Disclaimer: So, I tried multitasking by starting, oh, three or four different one-shots at once, along with the chapter stories I'm still working on . . . yeah, didn't work. So, I'm going to follow the advice of two fortunes I got from a couple of fortune cookies: the journey of one thousand miles is still taken one step at a time; and the longest journey starts with a flat tire. Let's hope they're right! P.S. It's a bit odd.
*This story was greatly influenced by the fantastic cult classic Harold and Maude, starring Ruth Gordon and Bud Cort. Yusuf Islam is the owner/performer of the songs mentioned, including If You Want To Sing Out, Sing Out, Trouble, I Think I See The Light, and any other songs of his I may use. Hey! Arnold is the brain child of Craig Bartlett and the property of Nickelodeon.*
The walk wasn't silent, but it was certainly quiet. Well, no, it wasn't quiet, either. It was, it was . . . it was peaceful. The trees rustled with the uneventful breeze, and a few ballsy birds who attempted to nest within their branches. Steam rose from the road in eerie wisps, matching the momentary lapse of rain that gave way to sun. A soft padding echoed on the asphalt as it mixed with the sounds of a fake cardboard box being opened.
Grey cons traded places on the path as their owner, a young blonde, casually ate her pork chow mien and vegetable fried rice out of the white take-out box. The opening was held close to her mouth – she was still trying to master the chopsticks the waitress at China Gorge delighted in giving her. Between her hums of satisfaction at another well-chosen meal was her mostly on key singing of Trouble. Or it may have been If You Want To Sing Out, Sing Out – it was hard to tell, seeing as she keep switching the words and tunes around.
"And if you want to live high, live high – and if you want to live low, live low . . ." she sang, performing a cheap imitation of Harold's hop as he played the banjo. Of course, the pork chunks in her mouth warped her words, but in all honesty she couldn't possibly care less at that moment in time. This was one of the few times she was allowed to just be herself, without the need to put up her walls to protect against her classmates. She didn't need to be a bully, a bitch, or any other standard and expectation that the world holds her up to. She was free.
The sudden rumbling of a 1946 Packard engine startled her from her singing, and a casual glance over her shoulder revealed just that: a green and wood-sided 1946 Packard. Another blonde sat in the driver's seat, and as she returned her eyes to the road in front of her she could imagine his eyes growing wide. After all, how often does one come across the neighborhood hard-ass walking through the local cemetery, enjoying Chinese food without a care in the world?
The gentle roar of that old beast's engine slowed as he pulled up alongside her, leaning over to roll down the window as if making one last ditch effort to see if his eyes were lying or not. That pink bow may have gotten morphed into a pink headband, and the pink dress may have grown jeans, but there was no mistaking the smirk. Two well-separated but 1940s movie star thick eyebrows rested over blue eyes – which she cleverly watched him with out of their corners. There was no mistake.
"Helga?" he asked cautiously as brought the chopsticks up to her still smirking mouth.
"Hey Football Head." She responded, completely at ease with her surroundings, and even with him. Arnold could only gape; where the usual snarky Helga? Her causal greeting almost gave the hint of friendly companionship.
"What – What are you doing?" he asked, putting his foot firmly on the brake as she stopped and turned to face the door fully. The red Chinese symbols stood out boldly against the white box, and he couldn't help but think that she stood out just as courageously. Her smirk grew as she continued eating, much to his surprise.
"Just enjoying a little Chinese while taking a stroll." Was her simple answer, and he was more than confused. Where was the defensive, name-calling and mostly mean Helga G. Pataki?
His stunned silenced must have amused her, because she gave a small laugh, not dropping his gaze.
"Why?" he finally managed to articulate, and her lips flowed into something not quite a smile, but not quite a smirk.
"Why not?" was her quick reply, which stumped him even more. Why was she being so . . . so . . . so not like herself? It was almost scary, and he couldn't process it.
"Wanna join me? I've still got half a helping of my Combo A, and another set of chopsticks in my back pocket." She offered, and laughed when the car jerked forward half an inch.
"I-I-uh-" he stumbled, amazed as she shrugged her shoulders and brought the chopsticks to her lips.
"Suit yourself. I was only trying to be civil." With that she turned, walking away. Confused beyond belief, Arnold sat in stunned silence for a whole of fifty six and one third seconds before he found himself killing the engine and sliding out the door, following his blonde classmate down the pathway. He could only watch transfixed as she slowly pulled the other set of chopsticks from her back pocket in one smooth, fluid motion. Handing him the wooden eating utensils, she flashed a genuine smile as they continued to walk in silence, apart from the sounds of their eating.
