." She rolled her eyes playfully, seeming calmer and more comfortable already. "But as long as we've got time to kill, why not?" She looked happy and secretly grateful.
Arnold nodded and leaned back in his chair, waiting for her to start. "Okay, then, Helga. I'm all ears."
Helga nodded in return, resting back in her chair as well. "Well…okay, so there are a lot of guys and a lot of names, but we can go over all of that later. I think it'll be more interesting to you, anyway, if I try to describe why I like wrestling first. You see, I'm a very dramatic person, Football Head, and what's interesting about wrestling is that it's not just a sport…it's also a performance in a way. We play baseball games all the time without a crowd, but with wrestling the crowd is a part of the whole event, and the purpose is to engage them and to fire them up and to get everyone yelling and rooting and caught up in the passion of the moment." She shrugged. "Plus it's cool when somebody really nails somebody else with a pile driver or a haymaker or another awesome move. Heh, Old Betsey and the Five Avengers do need examples to look up to, after all." Helga flexed her hands outward, cracking her knuckles a little.
"Wow, Helga," Arnold replied, genuinely surprised. "I never thought about wrestling being like that." He raised an eyebrow in interest. "Is that the way all fans of wrestling think of it or is that just a view of it that you came up with?"
Helga smiled modestly. "Well, I think, whether or not everyone thinks about wrestling in that way, that's just the way the sport is—you can still participate in the drama and the excitement even without analyzing the whole thing after all. But as for me, I mostly started thinking about it that way after reading an essay on it by this literary theorist guy named Roland Barthes." She sipped her soda.
Arnold looked somewhat puzzled for a moment. "Where did you find an essay like that to read?"
Helga shrugged. "Eh, sometimes I like to swipe Olga's college books to bug her a little. But I like English and she's got some good English ones, so I actually do read those from time to time. They don't bore me to tears like the other subjects she studies, at least, and they do make some good points."
"You read college books…" Arnold had to grin to himself. "Of course you do. I wouldn't have expected anything less actually, I think. Not from the girl clever enough to save the neighborhood with me." He chuckled a little.
"Eh, quit sucking up!" Helga joked playfully. "Anyway, so now that we've got the culture of wrestling matches down, I think I should lay out how a typical live match is going to be. It's actually a really intense experience if you've never been before, and Harold's cousin can get us up front so that'll be really, really intense. First of all…" She began her descriptions and explanations, filled with colorful phrases and fascinating gestures.
Their dessert arrived shortly afterwards.
Arnold watched and listened attentively to her the entire time she spoke, finding her perspective very fascinating actually. Honestly, by the end of her talk, which happened to coincide with the finishing of their chocolate mousses, he really was looking forward to a wrestling outing with her and their friends.
Helga felt the same.
Mostly, though, the two of them were just glad they had gotten through not only their first fight but their first near moment of genuine intimacy as well without their delicate friendship falling apart.
Meanwhile, out on the streets of Hillwood…
Curly and Rhonda had just ducked into an alleyway and were taking a moment to catch their breaths.
"Curly…" Rhonda straightened up a little, finally able to speak now, "Look, this is getting to be kind of intense—maybe we should just let Harold and Patty catch up to us, you can apologize to Harold about the ice cream, I'll apologize to Patty for ditching her, and everyone will end up happy more or less." She clapped her hands together, trying to be diplomatic. Then her look went a little dry as she added, "Besides, I'm starting to sweat. You know I don't like that."
Curly, peering around a building corner to make sure the coast was clear, just shook his head. "Rhonda baby, first of all there's a good chance Harold'll deck me no matter what for throwing that ice cream at him. And second of all, aw, come on, where's your adventure?" He glanced over his shoulder and grinned at her. "We're dashing through the city on a Friday night as part of a man hunt! So pull up those fancy Cabrini sleeves of yours and have a good time, sweet lips!" He winked at her and then went back to peering around the corner.
Rhonda fumed a little at the comment and opened her mouth to say something haughty when all of a sudden Curly jumped back from the street corner. "I see them! Here, come on, let's go this way!" He dragged her out of the alleyway and then started leading them both down the block, heading in whatever direction Curly pleased.
"Curly, this is insane!" Rhonda yelled as she tried to run along with him.
"The best things in life are, my lady!" Curly laughed maniacally.
"But we're not even heading toward my house anymore! And you're starting to stretch out the sleeve of my cashmere sweater."
"Ah, we're taking the scenic route! And you always look hot no matter what you're wearing or what condition it's in. Come on, live a little!"
Curly had them duck and dodge as they went along, climbing the occasional fence (much to Rhonda's annoyance), hiding behind large trees and buildings, and taking creative and yet physically draining short cuts, usually involving a dumpster. "See, I knew you could keep up, Rhonda. Classy and capable—what a woman?" He winked over his shoulder at her at one point, and then happily led them along.
Rhonda just sighed at the comment and shook her head…yet she couldn't help also smiling a little. Despite her denials, maybe Curly really could be a little fun (though she would never admit it aloud). 'And…maybe this whole chase thing is a little amusing.' Another thing she could never imagine herself saying out loud.
"And just around here, and…" Curly started as they quickly rounded a corner together.
He stopped abruptly, causing Rhonda to do the same.
They suddenly found themselves face to face with Harold and Patty, having nearly slammed into them as a matter of fact.
Needless to say, the two older kids looked a little less than happy. They were getting quite exhausted by this point in the evening, as a matter of fact, and Harold's shirt was still stained with ice cream.
"Uh…" Rhonda started, her mouth agape and her eyes wide. She gulped. "Curly, what are we going to do?" she hissed into his ear.
Curly just swallowed once…then grinned crazily. "Free the animals!" Then suddenly he dashed backwards with Rhonda a few paces and kicked down a bunch of trashcans against the side of the building they were standing near, which resulted in over a dozen black cats coming out and dashing toward Harold and Patty. Then he ran off with Rhonda again.
"See, what did I tell you, piece of cake!" he quickly whispered to her as they escaped once again.
Rhonda smiled and she actually laughed just a little between the comment and just the…the randomness of his action. 'Okay, I'm sort of having a good time with this in a way.' She sincerely wanted to express the thought to Curly for a moment but then quickly shut down the desire, feeling a touch of embarrassment come over her. "Erm…yes, well…I suppose your plan worked well enough." She sighed, trying to regain some of her calm and dignity. "Now just get me home already, Curly, before dawn at least." She rolled her eyes, unable to help smiling a little more.
"You got it, hot lips!" He laughed more, pulling her closer and lacing their fingers as they went along.
The two of them ran onward.
Meanwhile back with Harold and Patty just a minute or two after Rhonda and Curly's hasty departure…
"Harold, I know you like cats, but I think we should go now if we want to catch up to Rhonda and Curly," Patty suggested, having just picked up and righted the last trashcan that Curly had knocked over, a patient but dull look on her features.
Harold, meanwhile, was just smiling and petting the dozen or so strays that had now gathered around him, purring and rolling over and gladly munching on the few fish heads he had managed to gather together for them from the contents that had fallen out of the overturned trashcans. "Aw, but they're so cute!" He knelt down, pointing them out individually with a smile on his face. "See, I named this one Fudgy because he's the color of a Mr. Fudgy Bar, and I named this one Peppermint Stick because he has cream colored and white stripes, and, uh…oh this one can be Éclair because, look, he has a big white patch on his tummy that makes it look like he has cream filling!" The cat rolled over and Harold patted its stomach.
Patty sighed but only smiled more now at the undeniably adorable sight. She approached Harold and knelt down too, petting the cats as well. "You're right. They are pretty cute, Harold." She smiled more, then glanced up at him. "But we have to leave them now, otherwise they're going to follow you home. You remember—that's happened twice so far when you found cats by the boardwalk you liked and played with them too much. It's okay—this is a good neighborhood and it's not too cold at night and either way they all have each other. And they seem really happy now that you got those fish heads all out in the open for them," she offered with a small laugh.
Harold sighed but smiled more in understanding and nodded. "Yeah, okay. You're right." He gave a few of the cats a final pat and stood up. He looked to Patty, who had stood up now as well. "So, anyway, what do you want to do now? Just call it a night?" He shrugged and added, "Patty, I really don't think Curly's going to do anything to hurt Rhonda. He's insane, but he's a good guy deep down. He's kind of like a more intense version of Helga, actually."
