I've gotten into Hey Arnold! as of late. I never watched it when I was younger, but hot dog! The characters are so three-dimensional as compared to other nicktoons I used to watch back in the day, though my favorite has to be Helga. I don't know how to describe her. She's tough, hilarious, adorable, and ever-so-slightly creepy all at the time (due to her obsession). I love it!

Of course, I had to write a fanfiction for it. Be patient, Spyro viewers, and don't think I've given up on that fandom. It's like chocolate ice cream—Hey Arnold! might be a cool new flavor that I'll enjoy for years to come, but I'll never stop loving Spyro. And to the people reading this who have been Hey Arnold! fans for a while now, then I'm honored you're even looking at this!

Click that back button right now. Run, far away. Take a taxi. A plane! This is not worthy of your almighty eyes!

--

Laughter Cures

"Hey Arnold, hey Arnold, hey Arnold…"

Slowly, like clearing fog, I felt myself rise to the plane of consciousness. My alarm's repetitive drone scratched uncomfortably in my ears until it felt like it was chafing against my brain. My eyes slid open, still sticky from the night before. With a muffled grumble, I rose from my bed sheets, somewhat distempered from leaving the sweet memories of that dream behind.

I slammed my hand on the alarm button. Silence filled the airy spaces of my room again—a fresh breath in the hazy beams from my skylight. Irritated, and with only two minutes until breakfast, I rummaged through the clothes in my closet, throwing aside anything I didn't want to wear.

Now, I'm not the type of guy to wake up in a bad mood. It's as rare as a tsunami crashing on Hillwood. Twenty miles inland. But something about leaving my dream's caress made my nerves tighten, my sanguinity sour. Its memory slowly cracked and shattered when I awoke; I don't remember what happened at all, except a sweet feeling of peace and a sound.

Laughter.

Not a cruel laugh. Not a hysterical laugh. A pure laugh, chiming with soul. A laugh of comfort. Of truth.

A laugh which echoes every word that dares not be said.

It bothered me that I didn't know where it came from. I could barely remember how it sounded. I could only recall its beauty, its depth. Though, from the back of my mind, as I tried again and again, I couldn't draw any conclusions as to who could laugh like that.

I kicked my foot against my bed. Above the ashes of my dream entered a single thought about today, one I always hated to think.

"This is going to be a long day."

***

"Good morning, Shortman!"

"Morning, Grandpa," I replied politely, masking my inner annoyance with a smile. I sat down at the table, my chair wobbling slightly. Grandma came in a few seconds later, skipping around with a pan of eggs and bacon, humming the theme to Happy Days out of tune. With a soft grumble, I began to play with my fork.

"What'd you make for breakfast today, Grandma?" asked Grandpa, eagerly hopping up and down in his chair.

Grandma said nothing, engrossed in the melody, and unceremoniously plopped a messy pile of egg and toast on our plates. After it dropped, I could feel some egg on my face and something warm and gooey in my hair. Terrific.

Ceasing her humming for a second, Grandma beamed, "Eat up, boys! They're havin' a marathon today!" Dancing like a one-legged swan, the elderly lady hopped into the living room of the complex, just in time for an announcer in the other room to say "And now, back to the show!"

Sighing, I forked a little bit of egg and toast together. The eggs were scrambled, not fried as they usually were, and intermingled with… toast cut into one-centimeter squares? Hmm.

I lifted the fork to my mouth, hoping it would taste better than it looked.

Suddenly, I felt two cold hooves on my leg. Abner snorted from under the table, looking up at me with pleading eyes. I groaned. "Abner, no. Didn't Oscar feed you?"

The little pig sniffled, desperately pawing at my foot. "No." He tilted his head.

"No." I glared sternly back.

With a huffy-sounding grunt, Abner ran to the other side of the room. He turned around to face the table, grinding his two front hooves on the floor like a bull before charging a matador. Like a thunderclap, the pig ran and charged right onto the table, silverware crashing to the floor, the breakfasts falling with a splat to the ground.

My chair toppled over, and for a moment I was dazed. I sat myself up to see Abner, happily munching on my breakfast, wagging his curly tail with glee. Grandpa was beside himself with surprise. After a moment's silence, he got up and stormed to the stairs.