Suddenly she turned to him, reached into her pocket and pulled out a fortune cookie wrapped safely in plastic.
"Here, have a fortune cookie. Just be sure you don't eat it first – bad luck." She told him seriously, and he could only look at her dumbly.
"Why Helga? Why are you being so nice to me?" Arnold finally asked, barely registering the picking up of the wind and the chill that suddenly hung on the air. She only shrugged, smelling the rain on the breeze.
"Why not? This is the one time I can be me in the most absolute form. Why should I adjust myself for your benefit?" Once again he was amazed at her eloquence, the way she could sound so distinguished with little effort.
"In the most absolute form? But Helga, you never had any reason to be anything other than yourself – and really, I always thought you had a bit of a mean streak." He blushed, hoping that his statement wasn't the catalyst that set her off. But she only laughed, whether good-naturedly or at him Arnold wasn't quite sure.
"Oh Arnold, you really are naïve, aren't you? I had always hoped that that odd head of yours held more wisdom – seeing the background you rose from and all – but I'm disheartened to find that you're just full of empty space. Just like everyone else." Her voice betrayed her, betrayed her in the sense that she wanted to sound more melancholy and less definite. But there was no hiding it; she had come to that conclusion so long ago that not even her tone could lie.
"I'm not naïve, Helga. I'm, uh, I'm moral, that's all." He was expecting a fight from her, a name-calling and behavior that was reminiscent of their elementary school days. But she only laughed and offered him more pork chow mien.
She had grown up, and he never even noticed.
"A wise woman once said it's best not to be too moral. You cheat yourself out of too much life. And she was right, you know? If all you do is work on being moral and good to all mankind, you never take a chance and the next thing you know, you're sitting in a hospice home wondering where life went." She explained, and Arnold found himself hanging on her logic.
"So you're telling me that you don't strive to be the best person you can be?" he asked, absentmindedly wiping away a stray raindrop that made acquaintance with his cheek. She shook her head even as she looked up to see more Sky Tears coming down.
"No. I know that the best person I can be is flawed." She didn't elaborate any more than that, and he couldn't help but think that she wouldn't even if he hadn't cried out at the sudden and unexpected downpour of rain. He dropped his chopsticks and made a mad dash for The Beast, fully expecting to hear Helga's squeals companion to his own – but he didn't.
He stopped suddenly and turned back, surprised to see her bending over to pick up the chopsticks he had carelessly thrown aside. She was singing a sad sort of tune, but it was deceptive if the smile on her lips meant anything.
"Trouble, oh trouble move from me; I have paid my debt now won't you leave me in my misery . . ." He couldn't help but wonder how he'd managed to miss it for so long. This side of Helga that was, dare he say, human – or at least a fully-functioning member of society. There were no walls, no defense mechanisms, and no names that danced dangerously with his patience.
"Helga -" he called after her as she stood up, and that smile he'd been growing accustomed to had easily morphed into the smirk he knew all too well.
"Yeah Football Head?" No animosity, only curiosity.
"Who told you that thing about morality?" her smirk grew at the same speed as her wet clothes.
"Maude." She called back, tucking the wooden sticks into her back pocket with that same care and swiftness that she produced them with.
"Who's Maude?" she laughed, turned her back on him and continuing her walk.
"And if you want to be me, be me. And if you want to be you, be you – cause there's a million things to do you know that there are . . ." she sang loud and clear, and Arnold could only watch as she started a slow, odd skip down a hill and out of sight, Chinese box still in hand.
Sliding into the Packard, he let the sound of rain on metal wash over him as he opened the fortune cookie he still held in his hands. Ignoring the smaller cookie bits, he shoved the bites into his mouth while reading the prize with vague interest.
Allow yourself to enjoy what you've accomplished today.
Slowing down his chewing, Arnold couldn't help but reflect on the conversation he just had with the girl who he thought hated him. Maybe the ominous they really were right – appearances can be deceiving.
Just down the way, soaked and completely useless grey cons traded places on the wet asphalt path. Rain and footsteps echoed throughout the trees and the graves. It was peaceful, and it was wet, but mostly it was peaceful. The said owner of the cons finished up the last of her Chinese takeout, tossed in the nearest trashcan and was still skipping slowly and without a real rhythm. The tune on her lips was still bouncing back and forth, but her mind was chaos strung together by one theme: if they kept going the way they were, her beloved Football Head may see the light soon enough.
And as she opened her own fortune cookie, there was no denying that even the Ancient Chinese Deities were on her side.
Be happy! You have lots of reasons.
Yes. Yes she did.
And your lucky numbers are : 9 15 22 39 41. 20.