Patty's look became a bit serious, and she crossed her arms over her chest and replied, "I don't think he'll hurt her either. But I still want to go after them. This is getting personal." She scowled a little. "When I set out to get somebody, I get them. I have had people I was supposed to fight hide and head out of town and even disguise themselves to dodge me, but I've always gotten them. Curly is not going to be an exception." She looked determined. "Besides, I'm sick of having ice cream and cats thrown at us," she added dryly.
Harold blinked at Patty's sudden determination. "Patty," he looked hesitant, "Are you sure you shouldn't just let this go? You're starting to get a little stubborn."
"I'm not stubborn," she pouted a little as she replied back, looking away (all clear signs of stubbornness whether she wanted to admit it or not.) "I-I just don't like being beaten, that's all. Besides, if you and I can wrangle Arnold and Helga, we can manage Curly and Rhonda too. I know it. What do you say?" She held out her hand for him to shake.
Harold still looked hesitant though. "Patty…"
Patty sighed, her features and tone calming a little. "Just for a little while longer. If we don't catch up to them in another half hour, we can go home…and tomorrow I'll get you whatever you want from the Jollie Ollie man, my treat." She smiled a little.
Harold considered, then sighed and smiled and took her hand, giving it a shake. "Okay, you've got a deal, Patty." They released hands and he made sure to add before they were on their way, "But the next time we go out and get into a wacky shenanigan, I get to plan it—you got to plan the last two, so I'm overdue, okay?"
Patty laughed a little and nodded. "Okay, Harold, you can plan the next one." Then her eyes lit up a little and she grabbed is arm. "Now, let's go—I have an idea." She started to lead him away.
The happy couple continued on in their journey (clearly catching up to Curly and Rhonda as they could hear some of Curly's crazed laughs not to far ahead of them in the distance.)
'Perfect,' Patty thought to herself. 'I think I know what he's planning. What I'm thinking of doing should work, then.'
Dinner was all finished. Arnold and Helga were now standing outside of Chez Paris together under the stars and the soft glow of the streetlights.
They were quiet together for a moment, looking a little awkward and hesitant. Then Arnold smiled softly and asked, as he had been intending to ask all evening and as he still wanted to ask now even despite anything uncomfortable that had happened during dinner, "Helga, would it be okay if I walked you home?" He looked to her hopefully but also with a touch of uncertainty in his gaze clearly suggesting that if she said no he wouldn't be offended.
Helga let out a breath. Then she glanced up at him, arms behind her back, and asked, "Instead of you walking me home, could we just walk home together? I mean, your house is on the way to my house, it seems silly for you to walk all the way to my house with me and then to have to double back for the boarding house."
Arnold smiled politely. "It's okay, Helga, I don't mind doubling back," he offered.
'Yeah, but I'd like a little time to walk alone tonight, even if it's just from your house to my house.' Helga smiled in appreciation but pressed the issue nonetheless. "Arnold, I'm not just asking to be considerate to you." Her smile grew a little dry. "Come on, you know me—I'm not that selfless for anybody, even you most of the time. I'd just like to walk to your house and then walk alone to my house, okay?" She looked into his eyes.
Arnold looked back into her eyes. His features took on some seriousness and he nodded in understanding. "Okay, Helga. If that's what you want." He smiled a little again and stepped to the side. Then he bent low and held out his arm forward. "Ladies first," he offered warmly.
Helga blushed and smiled a little and just shook her head. "You know, I thought I'd like it if one day you started doing little chivalrous things like this for me at every turn. But now I think it's starting to grow on me way too much—I'm practically getting giddy inside." She started forward and glanced over her shoulder at him. "For the sake of my reputation, try to tone down the gentlemanly thing in front of our friends so that I don't accidentally go all love-struck in public, huh?" She laughed a little and faced forward again.
Arnold smiled more and straightened up, then followed after her until they were walking side by side. "I'll try, but I can't make any promises. I like being nice to you." He moved a little closer alongside her. "I've always liked being nice to you." It was a realization that had just fully occurred to him and that he wanted to let her know now.
Helga blushed a little again and rolled her eyes to the side. "Heh, yeah, never quite understood that one since I specifically tried to bother the living heck out of you most of the time, but I just figured you were being a pushover." She shrugged and looked forward again.
Arnold's grin went up on one side. "Well, I actually did get tempted to be mean back to you sometimes. I even acted on it once this year by throwing that paint on you in class after you threw the paste and feathers on me while we were working on that Native American diorama, remember? But I just…never really wanted to be mean back to you no matter how you were to me." He looked down in thought. "I always wanted to give you a chance to show me how good of a person you are deep down, and I never wanted you to feel like there were any hard feelings between us or that you couldn't come to me just like everyone else if you had a problem or needed advice." His grin grew a little as he added, "And besides, being nice back to you always seemed to bother you a lot more than whenever I tried just yelling back at you. I can't say I didn't take some small satisfaction in that." He looked just a touch smug at the notion.
Helga had been watching him with a soft, sincere interest as he spoke, a warm feeling inside of her about how actively considerate he had been all these years toward her deep down. She blinked at his last statement though, and her grin returned. She rolled her eyes. "Oh," she nudged him in the arm, "Shut up. Crimeny, you're such a little sneak, Football Head." Then she crossed her arms over her chest and admitted, "Ugh, but you know, it always does bother me when I go at you and go at you and go at you, and I never get anything back but a friendly smile and a kind word. At least when you would occasionally pout at me and sigh in annoyance, that was something. But you're right—it wouldn't be nearly as maddening or as fun fighting with you if you just fought back with me normally like any other person."
They shared a warm laugh together.
Then Helga moved just a little closer to Arnold and added quietly, still looking forward, "You know…I won't admit this probably if you ever ask me about it again, but for what it's worth after seven years of conflict, thank you for always trying to be nice back to me no matter what. I can't begin to tell you how much I've needed that or how good it's been for me on a personal level." She swallowed and then lightly took his hand in hers and gave it a soft squeeze.
Arnold's eyes went a little wide and he studied her with a touch of curiosity for a moment. Then a soft look of understanding came to his features. "Don't mention it, Helga. Like I said earlier, I'm just happy to see you smiling more now, even if it's mostly just when you're with me." He squeezed her hand back a little and felt a great happiness that she was letting them touch like this.
Helga cleared her throat after a few more seconds of walking, speaking in her normal tone now. "All right, all right, enough sappy and tender moments. You know, um…this was fun, Arnold." She glanced at him, smiling. "I could get used to nights like these with you."
Arnold smiled more, glancing back at her. "I…I agree. I couldn't agree more actually. I really wouldn't mind seeing each other like this more in the future. A-As long as you would be comfortable." He blushed a little and looked a touch concerned. "I don't want to push you. I-I mean, if you need more time apart first or if you'd rather do something a bit more casual than going out to dinner alone, that's fine. I-I just want anything we do together to be as peaceful and enjoyable for you as possible no matter what might happen or hypothetically might have already happened, like tonight, for instance, and—" He was rambling awkwardly now.
"Arnold," Helga sighed, looking at him with as patient a smile as she could muster as she cut him off gently, "You can bring up the fact that we almost kissed each other at the dinner table tonight. I promise, I'm a big girl, I can handle it." She sighed a bit more deeply, looking down. "Besides, that was small potatoes compared to the number confessing to you did on me, not to mention how much you finding out last weekend at a public dinner party that I was Cecile threw me for a loop." She cleared her throat, blushing a little but sounding calm enough. "I know that it almost happened—believe me, my heart's still pounding a little from it—and I've accepted that it probably wasn't the most unexpected thing that could have almost happened tonight. We do have a very complicated relationship after all at the moment." She glanced up at him again.
Arnold, blushing a bit, just swallowed and nodded in understanding. "Yeah, I know." He rubbed the back of his neck with his free hand. "I guess we both still have to get used to things about each other and being close now."
