A/N:

Hello everyone. Thank you all so much for sticking with this story through my long gaps between updates, I sincerely appreciate it. LTBH is finally winding down. After this concluding chapter there will be an epilogue and then the whole thing will finally be done XD I hope it helps make up for the wait that this chapter is nearly 90,000 words. I think it's also my favorite chapter I've written. I like where I am as a writer better now than I ever have before. Unfortunately, after this, I don't think I have any more chapters in me the length of the ones I've submitted for LTBH, at least not for fan fiction. I love being a fan and I love writing for all of you and for our favorite characters, but this much quantity takes a lot out of me. I'll still be finishing my current stories of course, I'll still be adding new stories too (for this and other fandoms in the future), but with more like 10 to 20 thousand word chapters, not 50 to 100 thousand. That'll let me enjoy the writing more, and give me energy to work on some of my own original projects. But I hope you'll all enjoy this last mega chapter from me. Despite the work, I've enjoyed crafting it a lot, and I'm very much looking forward to what you all think of it : )

The title of the chapter will make more sense once you read the forthcoming epilogue.

Also, please note—I'm aware that I reference certain intentions in here regarding TJM and The Patakis but that I deviate a bit from the specifics of those intentions. Since LTBH would technically be in an A/U from TJM (since Arnold is supposed to realize he loves Helga in TJM but in my story he realizes long before anybody goes to the jungle), I had to adjust some things to make this story work. I hope you guys enjoy what I've come up with to try and make everything fit together.

A special thanks to Uriel Manx for bringing to my attention a slight problem with the ending of the Chocolate Boy story, I've adjusted it to fit canonically with a certain HA! episode it references.

Remember the Courtship chapters? Think of this as one very big courtship chapter with many stories XD Here is a list of the story titles in order for your reference:

Operation Slumber Party

Another Beach Story

Fou Amoureux (Crazy in Love)

Brainy's Girlfriend

Gerald and Phoebe and Love

Fifth Grade

Scenes from a Tree Top Balcony

Chocolate Boy

Christmas Presents

Nights in the Jungle

Sleepovers

Deep Voice and Long Legs

The Beginning of an End

Separation

Gods and Pigs and Old Friends

Debates and Decisions and Doing the Right Thing

Home

Cleaning

Just a Thought

Thank you all again for your patience and your readership with this story and others.

LEARNING TO BE HELGA

Chapter 27:

Snapshots (aka Take a Picture, It'll Last Longer)

Operation: Slumber Party


"Phoebe, remind me again why I'm doing this when instead I could be relaxing and watching wrestling or bothering the heck out of my 'fiancée' with flirting?"

The question, out of context, sounded sarcastic, and yet Helga G. Pataki's casual tone and slight smile as she asked it of her best friend as the two of them proceeded to finish setting up Helga's living room for her soon-to-be-arriving guests suggested that she was being facetious more than actually lamenting tonight's all fourth grade girls slumber party: an event which she had set up last week during her and Arnold's revelation to all of their friends about their feelings for one another.

Phoebe smiled as she finished lining up some yahoo sodas on the coffee table, and replied simply to her best friend, "Because your anti-social tendencies have greatly diminished over the course of your mutual relationship with Arnold, and as a result you've expressed a stronger desire to connect more deeply and sincerely with our fellow female classmates than you have thus far in our lives." Phoebe shrugged, adjusting her glasses and straightening her red silk pajamas as she happily placed a few rather complicated board games alongside the sodas on the table and added, "Besides, you're going to wear Arnold out if you go on dates with him every single night of the week, Helga." She giggled a little.