"OSCAR!!"

I sighed. "I hope at least you're happy, Abner." Gathering my schoolbooks, I proceeded to walk to the front door. Grandpa and Oscar were heatedly debating over whose responsibility it was to have fed the pig.

Opening the door (and consequently letting out a few dozen resident pets), I exited the building just in time for the bus to pull up for school. "Remember, Shortman, never eat raspberries!" I heard grandpa call after me. I shook my head quietly, trying to shrug of the increasing likelihood of a bad mood. Maybe things would be better at school.

***

The first thing I noticed when I got onto the bus was a suspicious lack of Gerald. The bus was crowded, admittedly, much more so than usual—but still, his amazingly tall hair was nowhere in sight.

Empty seats were also nowhere in sight. The entire bus was full.

"Hey, Arnold! Over here!" I turned to look at Eugene, Brainy, and Curly, all in the back seat of the bus. Eugene was waving, a big grin plastered on his freckled face. "We have an extra seat today. Wanna come?"

I held back a groan. As nice as the offer was, the back of the bus was always one heck of a roller coaster ride. Still, I needed a seat before the bus could continue on to P.S. 118. "Sure," I caved.

Setting myself down between Eugene and Brainy, I prayed for a smooth ride to school. Maybe I could pass the time with a conversation.

"So," I began, "Where's Sheena? Doesn't she usually sit back here with you?"

"Not sure," Eugene replied. "I think her uncle decided to give her a ride today." Hope fluttered in my chest. Maybe Gerald was being given a ride today too.

Curly groaned, "Luckyyyy! I wish my father would take me to school so I wouldn't have to sit here every day and get wing-dinged against the wall."

Right on cue, the bus made a sharp turn to the right. Curly was smashed against the wall. Brainy was crushing me into Eugene.

"SCREW YOU, SCHOOLBUS!" Curly exploded, shaking his fist in the air. "By the end of today, I swear, I will rip you apart PIECE BY PIECE! UNDERSTAND?!"

The bus quickly turned to the left. In the middle of his rant, Curly smacked against Eugene with force, squishing me between Eugene and Brainy, the latter growing winded and wheezy after he smacked against the hard, metal wall. Eugene paled.

"Guys, I think I'm gonna be… urrgh… bluuugh…."

He pulled out his barf bag a moment too late. All over the floor of the back of the bus, Eugene vomited up whatever he ate for breakfast. I closed my eyes in disgust, recoiling at the smell of sickness.

Without having to see, I could tell my shoes were covered in it. The stuff was soaking into my socks now as well.

I wasn't even at school yet and already I could feel my optimism failing.

***

About fifteen minutes later I entered my classroom. The sound and feeling of puke squishing in my socks was difficult to ignore, but I tried to look positive as I entered the class.

Gerald's seat was empty.

At the teacher's desk, I could see Mr. Simmons on the phone. "I understand, Mrs. Johanssen… okay… goodbye." He hung up, looking a little disheartened.

"Bad news, class," Mr. Simmons announced as I sat down at my desk, taking out my math book. "Gerald is out sick with a cold. His mother says that he should be back in a few days, but in the meantime I'll need to assign someone to bring him his homework."

Out sick?

My heart grew heavy in my chest. Whenever I was upset over something, I would usually vent out to Gerald. How would I survive a bad day without him?

"How about you, Arnold?"

"When the who?!" I snapped, waking from my thoughts. Mr. Simmons was above me and passed me a few sheets of paper.

He smiled in his understanding manner. "Can you please take these to Gerald after school today? This will be tonight's homework assignment."

"S-sure." I packed the pieces of paper into the back of my binder and mentally kicked myself. I shouldn't have been concerned because I wanted to vent to Gerald—I should have been concerned because he was out sick. Man, it's hard to be the optimistic one when you wake up in a bad mood.

I felt something cool and wet smack against the back of my neck.

I turned around, knowing all-too-well what happened. "Knock it off, Helga. I'm not in the mood."