Helga nodded. "It's just going to take time, Football Head. That and…maybe some other things." She smiled more at him. "But we'll work it out completely as we go along." She sighed. "Of course, for now maybe we should let each other's hands go, just to make sure no other nearly uncontrollable moments come over us until we've got everything more figured out."
Arnold blushed very much but nodded in understanding and instantly let Helga's hand go, putting both of his own behind his back for good measure. "I understand. Completely." He frowned in a touch of discomfort and awkwardness. "A-And I'm sorry for getting so carried away at the table before. We were getting close and you tried to tell me we shouldn't, but I just…got caught up in reliving the moment of last Valentine's Day. I really just wanted to make everything up to you about that night."
Helga laughed a little. "Hey you already did that in spades by not only eating but actually liking cow brains and eggs tonight, Football Head. Besides you apologized more than enough already no matter how many times I keep bringing it up to bug you." She gave his shoulder a soft nudge with her shoulder.
Arnold smiled a little but shook his head. "But, it's more than just making up last Valentine's Day to you, I wanted to…" he looked down pensively like he really couldn't find the right words for it, "I wanted to…" He sighed, the pieces starting to come together in his mind. "You deserve to be loved back, Helga. You do."
Helga's eyes went a little wide and she looked down more. "If you say so," stumbled out of her. Then she took a breath and said what she knew was right about this whole thing regardless of Arnold's sentimental convictions, "But…you know as well as I do, Arnold, that if that love I might get back isn't the truth, it's not going to help anything. And just because someone might deserve something doesn't mean they get it."
Arnold frowned, looking down more. "It's not fair."
Helga scoffed, smiling a little. "Tell me about it." She took a deep breath. "But such is the wacky world in which we live, Football Head. Not all things work out. That's where my pessimism comes in much more handy than your optimism: I usually expect the worse, so I'm never that disappointed."
Arnold looked at her with a touch of gentle concern. "Just promise me you won't ever give up hope, Helga…about anything."
Helga's eyes went a little wide for a moment. She glanced at him curiously.
Arnold blushed a little and blinked a few times but then smiled sheepishly and added, "Um…you know, just for the sake of my optimism. It helps me to think everyone's hopeful, not matter how negative they want to be about things."
Helga smiled softly at him and sighed. "Okay, Arnold. If you insist, I'll never give up hope deep down about anything. You have my word." She gave a little bow with her head and then stretched up with her arms. "Now, since we got past all that mushy stuff, can we just have a nice, normal conversation and forget that I burn with passionate fire for you and that you have a compulsive interest in me nine times out of ten because you want us to be friends and one time out of ten because something inside of you has me in your sights for your next big boyhood crush?" She grinned at him, crossing her arms over her chest.
Arnold did his best not to laugh, and just smiled and nodded his head. "Sure, Helga. Did you have anything in mind to talk about?"
"We could revisit the subject of the real Cecile like we tried to do during dessert…" She smirked at him a little.
Arnold blinked and then sighed and rolled his eyes to the side, though a smile was present on his face. "Helga, I already told you, she was really just a friend and I've barely sent and gotten from her a few post cards since that night."
"Mmm hmm," Helga grinned all the more, "Right, she went on a spur of the moment transatlantic flight on the most romantic day of the year just to be with you, and she was just your friend." Helga chuckled warmly.
Arnold smiled back at her innocently. "Exactly."
She just sighed and shook her head, still grinning. "In that case, you two would have been perfect together. You're the two most ridiculously selfless and nicest people on the planet."
"But why would I want to date someone who's just like me when I could date you, Helga G. Pataki?" Arnold asked with a warm grin. "Where would the fun be?" He shrugged.
Helga blinked, then blushed and looked down with a small smile. "Shut up." She straightened her arms and nudged him again (and by doing so allowed herself to walk more closely alongside him.)
Arnold certainly didn't move away.
The two of them just walked quietly together for a few moments, turning a corner, enjoying the moonlight.
A thought occurred to Helga, and she glanced at Arnold, part of her brow raised in interest. "Oh, hey, before I forget…Now, what was it you were explaining to me just before the check came back at the restaurant about you actually being born in a foreign country yourself? Are we talking Europe, or—"
"Ha ha, you'll never catch us, suckers! Thaddeus Curly Gamelthorpe is master of the night and streets! Come, my queen, no one can take our freedom!"
"Curly, I have been patient but I am tired of running—get me home now or I am stopping and making you hail a cab for us!"
Arnold and Helga were stopped dead, wide-eyed.
Curly and Rhonda had just dashed right past them at a street corner.
Arnold and Helga's eyes just followed the couple as they went along on their way down a new block, Curly laughing maniacally the whole time.
There was silence.
Then suddenly Harold and Patty came running by, though they paused in front of Arnold and Helga for a moment, catching their breath.
Harold straightened up first, looking at Arnold and Helga. "Oh, hey Arnold, hey Helga." He smiled. "Uh, did you guys see which way Curly and Rhonda went?"
Arnold and Helga both just slowly nodded and pointed off to the block down which their two friends had run.
Harold smiled. "Thanks." He turned to his companion. "Come on, Patty, we're getting close, we should be able to catch them or whatever plan you have if we hurry."
Patty nodded. As Harold started to go, she glanced at Arnold and Helga and just sighed and shook her head. "Please, don't even ask. And for the record, you two are not at all the most stressful couple to go out with." She smiled a little and gave them a small wave. "Have a good night." Then she was off, catching up with Harold.
Arnold and Helga just stood there in silence for another moment.
Arnold spoke first. "Helga…you're smarter than me about schemes and romantic stuff…Do you know what—"
"No," Helga shook her head—he didn't even have to finish the sentence. "I have zero idea about the nature of what we just witnessed, and I think I don't want to know either way. It involves Curly, Arnold, and Curly is more insane than me…and I snuck around downtown in a trench coat for three days last month with a voice box and stilts trying to save you from corporate moguls. Think about that."
Arnold nodded at her point, still looking in the direction that their four friends had gone. He let out a breath and then glanced back at her. "Should we maybe go and help, or—"
Helga just put a hand on his shoulder and shook her head, still wide eyed and still looking in the direction they had gone. "No. There are four of them, better to let them figure it out. I wouldn't even know where to start. Better to just walk away, Arnold…Better to just walk away."
Arnold had to nod. "Maybe you're right."
Helga nodded too. "Yeah, in fact, you know, remember that thing I said about us not holding hands to prevent something from happening between us? Forget it—we're holding hands. Strength in numbers. And either way I don't want to end up separated from you if the next time Curly flies past here its on a giraffe leading a bunch of other animals from the zoo once again."
Arnold smiled a little and nodded. "That makes sense. And it is Curly, so there really aren't any guarantees he won't do something like that."
Helga nodded again and now removed her hand from Arnold's shoulder and took his hand in hers. Then she let out a breath, shook her head to clear it, and started them walking on once more. "So, um…anyway…getting back to our conversation and pretending that disturbing interlude didn't happen, um…" Helga tried to recall her question, then remembered. "Oh, so, at dinner after we finished talking about Cecile and then got into talking about French stuff and France, you started mentioning something about how technically you were born in a foreign country too. So, uh…tell me about that—I'm interested." She raised part of her brow. "Where are you from exactly, Football Head?"
Arnold sighed, his countenance and demeanor returning to normal, and smiled and shrugged. "Oh, it's a long story, but the country is San Lorenzo. It's in South America, a really small place tucked away in the mountains. I only lived there until I was about one though, then my parents brought us back up here to live."
Arnold expected some kind of reply of course (this was a conversation after all). And he supposed it was an interesting fact about himself—he really didn't know of any other kids who had been born outside of this country or even outside of Hillwood for that matter.
Yet, Helga didn't say anything back to him at all.
Arnold glanced at her curiously after some more silence passed. "Helga?" He blinked. She was just looking down and forward, her blue eyes a little wide.
Helga glanced at him at being addressed. "Hmm?" she asked softly.
Arnold looked at her more curiously, though he smiled a little too. "You just haven't said anything in a few minutes. And you wanted to know about where I was born, and I told you. I just thought you'd have something to say about it, that's all." He shrugged, hoping that didn't sound like too strange of a point to make.
Helga blinked at the inquiry. "Oh. No, no, um…I-I do have things to say. I'm sorry." Her voice was very soft and kind, in that Valentine's tone she had. "It's just, uh…well…" she looked pensive for a moment, "You mentioned your parents to me, and you never mention your parents to anyone. I wasn't sure what to say exactly." She blushed a little more and looked down again.
Arnold blinked. "Oh." It hadn't even occurred to him…. It was just so nice to talk to her—it felt so natural, and he liked sharing with her. He considered. "You don't have to say anything special. It was just kind of a natural part of the conversation—we were talking about me being born, it makes sense my parents would come up." He shrugged. It might have sounded strange, but ever since he had found and read his father's journal a couple of weeks ago and really learned the details of his parents' situation, he didn't feel the same resistance to talking about them or anger or embarrassment—if they came up he just felt normal. And he actually liked the change very much.
Helga nodded, blushing a bit. "I know. I'm sorry, Arnold, really, I don't mean to make you uncomfortable by acting uncomfortable. I'm not uncomfortable. I just didn't expect it, that's all." She glanced at him. "I'm happy you told me about where you were born. It's nice of you to share with me like that."
Arnold looked at her with concern yet compassion. She was trying very hard to be sensitive and caring even if it was more in her nature to be blunt and a little selfish. He felt flattered to an extent. "It's no big deal, Helga. I'm very comfortable around you, and I don't mind sharing with you. Don't worry about it." He considered, and then tried as a means of alleviating any remaining discomfort she might be feeling, "So you were born in the city, I guess?"
Helga had listened to his reply with much interest. At his polite question, though, she held up her hand and nodded. "Yeah, yeah, born in this city, pretty boring, pretty standard, as you can guess my room was decorated with pink. But enough about that." She looked at him hesitantly but with interest. "If you really don't mind talking about things…I wouldn't mind hearing about San Lorenzo a little. Or even just anything else you might want to share with me, Arnold. I'm interested." She looked into his eyes, complete seriousness and sincerity in her features. "Really."
Arnold looked into those eyes with interest of his own. Then he smiled more and nodded to her. "Sure, Helga, if you'd really like to hear." He cleared his throat, looking forward and thinking, a smile still on his face. "Well….San Lorenzo, from what I've read about it, is a beautiful country full of rainforests and waterfalls and mountains. Anyway, my parents met there and got married there and so I ended up being born there, but my parents decided it would be safer for me here so they came here to raise me." He didn't want to get into any more detail than that at the moment, and Arnold was grateful to see in Helga's eyes that she would respect whatever he chose to share and wouldn't prompt him for more. "Anyway," he went on, "I actually wouldn't mind travelling some day to visit there and other places. I wouldn't even mind visiting France—not to visit Cecile, of course." He blushed a little and smiled more. "But to see the Loire valley—it sounded beautiful in her letters. Or I'd even like to see other mountains or valleys or forests in other countries. I think about traveling a lot. Do you ever think about travelling, Helga?" he asked her with interest.
Helga, taking in all of this new information, considered his question and then replied with a warm smile, "Only if you're paying for the plane fair, Football Head—nothing on the cheap." She winked at him and laughed.
Arnold laughed a little too.
"But seriously," Helga shook her head, smiling more and going on, "I don't know." She shrugged, considering further. "I never thought about it much, but now that you bring it up I wouldn't mind getting out of this old town from time to time, I guess. The world could probably use a good dose of Helga G. Pataki to whip things into shape anyway. In which case my first stop should probably be some major capital cities just to make my presence and ideas known to the leaders and government officials there." An intrigued smile came to Helga's lips at the idea of such a journey.
Arnold smiled more. That sounded like Helga.
"Hey, you know, as long as we're feeling very international, we should branch out from the French food one of these nights," Helga suddenly suggested as the thought occurred to her. "This city's full of different restaurants. We could even try getting some South American grub. What do you say, Football Head?" she offered with an interested smile.
Arnold gave their hands a little swing as they went on and nodded. "Sure, Helga. We could do that. I think that's a great idea, actually. Besides," he rolled his eyes to the side, "I think Jacques is getting a little on edge about us. We should probably give him a break a few weekends. It seems like the right thing to do."
Arnold and Helga shared a warm laugh together, nodding at the necessity of that plan for the snooty waiter's sanity at this point.
The two talked on under the stars and moon and streetlights as they made their way to Vine Street and the boarding house, holding hands and talking as they enjoyed the remainder of their special time together.
Curly had kept his word and gotten Rhonda to her stoop.
Oh, he took the long way around, no question there, but lo and behold Rhonda—slightly frazzled, shoes a bit scuffed, hair in need of some serious tending, somewhat out of breath—had indeed now finally made it back to her front door this evening.
She just stood there on her stoop, leaning back against her front door, catching her breath while she grasped at her sweater over her heart a little.
Curly smiled pleasantly a few steps away from her. "See, Rhonda baby, there we are, all safe and sound. Told you I'd get you home. And did Harold or Patty catch us? No sir! That's what happens when you roll with Curly—I'm an expert at evasion, chases, and just in general at getting out of sticky situations." He winked at her. Then he moved closer, his grin growing as he hungrily rubbed his hands together. "Now, where's the kiss on the hand I get to give you, huh?"
Rhonda let out a final breath and straightened up now. She adjusted her hair slightly and her sweater. Then she just looked at him. "You…" she held up a finger, trying to scowl, mouth open, "I…"…again, just at a loss for words, "If…" Her mouth closed and her scowl grew, and she just looked so frustrated, and then…then…
…Then Rhonda lowered her finger and lost the scowl and just sighed very deeply. "You did get me out of Slausen's early, didn't you? And you did get me back here, didn't you? And you did promise to correct everyone about your rumor about us being in a secret relationship, didn't you?" left her in a dry but accepting voice.
Curly nodded. "Check, check, and check, hot lips! Now where's that hand I get to kiss?" He beamed eagerly.
Rhonda just sighed deeply to herself once more, shaking her head and rubbing her temple. "I can't believe this. I mean, how do I get myself into these situations? It's the coat thing all over again." She closed her eyes and leaned back against her door again, just trying to psyche herself up for actually having to give Curly the back of her perfectly manicured hand to kiss.
Curly, of course, was watching her this entire time—her sighs and hesitations and near anger. And he heard her comment about the coat.
His smile fell a little and he took a step back. "Hey, uh, Rhonda?" He rubbed the back of his neck and looked away as she looked up, managing somewhat to put a smile back on his face again for her just in time. "Look, uh, you've been through a lot tonight and…maybe I did milk the chase a little more than I should have. I was just having fun, and maybe I wanted to impress you, I guess. But anyway, it's kind of late and you've had a long night, so maybe we should just do a rain check on the kiss." He turned away and started to head down the stoop.
There was quiet, and then Rhonda let out a soft breath. She shook her head to herself and couldn't help stepping forward and holding out a hand. "Curly…wait." 'Darn guilty conscience—I've said it before and I'll say it again, why can't I be one of those rich, popular girls who doesn't care about anybody but myself?'
Curly turned back to her curiously. She came down the steps to join him on the sidewalk now.
Rhonda looked into his eyes, her features greatly softened. "Look, Curly," her tone was softened too, "I…I know you did your best—your best is just a little more colorful than it is for other people." She smiled a little more. "And…maybe it was sort of fun, okay?"
Curly did give a very small genuine smile now. "Thanks, Rhonda."
Rhonda nodded. "You're welcome, Curly. And, for what it's worth, you do deserve something after all of that and for promising to fix things at school."
Curly looked very serious. "I really will tell everyone we're not secretly together, Rhonda. I promise. And I'm sorry I did that behind your back. I just…" he shuffled his feet a little, "People were asking me about us sometimes ever since the coat thing and…well, one thing lead to another, and I got carried away. But I won't anymore." He gave a firm nod and added, frowning a little, "Either way though, you don't have to let me kiss you. I don't want to make you uncomfortable, Rhonda. I know you get upset when you're uncomfortable."
Rhonda could tell it was very hard for him to offer that. She smiled more. "You know, Curly…when you're reasonable and calm and considerate, you're not so bad. And…you're maybe even not entirely bad when you're acting a little crazy."