Helga snorted, rolling her eyes. "Not in the mood, eh, Football Head?" she grinned, wickedly raising half of her long, dark unibrow. "Since when are you in the mood for spitballs? Psshyeah, right."

Without a comeback and struggling to ignore her, I rotated again to face the front of the class. Mr. Simmons drew a times table on the chalkboard. "That Arnold!" I could hear Helga growl behind me, "What a doof. What a fool. What a spineless, simple-minded goody-goody. How I hate him…."

Tuning her out was a chore, but I managed it. She had one of those voices that was difficult to not hear, it was so strong.

As I copied down the times table, my eyes drew back to the empty spot where Gerald usually sat. I tried to imagine him smiling at me, encouraging me to shrug off my bad mood, and reminding me that every day holds new surprises.

I tried to imagine him laughing.

My mind traced back to my dream, and the unidentified laughter which held such beauty. Such strength. Such raw emotion.

But something told me the anonymous laughter didn't belong to him. Because, at that moment, I remembered a factor of my dream. A factor which slapped me back to reality. A factor that narrowed down the suspects by half.

The dream-laughter belonged to a girl.

***

A girl.

A girl.

I took the last cup of tapioca from the lunch line, still trying to get over myself. That laughter from my dream, that stunning, rich laughter, was a girl's voice.

Frankly, it wasn't the fact that it was female which boggled me so much. It was that I couldn't remember which girl could laugh that magnificently. Could it be Phoebe? Rhonda? Nadine?

Could it be Lila?

As much as I tried every day to disregard my crush on Lila, maybe, just maybe, she was the girl. She was by far the most likely of them, considering her gentle demeanor, her sweet views on life, her passionate and heartwarming smile, her deep blue eyes…

CRASH!

"Aaaach!"

My eyes flashed open, suddenly aware of my surroundings again. Big Patty and I were on the floor, both of our lunches all over each other, and the large girl was steaming with rage. My heart began racing. It didn't take a genius to realize what occurred.

She grabbed me by my shirt collar and lifted me to her face. I could smell fresh pastrami on her breath as the titan glowered at me.

"Fight! Fight! Fight! Fight!" the entire cafeteria chanted, with even the lunch ladies cheering behind the counters. The girls started to laugh at either my misfortune or at the stained demise of Patty's new shirt. Even Lila was giggling from the corner.

This wasn't dream-laughter at all.

Cruel laughter.

Arnold-is-about-to-be-flattened-into-a-pancake laughter.

But then, as suddenly as I crashed into Patty, I found myself falling back to the floor.

I looked up to see Helga, her fists readily in front of her, Big Patty having crashed into a table and bleeding from the mouth. There was an undeniable look of rage on Helga's features. Not of bullying spite this time, but an unfiltered anger I never imagined could be possible.

"Get the hell away from him!"

The cafeteria silenced.

Big Patty looked dazed and confused, as if she was still trying to process what just happened. Harold was so surprised that he dropped his sandwich on the floor. Phoebe clasped her hand to her mouth, and I could have sworn I heard her whisper, "Oh, no…."

And then they started laughing again.

Hysterical laughter.

We-can't-believe-what-just-happened-so-therefore-it's-hilarious laughter.

I couldn't believe it either, but I was only one of the four people not laughing.

Me.

Big Patty.

Phoebe.

…and Helga.

I had enough. This was all too confusing, too aggravating. In that moment, my bad mood finally reached an exploding point.

With a loud sob, not caring who saw me, not caring who was in my way, I bolted out of the cafeteria, tears washing down my face, emotions dueling in my head, and a single shout of "Wait!" following from behind.

***

For two hours I was curled up in the alley. Today was so horrible that I didn't even care that I missed the bell, and that I needed to go back to class. What was the point? They would have just laughed at me anyway.

I was starting to believe there really was no such laughter as the kind from my dream. That there's no real laughter anymore. That the world really was cold and cruel—and my underlying optimism quieted within me. It didn't come to comfort me at all.

And now, it's mid-afternoon, I've been moping for hours, and it's starting to rain.

Fantastic.

"I wish I could hear her laughter now…" I thought to myself, softly sighing it to the hushed wind. My eyes wandered as it blew in the direction of the silvery street. Maybe the breeze would carry it to the dream-girl for me.