Curly looked up at her in a touch of surprise and actually blushed a little.
Rhonda was surprised by the reaction at first. But then she just smiled again and shook her head and let out a breath. "Goodnight, Curly." She hesitated for just a moment, gearing herself up, then went forward and quickly gave him a peck on the cheek after which she immediately took several steps back from him. "I'll see you on Monday." She started up her steps but then turned around before opening her door. "And do NOT read things that aren't there into that. Period. We are friends—don't rock the boat." Her look grew sterner.
Curly just had his jaw open and was standing perfectly still on the sidewalk.
Rhonda raised an eyebrow in concern. "Curly?"
He didn't respond. He just remained standing there, jaw dropped open, still not moving at all.
Rhonda blinked a couple of times at this sight. "Oookay." She cleared her throat and then opened her door and slowly slipped inside. "Uh, goodnight again...I guess." She gave a little wave.
At that point, Patty and Harold finally approached her stoop.
They had actually beaten Curly and Rhonda here some time ago and had been hiding in the alleyway alongside Rhonda's house in advance of her and Curly's arrival. It had been an interesting plan on Patty's part—chase Curly and Rhonda until they got relatively near Rhonda's house, then pretend to have lost them but secretly go to Rhonda's house ahead of them and catch them when they inevitably went there next since they would be so close to it and it would be so late at that point anyway. Not an awful idea. And it had worked. Though as soon as Curly and Rhonda had reached the stoop and Patty had started to overhear their conversation, she had decided to let them be. Her friend didn't seem to be in any distress, and it would have been a shame to ruin the little moment between them anyway.
Of course, Patty would never reveal to Rhonda that she had overheard anything. She knew it would wound Rhonda's pride too much.
Curly seemed to be the one in a bit of distress now, though, of all people, so Patty had signaled to Harold and the two had come forward just to see if they could help.
"Uh…hi, Rhonda," Patty gave her friend a small wave and a hesitant smile.
"Yeah, hi," Harold gave her a wave and then yawned—he was getting quite tired at this point.
Rhonda jumped in surprise at the sudden approach of her two friends. "Oh! Uh…hi guys." She gave them a little wave, smiling awkwardly. "Didn't see you there—um, did you just get here?" she asked as casually as possible.
Patty smiled and nodded. "Yeah, we just got here. Right, Harold?" She gave him the lightest nudge.
Harold nodded, pretty much willing to go with anything at this point. Besides, he didn't want Rhonda to feel awkward either—there had been enough awkwardness going around lately. "Yeah, we just got here. Curly's fast. Speaking of which—" he glanced at the dark haired boy who was still in that frozen position, "Is he going to be okay?" He raised an eyebrow and waved a hand in front of Curly's face a couple of times, though there was no response.
Rhonda cleared her throat and did her best not to blush. "I honestly have no idea." She crossed her arms over her chest and walked down her stoop to look at Curly a touch dryly. "He's never gone catatonic on me before. Must be the thrill of the night or something." She rolled her eyes and then changed the subject, looking to her friend. "Patty, listen, about us running away from Slausen's, I'm sorry. I was desperate to get out of there, everything was awkward, Curly said he could sneak us to the door, it seemed like a not too bad idea at the time, then one thing led to another and to another…" She shook her head. "Anyway, I'm just sorry. I know you were trying to have a nice evening and show me and Curly a good time like you did Arnold and Helga, but…Curly and I just can't get close as friends. We can either be hostile to each other or have the mad, passionate romance that he wants between us, and as that second option is NEVER going to happen, we're stuck with him making crazy advances and me threatening to punch him." She smiled and shrugged. "A simple relationship, but it's not so bad. It's even a little fun at times." She cleared her throat once again and finished up. "Anyway, do you forgive me for the grand chase through the streets—both of you?" She glanced at Harold too, looking a touch sheepish.
Patty nodded, smiling in understanding. "Of course, Rhonda. It's okay. I probably shouldn't have sprung Curly on you like that anyway, and I'm sorry if I made you uncomfortable at all tonight."
Harold nodded in agreement. "Yeah, I'm sorry too. We won't do that again, we promise."
Rhonda smiled appreciatively. "Thank you." She glanced at Curly again. "Now the only problem left is what to do with him. He can't just be standing outside of my house all night stiff as a statue—talk about embarrassing." She snapped her fingers in front of his face a few times.
Harold considered. "Hmm…you know, he only lives a couple blocks from here. I could carry him back to his house on my way back home. I'll just put him out there and ring the bell or something, someone'll let him in." Harold smiled at the idea and looked to Patty. "Do you mind the extra trip, Patty?"
Patty shook her head. "No, that should be fine. It sounds like it's on our way anyway."
Rhonda smiled more and clapped her hands together and bowed. "Thank you both so much. I owe you."
Patty waved her off. "It's okay, Rhonda. It's the least we could do to make up for the blind date tonight."
Rhonda headed happily back up her stoop. "Well, thanks anyway. I'll see you both at school on Monday. Bon soi!" And with that and a wave she popped back into her house.
Patty just looked after her, shaking her head with a smile.
Meanwhile, Harold was trying to find a good grip on Curly, which wasn't easy considering the position in which he had chosen to freeze. "Sheesh," he grumbled, "This didn't happen to Arnold because Helga kissed him and this didn't happen to me because you kissed me—Curly are you faking?"
Curly didn't make a sound though and remained perfectly still.
Patty just laughed a little and went over to him. "Here, Harold, you get in front and walk forward holding his arms behind you, and I'll get in back and walk forward holding his legs up and facing him." She started to get them in position.
"Are you sure you don't mind?" asked Harold politely as they shifted things a little.
Patty shook her head. "Not at all." Then her smile took on a bit of smugness and she added, "Besides, I'm just as strong as you. Well, stronger probably, but I don't want to open up that debate again…" She hoisted up Curly's legs as Harold hoisted up his arms and also rolled his eyes.
"Yeah, uh huh, whatever you've gotta tell yourself Patty." Harold grinned and shook his head as they began to head up the street.
"I could say the same for you, Harold," Patty merely countered playfully. Then she let out a sigh, smiling more. "This is a very strange way to end a date, Harold, even for us considering the people we know."
He laughed a little and shook his head. "It's just my class—none of them are really normal exactly." He glanced over his shoulder. "You should come to some stuff we do together more often, get to know people. I think you'd like them."
Patty nodded. "I'd like that, Harold. I'd like that a lot, I think." She considered and then asked, "So how do you think Arnold and Helga's date went tonight? It looked like they were coming from Chez Paris again."
"Well, Helga's hair wasn't burnt and Arnold wasn't panicking, so I think it probably went okay." He laughed a little.
"Yeah, I think so too." Patty nodded and laughed a little as well. "Maybe we should see if we can do something with them again next weekend."
"Ah, I say we take a weekend off and just do something together ourselves." Harold shrugged, glancing over his shoulder at her again as they rounded a corner. "Want to go to the boardwalk and get funnel cakes and fake tattoos?"
Patty laughed warmly and nodded. "Okay, Harold. And then maybe we could try Gino's Souvlaki stand afterwards—you're always telling me that's a great place to eat."
"Oh yeah, that'd be great!" He smiled more, then faced forward again to continue guiding their way.
The two of them proceeded on their walk home (and to take Curly home), just making plans and enjoying each other's company and the fact that the night was finally winding down.
"Hmm…" Helga laughed warmly. She was seated alongside Arnold on one of the steps of his stoop, where the two of them had been for the last fifteen minutes or so just chatting. She gazed at him with a touch of playful affection. "Now, Arnold, you can't possibly flirt this much with every girl you get fixated on—none of them would have been stupid enough to pass you by if you did."
Arnold blushed and looked down with a touch of shyness at her comment, though the smile on his face remained. "I-I don't mean to, um…"
"Flirt." Helga reminded him of the word, grinning a little more.
"Yeah, um…flirt." Arnold blushed and smiled even more. "That's really not what I'm trying to do, Helga. I just thought you should know that you're a great conversationalist, like I said. I mean, I like talks with you better than with anybody else I've ever tried talking to about anything." He looked at her with curious fascination. "I don't even realize how much time passes. And I never get bored. I've never had that before."
Helga just smiled to herself and shook her head. "Yeah, well…" she rested back on her elbows, looking up at the night sky, "I've gotta tell you, I've always wanted to talk to you more, but I've always been terrified that I either wouldn't know what to say or that I'd just end up insulting you as a reflex. So it's nice that I've found this middle ground—it wasn't hard at all, actually. I'm happy it's working for you too." She glanced at him. "But, Arnold, it is getting late. I've gotta turn back into a pumpkin eventually or people will start to talk, and you could probably use a break from feeling incredibly confused about me." She raised part of her brow, her grin picking up on one side, knowing he would have to agree with her.
Arnold just shrugged. "Oh…I don't know." He leaned back on his own arms now and looked up to the sky as she had just done. "Being confused really isn't bothering me that much anymore. I've just accepted that we don't work together in a simple way. We're complicated. And I'm okay with that." He smiled a little more. "You wouldn't want to tell me more poetic things about the moon, would you?" He sighed, his eyes coming to the large round silver disc overhead. "I'd love to hear that."
Helga was just quiet at first. Then Arnold heard her sigh softly.
He turned his gaze to her and found her blushing and looking down and appearing pensive.
Arnold raised an eyebrow, observing her with interest.
Helga took a breath and then spoke, her voice soft and serious. "Arnold, remember how last week I suggested that we spend a little less time together for the sake of our friendship, and it worked? I have another suggestion for us. And I think this one is even more important, so even if it surprises you at first, I'd like you to just think about it, okay?" She glanced over to him, sincerity in her features.
Arnold's eyes went a little wide and he nodded. "Of course, Helga." He sat forward again, giving her all of his interest. "What is it?"
She sat up and blushed a little more. "I'm trying to be friends with you but I'm in love with you, which causes me a bit of tension. And you're trying to be friends with me but you find me a little overwhelming to your easily pleased heart, which causes a bit of tension for you." She paused.
Arnold considered and nodded at this assessment, understanding and agreeing with her so far. He waited for her to go on.
Helga took another breath. "Arnold, the awkward thing that happened during dinner tonight wasn't just a fluke. It was bound to happen. And I think there's only one solution. We need to kiss again." Her look became hesitant.
Arnold blushed quite distinctly and had to clear his throat a couple of times in disbelief. "I…I'm sorry, did you just say we should kiss again?"
Helga had to try very hard not to laugh. It was just… "You know, you said almost the exact same thing to me after I confessed, and my response is the same, Arnold—what, are you deaf?" She smiled warmly, hoping to lighten the mood a little. "That confession was a very passionate moment for us, and it got interrupted by everything else that was going on. And now things have worked out so well in their own way that I keep wanting to revisit that moment but with a kiss this time that I can savor and enjoy. And you clearly need some kind of closure to your first kiss which is understandable considering how unexpected it was and how you barely got to participate in it on your end." She shrugged, some seriousness returning. "If we keep spending time together, we'll end up kissing spontaneously at some point—I think we both know that. And it could get out of control, and I'm not sure what that would do to us, as individuals or regarding our friendship. But if we just sat down and admitted our needs and just let ourselves have one more kiss together, I think it would be a big…relief to both of us. We could finally get past the romantic tension and just explore being friends. I'm not saying there still wouldn't be the occasional awkward or tempting moment, but the worst of anything would be gotten through already. What do you say?" She looked at him hesitantly and then added, "You don't have to answer right now—I know it's kind of a big thing. Take some time, a week or two, and think it over and just let me know whenever you know what you want to do."
Arnold looked at her quite seriously and sincerely. "I don't need a week or two, though." He blushed and added, "I-I mean…um…all of what you said makes sense. Of course I'll kiss you, Helga." He felt like his heart was literally about to break from his chest. "Wh-When should we do that, do you think?" He was sure he mist be bright red now, and the words were just stumbling out of his mouth so awkwardly.
Helga blinked at the quick reply. "Are you sure, Arnold?" she had to ask just to double check.
Arnold nodded. "Yes. Absolutely. Just…let me know when and where…for the sake of our friendship." He looked down very shyly.
Helga was quiet for a moment. Then she moved a bit closer to him. "What about here and now?" she whispered.
Arnold blinked and looked up. His eyes went wide. She was closer than he remembered her being just a second ago. "W-Well, if…uh…" Beautiful, smart, funny, fascinating, dressed up girl sitting right in front of him wanting to kiss with him, "…i-if you think that's best…" he managed, followed by a large swallow as his eyes looked at her lips and didn't seem able to stop.
Helga just sighed at this response. Then she frowned and scowled a little, reached up and flicked Arnold hard right in the ear.
"Ow!" he yelled with a wince.
"Arnold, focus!" Helga announced with some impatience. "Stop just giving me whatever I want like this is some boyhood fantasy come true. I get it, you're a guy, kissing a girl is a really big thing—I'm sure something you've been secretly whispering and giggling with tall hair boy about for a good two years now at least—but stop going all goofy on me and tell me seriously and honestly if you're okay with us kissing and if you're okay with us just doing it now!" She looked at him firmly.
Arnold blinked a couple of times but finally did seem to come out of his complete fluster now. "I…well…I…" he took a deep breath, closed his eyes, opened them and then looked at her, "I really do think kissing makes sense, Helga. And I do want to, to help us. And…yes, I think I'd rather do it now than put it off and let it get built up into some kind of huge thing. And I'm sorry." He blushed a lot, looking a little sheepish, and admitted with a touch of obvious embarrassment, "Girls are still kind of a new thing for me in a way."
Helga let out a breath and smiled warmly again. "It's okay. I just wanted the real you back for this, not the stuttering you who tells me things I want to hear and wants to view me as some lofty goddess just because I'm a 'woman'. Not that that side of you isn't fun for me in a way, but this is serious and I want us both to take it seriously." She looked into his eyes and lowered her voice a little. "You have my word that I won't lose control on you again, not like last time. Last time…things had been building up for a while. This time I'll be a bit more gentle about everything." She smiled softly, trying not to feel too embarrassed.
Arnold smiled in a similar way. "It's okay, Helga. I trust you. And I'll try not to nearly pass out again." He blushed a lot
Helga laughed warmly. "Okay then." She moved just a bit closer to him, her eyes unable to help getting a bit hazed. "Don't be nervous." Her voice was very quiet and soothing. "Remember what you told me—loving someone should be a wonderful thing, not a bad thing…and I think that goes for kissing too. No stress. Don't think about it at all. Just…do it."
Arnold's eyes were still a little wide though they softened and grew a touch hazed as well now at her words. He nodded. "Okay. Just…do it." Then he closed his eyes and came forward and touched his lips to hers.
Helga's blue eyes went very wide in surprise. She had figured she would the one to initiate—she was the one in love after all. But…maybe who started didn't matter. The point was to kiss together for once and let all of the tension finally go. She closed her eyes and kissed him back, bringing her hands to his shoulders as one of his arms found its way around her waist.
Much like with their conversations, neither Arnold nor Helga was really aware of the exact passage of time now. All they were aware of was each other, and that they felt very okay now—in a good place together. Somehow this had been a good thing for them to do.
Helga was filled with love and peace and satisfaction…and maybe a lot of attraction that she was trying to suppress. 'I could just pounce on him, I really could.' A deep sigh left her through her nose, but she managed to keep her cool.
Arnold felt like he had been somehow waiting his entire short life to kiss Helga, though he worried he could never bring himself to share with her how right it felt to be with her like this. He didn't want to lead her on or anything just in case…yet he also knew that if she had asked every weekend for a kiss he would have given it to her and willfully, gladly, happily. He held just a little more closely to her. 'I just wish I'd known from the start that she loved me…' He wasn't sure yet how long exactly Helga's love had been burning for him, but he regretted the loss of any amount of extra years that he could have had to get used to it and to wonder to himself about what love really was and if he might learn to feel the same way about her somehow. 'Better late than never…' was all could suppose to himself about both her confession and their current kiss as they lingered.
There was a gentleness to their embrace this time around that hadn't been there during Helga's confession, so rather than parting with a dramatic pull away and a resounding sound of smacking lips, Arnold and Helga just gently separated eventually when it seemed like a full breath through their mouths might be nice.