It was then I noticed the rain had stopped falling on my back.

"Hey… Arnold?"

I looked up, my cheeks tear-stained, to the one person I least expected to see.

Helga.

She was standing above me, holding her black umbrella over my head. Her light purple jacket, not built for rainy weather, was growing soaked by the heavy precipitation. To be honest, a huge part of me wanted her to go away. I didn't want to see my own, personal bully right now.

But after what she did in the cafeteria earlier, even with my bad mood in play, I couldn't find it in my heart to ask her to leave.

"Don't bother, Helga," I groaned. "You'll catch a cold."

"Oh, please. Would I be doing this if I were concerned about catching a cold?"

I paused for a moment. A strange thought came over me. Something that bothered me since her one-hit knockout of Big Patty not even three hours ago.

"Why did you do that for me?"

She looked at me with genuine surprise. "Do what, Football Head?"

"That…" I mumbled, looking her straight in the eye. I could feel my tears coming back. "In the cafeteria. I thought… I mean… in class… y-you said you hated m-m-me… and I…."

And then a funny thing happened.

Helga started to laugh.

Not a cruel laugh. Not a hysterical laugh. A pure laugh, chiming with soul. A laugh of comfort. Of truth.

The familiar laugh which echoes every word that dares not be said.

The sound electrified through every nerve in my body, sending warm shivers up my spine. Her soft brown eyes glittered in the rain—for the first time I noticed they were so earthy, so mild. Her pigtails, soggy from the water, were dripping down from their perpetual state of elevation, and the sides of her bow were drooping along the rim of her head. And her bangs, as if they were strands of sunshine, ever-so-slightly covered the tops of her eyes, like the mighty star's golden rays as they trickle to the ground.

For the first time in what felt like forever, a soft smile curled my lip.

"Get up, Arnoldo. School's out."

She held out her hand and helped me to my feet. I didn't care who saw me. I didn't care that I had egg in my hair, vomit in my shoe, tapioca on my shirt, and rainwater on my back. Heck, I didn't even care that this was Helga G. Pataki.

I found her.

I found the girl with laughter that echoed in my dreams.

"I guess I'd better stick with you for a while," Helga grunted, putting on her tough-girl persona again. "After all, you need to keep Gerald's papers dry so he can do his homework, and I don't see you with an umbrella."

"Whatever you say, Helga," I grinned, my eyes half-closed, feeling lighter than I had all day.

Together we walked to the bus, Helga staring at me as if I were an alien, trying to look like she disapproved of the attention even though it was obvious she liked it. Liked being… with me? Somehow, in spite of everything she had done to me, the idea filled me with a sort of comfort I only ever felt in dreams before.

After passing a few words onto Phoebe, Helga sat next to me where Gerald usually would.

The bus roared to life… and stopped.

I raised an eyebrow. Helga looked puzzled. As suddenly as it stopped, the tires of the bus fell off, as well as the bumper, the muffler, and pieces of the radiator. With a belch of smoke, the hood of the bus went up and the driver ran to tend to it.

Everyone exited the bus, looking confused. Whooping insanely from the sidelines was Curly, covered in motor oil and with a wrench in his hand. "TAKE THAT, YOU FILTHY VEHICLE! Oh yeah! Alright! Woohoo!"

Nearly everyone broke down into fits of laughter. Hysterical laughter at Curly, or cruel laughter at the bus driver's expense. But Helga laughed honestly, like I now knew she could, as she hovered her umbrella over my head again, gesturing me to follow her.

As we started walking away together, I could feel myself beginning to laugh as well. We were two kids, a boy and a girl, both with blonde hair, hand-in-hand, cheerfully chortling as if we were half our age.

I couldn't think of anyone better to have been with that afternoon, and in all honesty, I had never been truly happier.

--

I totally warned you to run away. But did you listen? Bwohoho!

Don't kill me, this is my first Hey Arnold! fanfiction.

In truth, this has to be the longest one-shot I've ever written to date. I mean, mother of Abner, this is twice as long as my Spyro one-shot, Awakened.

If you have any feedback, please review! I'd love to know how to improve.