They still kept close though.
Helga's eyes fluttered open and she smiled softly. "I want to marry you, you know." She let out a shuddery breath. "S-Sorry," her tone became a bit more normal, "Sorry, that, um…that slipped out." She looked away a little bit.
"Don't be sorry." Arnold caught her eyes with his. He looked so affectionate and full of tender concern and contentment. "What's wrong with wanting to marry someone you love?" He shrugged, smiling so innocently.
Helga blushed more and then couldn't help laughing warmly and shaking her head. "Oh Arnold…" She shifted a bit away from him and gave him a light punch in the shoulder. "Such a flirt." She stood up now, still smiling and really seeming okay again. "You really do need a good night's rest and some time to yourself again, Football Head—you're starting to get a little loopy on me." She winked at him.
Arnold stood up, just smiling warmly, and shrugged. "Yeah, maybe you're right." He looked at her with a touch of gentle concern. "Are you sure you don't want me to walk you home?"
Helga shook her head and waved him off. "Nah, don't worry about it. It's just two blocks. And I wouldn't mind some time to myself to think anyway."
Arnold nodded, understanding. "Okay, well…have a good night, Helga." He waved to her. "And thanks."
She nodded in return. "Thank you too, Arnold. Goodnight." She gave him a small wave of her own and then departed.
Helga sighed to herself, smiling softly as she went away. 'That was…good. I feel better. A little lovesick, but not just that. I feel like…everything's new between us. I like it.' She nodded to herself in satisfaction and contentment, and went on.
Arnold, meanwhile, entered his house, closed his door behind him, and then leaned against it and sighed deeply, a large smile on his face. He couldn't even put into words how that experience with Helga just now had left him feeling. All he knew was that he liked her more than he had ever had in this moment.
"Oh Shortman, is that you? I was sleepwalking. I'm still sleepwalking—I'm just waking up." Phil suddenly approached, coming up the hall with his nightclothes on and robe and a paper under one of his arms. He was wearing a big grin and a wry look on his face, his eyes bright with interest (all things suggesting that the 'sleepwalking' claim wasn't entirely accurate). "How was your date tonight, hot stuff?"
Arnold straightened up a little and blushed considerably but managed to just smile and shrug. "Oh, it was all right. Helga and I had a nice dinner. She's fun to talk to. We'll probably do it again next weekend."
"Good, good." Phil crossed his arms over his chest, still grinning. "And, just so I have this right again, you two are dating and she's in love with you and you feel like you could have romantic feelings for her, but there's nothing actually romantic going on between you, and by dating you just mean you're hanging out in a special way, right?" He raised an eyebrow, smiling all the more widely.
Arnold just nodded like the explanation for his and Helga's relationship was the most natural situation in the world. "Exactly, Grandpa. It might be a little weird to explain, but it works for us." He stepped away from the door and began to head down the foyer.
"Mmm hmm, and, uh, if you don't mind me asking, Shortman, how does you and her locking lips on our front steps keep up this little platonic friendship you insist you have, hmm?" Phil chuckled a little, eyeing Arnold closely, arms crossed over his chest.
Arnold paused in walking, his eyes going wide for a moment. Then he sighed deeply and just tried not to smile. "Grandpa," he looked up at Phil, "didn't you say you were sleepwalking?" He raised an eyebrow.
"Hey, I said I was just waking up," Phil asserted, still grinning away. "Can I help it if the first thing I saw when I woke up was a view from out of one of the front windows of you and your little friend sharing a tender embrace?" He stepped forward and ruffled Arnold's hair a little. "You really are growing up, Shortman. Now if only I could get you to understand the difference between just being friends and being romantically involved—it's really very simple, Arnold, I don't know why you insist on mixing the two together." He raised an eyebrow and scratched his head.
Arnold sighed, smiling to himself as he reached the steps and turned back to face his grandpa once more. "We were just trying to work out something outside just now, and working it out happened to involve a kiss. Just…one kiss. Not a regular thing. Besides, things are complicated between us. It's easiest just to be friends like this." He shrugged.
Phil just smiled to himself and shook his head. "Whatever you say, Shortman, whatever you say…" He headed down the foyer. "I'll be in my private basement bathroom if you need me—your Grandma made raspberry jam bars for dessert tonight." His stomach grumbled. "Ooo, sweet dreams, Shortman, see you in the morning! Never eat raspberries!" Phil called out before dashing to the basement door and shutting it tight behind him.
Arnold just smiled and shook his head. Then he turned away.
Arnold walked upstairs, thinking about what Phil had said and also what he had been thinking before about how he had liked Helga tonight more than any other time he had liked her so far in their lives, and how he could feel that was saying something.
'After all,' Arnold mused, 'I've liked her a lot a lot of times before now. Last weekend at dinner…that night we cleaned the dishes at Chez Paris…' He was on the second floor now. 'I definitely liked her last Valentine's Day…I liked her that time she got amnesia when I hit her on the head with a baseball…I liked her that night at Rhonda's costume party, and not just when she was acting like Lila but at the end when she was acting like herself too…' He pulled down the ladder to reach his attic room. 'I liked her that morning I woke up from that bad dream about Arnie…I liked her that afternoon Lila broke up with me and she walked home with me…' He entered his room, closed his door behind himself and took off his tie. 'I liked her when she found my hat…I liked her when she helped me realize that Summer girl was using me at the beach…' He lie back on his bed and let out a deep breath, looking up at the stars and moon. He smiled more to himself. 'I liked her when she was Juliet in the play and spoke like poetry…and kissed me even if I tried not to think about it as a real kiss…I've liked her a little forever, I guess. I've liked her a lot even sometimes.' He closed his eyes, just wanting to rest for a moment in the peacefulness that had overtaken him after such a full night.
He felt confident that their kiss really would help prevent him from getting carried away with liking her even more now just because of how she felt about him.
He was smiling and happy for a moment, and maybe even drifting off a little.
Then a thought occurred to him.
Arnold opened his eyes, looking up at the night sky pensively. "If…If all this time I've been worried about liking her just because of how she feels about me…but I've already liked her so much in the past…then, wouldn't it make sense, whether she confessed to me or not, to like her a lot now? But…which part of her was I liking exactly back then?" He sat up a little on the bed. "I mean, was I liking all of her or just pieces? Or do all of the pieces I've liked make up all of her? But," he looked so confused, "Either way, if I've liked her so much in the past—enough that if I'd known who she was last Valentine's Day I would have stayed with her at the table and maybe even kissed her, that would mean I liked her a lot before any of this confession stuff or friendship stuff even happened. Which means I could have like liked her for…for…months and not even know it! But I couldn't have! I would have realized something. So now if I do feel like I'm getting those feelings for her, then it really is just because she confessed to me. But maybe her confession is just what I needed to realize that I could have like liked her all along! Or maybe I really have like liked her all along, and now that she confessed I'm starting to…think about love? Or, no…no, wait a second, that can't be right… " Arnold suddenly sighed deeply and dropped his head back down to his pillow with a dull thud. He just looked up at his skylight ceiling. "What's that thing Helga always says about herself…Oh yeah—I'm a basket case." He sighed deeply and closed his eyes, trying not to smile and trying not to blush.
Then on an impulse Arnold got up and climbed up his wall ladder. He opened up his skylight panel near his fire escape and looked down to the sidewalk. He could just see Helga walking past the intersection to the next block. He opened is mouth, about to call out to her, he realized, but then hesitated. "What would I even say to her?" He sighed, closing the skylight and then climbing back down to his bed. "I'm really confused. And I know it isn't fair but…part of me just wishes she liked me liked me, not that she loved me…It'd be a lot easier if she just liked me liked me." 'But this isn't about what's easier for you,' he reminded himself mentally, 'It's about what's best for Helga and what's best for you and what's really happening. And what's really happening is she loves you.' He nodded to himself. "I need more time to think. It's good that Helga and I probably won't see much of each other until next weekend." He smiled a little again and added, the interesting thought occurring to him, "Maybe by spending time with her and getting to know her like this, I'll at least start to understand what love means." He blushed very much.
Arnold didn't want to go to bed yet. But he didn't want to just lie still and think. He decided to do what he had been doing lately as a hobby and to take out his father's journal and read some of it until he dozed off.
Pretty soon he was reclined upon his bed in his pajamas with the journal in hand.
"March 15th. Today I met the woman I'm going to marry." Arnold paused for a moment and looked up at the moon overhead once more. He frowned a little and spoke quietly to himself. "How did Helga know she loved me? And how did my Dad know so quickly that he would marry my Mom? I wish I could ask him. But I guess I can ask Grandpa sometime maybe instead." Still, he wished there were something more to glean from the journal regarding this topic. He had a feeling his father would have been able to explain things to him very directly and with a lot of sense and in a way he would understand very well.
For now, though, Arnold just read a few more pages about his parents' courtship and then put the book aside, turned out the light, and laid down upon his bed in the semi-darkness.
He had a feeling that things with himself and Helga really would work out for the best. For now, though, he would sleep on it. Sleep seemed to be best while he tried to come to terms with what was going on in this new relationship he had embarked upon.
He felt full of good things, and good dreams came to him. He hoped very much that Helga would have good dreams too.
In her room, in the moonlight, in her bed, Helga sat up for a little while and wrote some love poetry—a bit more tame than usual in subject matter but full of a deep and sincere passion she had rarely ever known before. She mostly felt very warm and peaceful as she recalled her and Arnold's farewell kiss. To her, it was like the end of a conversation they had been meaning to have but had kept putting off and putting off. A final word was said, a final breath released, and they could both think clearly now. She was glad they had shared that moment together. 'I still want him to love me too more than anything. But if in the end he doesn't…at least we've been happy together like this, and at least he's given me a chance…and I think I can be okay with that.'
Yet still as she reclined in her pink covers underneath the moonlight, she frowned. She had so much, yet something small ached inside of her, and the something small grew larger when she was alone and in the quiet and the dark with time to think about it.
It hurt to love him and to get so close but to be barred from the only situation that would keep her heart from breaking. It hurt to have them care for each other deeply but not be in love together.
Helga swallowed, closing her pink book and setting it aside, then lying down on her pillow. 'Something about this is good for us for now. But eventually I'll have to end it. I'll just end up hating him if I don't, and myself a little.' She was walking a fine tightrope with their relationship—there was a small chance she might make it to the other end of the rope without fail of course, but more than likely she knew something would slip and fall away all too soon, and she was secretly preparing herself for that eventuality.
Helga sighed softly to herself, closing her eyes. 'I promised him I'd never lose hope about anything. So I'll try very hard not to. Sometimes life's not fair, though. At least he's starting to understand that.' She recalled his words from earlier. 'I'll explain it to him when the time comes as best I can. He'll understand.' It was a heavy thought but one Helga accepted as part of her growing yet awkward closeness with Arnold.
Still, despite these reservations, Helga fell asleep with a small smile and a warm heart. She did have faith in her love and in Arnold, despite all concerns and unlikelihoods. And that faith gave her great comfort, as it always had ever since she could remember.
She hoped secretly to herself before dozing off that Arnold really would turn around one day and realize he loved her. The relief of a moment like that for her would make the small release created by their kiss earlier pale so greatly in comparison.
Helga's fell asleep, and dreams didn't turn out so bad, though they weren't as good as Arnold would have hoped for her.
"Do you think it was okay that we left Curly's front door before someone came out and took him in? I mean, the light went on in his house but maybe we should have waited," Patty suggested to Harold thoughtfully as they stood upon her stoop now.
Harold shook his head to her though. "Naw, it's fine. Someone must have come out and gotten him. Besides I wasn't in the mood to explain how he ended up like a statue. At least this way we're off the hook." He shrugged innocently, grinning a little.
Patty laughed and nodded. "Maybe you're right."
Harold laughed too.
Then there was a gentle quiet between them
Patty cleared her throat, then, and asked before she could chicken out, "Hey, Harold…you know, if we wanted to hang out but in a group and maybe with people besides Arnold and Helga, in a couple of weeks Torvald's having a graduation party at his house to celebrate moving up to the sixth grade so that he can go to junior high with the rest of my class. All the sixth graders are invited, and that includes me…so we could go together if you wanted."
Harold smiled at the news. "Oh, yeah, he's also having a fourth grade bon voyage party the weekend after that with our class." He shrugged, hesitating for a moment about replying to her request for a date for the sixth grade party. "But for the sixth grade party…well, I'm not a sixth grader." He blushed a little
Patty just smiled softly and shook her head at hearing his doubt. "Harold, you know you're basically the same as a sixth grader. And either way you'd be going as my guest." She shrugged. "I just thought it'd be fun to try doing something with some older people just this once. It'll go later than a fourth grade party, there'll be different music, Torvald's Mom'll be just popping in and out instead of always in the next room or something. Then afterwards I heard some people talking about heading out to a PG 13 movie." A touch of understanding came to her features. "Unless you don't want to go, Harold. It's okay. I know it's kind of a different thing, and I don't want to pressure you."
Harold thought about it a bit. Then he shook his head a little. "No, no…I…well…" he rubbed the back of his neck, "I never did anything like that before but…I don't know, it could be interesting. The party, at least." He looked at her hesitantly. "Could I let you know that night about seeing the PG 13 movie too with everyone?"
Patty smiled sympathetically and nodded. "Of course, Harold. That's fine. So I'll let Torvald know we'll be there."
Harold smiled a little more. "And would you maybe want to come with me to the fourth grade bon voyage party?"
Patty's grin picked up on one side. "But I'm not a fourth grader," she chided back playfully.
Harold just chuckled and waved her off. "Eh, you fit in anyway, besides like I said I think you'd like getting to know my class a little better. And Rhonda and Arnold and Helga and even Curly will be there."
Patty chuckled too and nodded to Harold's offer. "Okay, Harold. It's a deal." She took his hand and shook it. "We'll let Torvald know we're coming together to both parties."
Harold nodded and shook her hand back. "Deal."
Shaking on it left them holding hands. And they did like each other.
They swallowed, considered, and then shared a brief peck on the lips together before pulling back in embarrassment and maybe just a touch of wonder.
They seemed to have agreed mutually that kisses between them would be rare but could happen, and also that they couldn't really talk about them directly just yet—it was still a little too much and just a little too soon.
Smiling and blushing softly, Harold stepped down from the stoop and gave a small wave to Patty. "Goodnight, Patty. I'll see you soon."
Patty nodded, likewise blushing. "Goodnight, Harold. See you."
The two of them separated for the evening, one interesting thought occurring to both of them as their night ended.
'Dating's not so bad at all. I don't know why Arnold and Helga and even Curly and Rhonda would fight against it so much, even if it is a little embarrassing sometimes.'
Harold's thoughts continued. 'Sure, maybe things got a little crazy…but at least it's been kind of special sharing all this wacky stuff with someone I really care about.'
Patty's thoughts continued as well. 'Sweet, simple…something to eat and then something to do. Dinner and a show with someone you like—I can't think of anything nicer than that.'
All of our story's lovely guests were now gone to bed for the evening.
Goodnight to you as well and bon appetit!
Wow, I can't believe this is finally done. I started this fic years ago and there were a lot of big haiatuses during it, so I'm just so happy to have it finally completed. Anyway, I hope you all enjoyed the ending. Was it the happiest note, at least for Helga? No…I guess not. But I felt like it was unrealistic to leave her perfectly satisfied with her and Arnold's 'friendship.' Helga's a realist bordering on pessimist—I just felt like she would see the way the wind might eventually be blowing even at this early stage in the game. Certainly everything's going to work out and she has some degree of faith in that, but she wouldn't know for sure the same way we do, and she wouldn't have Arnold's complete optimism of course. I just hope I did her justice for everyone, and that you all enjoyed the conclusion overall.
I am going to be updating Wedding Night next with its final chapter. Um…for anyone who's reading that, what I post will probably be a bit different than what you're expecting. It will absolutely be a chapter and a conclusion, the content will just be a little different than in the other two chapters. I'll explain in the A/N above the story.
Thank you all for your readership and Happy Reading!
~Azure129 aka Jenna