Helga smiled more and let out a little chuckle too as she jumped into a reclining position on her sofa, straightening her purple nightgown a bit. "Eh, all I heard during the first part of that was 'blah blah blah—something Bliss would say, something that makes me sound like I've gone soft—blah blah'…" She grinned brightly. "Second part got through loud and clear though. Can't wear out poor Arnold at the tender age of ten—won't make for much of a honeymoon later on." She giggled and then held out her hand, admiring the little pink-stoned ring on her finger. She had told Phoebe about Arnold's little proposal—she figured that was acceptable. And though she had told Arnold that she didn't plan to wear the ring right now in their lives, she absolutely couldn't help 'trying it on' sometimes as long as only herself and maybe Phoebe were around to admire it. Helga adjusted her pink bow and straightened her pigtails a little bit, and then sighed girlishly at the sight of the little gem on the ring catching the light. "I'm completely holding him to that proposal, Phoebe. Ugh, I just wish I had a recording of it or that I'd at least gotten him to sign something in writing. Ah, well, I'll just have to rely on that nagging conscious of his and his inability to back out of promises." Helga was joking, of course—she and Arnold had already talked about the fact that if he wasn't pretty much gravely serious about marriage he shouldn't propose in the first place. But it was nice right now to smile and joke a little as she relaxed with her best friend before the slumber party in a room full of freshly made gourmet junk food (courtesy of Olga) and tons of monster movies (along with a couple of romantic mushy ones just to respect everyone's tastes) courtesy of Helga's trip to the video store earlier.

Phoebe sat down on the other end of the couch, smiling at Helga's comment. "If only your old parrot was still around, Helga. Then he could have heard the whole proposal and repeated it word for word for you whenever he felt like it."

Both girls looked at each other and then shared a hearty laugh.

Helga finally sat up after a few moments, wiping a tear of hilarity from her eye. "Alright, alright, but seriously though, it's probably time for me to put this thing away. Everyone's going to be showing up soon." She glanced at the clock on the mantle as she slipped her ring off of her finger. "Or at least they'd better be here soon. It's five minutes until eight, and Olga's only gonna be able to keep Bob and Miriam out of the house until eleven tops, and the last thing I need is them trying to 'pop in' and 'be part of things' while I'm meanwhile dealing with actually being a little social with our ragtag band of friends for once. Not to mention Olga has a very bad habit of randomly doing things that embarrass the heck out of me even if she really is getting better about it." Helga sighed and rolled her eyes. "But I figure since that movie she made Bob and Miriam go to with her is foreign and a director's cut and full of subtitles it should keep them busy for at least three hours plus. And by eleven everyone here should be practically comatose from brownies, cookies, pizza bagels, caramel popcorn, and yahoo sodas, not to mention a couple of movies. The timing ought to be perfect." Helga smiled confidently as she slipped her ring into the back of her now exposed and opened locket and then slipped the locket back underneath her nightgown and crossed her arms over her chest.

Phoebe nodded, resting back against the couch more. "An excellent plan, Helga. And it was very nice of Olga to be willing to take your parents away from home for a few hours this evening. Wasn't she looking forward to attending the slumber party herself?"

Helga nodded and shrugged. "Yeah, she was, but she decided to be cool and put that aside to help me out with Bob and Miriam. In exchange, of course, I had to swear to fill her in on every detail that happens tonight, and I'm sure her 'little sis' will be doing the same thing even if I don't, so that'll give her her fix. Plus I promised her that she could sit and talk with all of us at breakfast, provided she makes us some fancy gourmet breakfast grub of course." Helga grinned with a touch of smugness.

Phoebe smiled more. "Sounds scrumptious, Helga."

Helga nodded. "Yeah, and then after breakfast I figured you'd want to rush out to spend a long, private summer day with tall hair boy, so I called him this afternoon and told him to pick you up here at ten tomorrow morning and I said you were very excited to see him and also that if he was late I would pound him."

"That sound like a lovely way to—Helga!" Phoebe squeaked, turning away a little and blushing (though she smiled a bit nonetheless). She swallowed. "I-I just haven't had time to spend with him lately because of…well, um…"

"What, homework? It's summer vacation, Phoebe—nice try but try again." Helga looked at her with part of her brow raised incredulously. She had noticed for the last week that her best friend had been spending quite a bit less time than usual with her main squeeze, and frankly she wanted to know why. There didn't seem to have been a fight, Phoebe didn't seem mad or sad, after all…. She just seemed very shy when Helga observed her distancing herself from Gerald, and Helga really wasn't sure what to make of that, to be honest. To top off the weirdness, Phoebe usually shared everything with her, but she was keeping a tight lip on things lately…though Helga had a suspicion that…well… "You've been telling Arnold what the problem is but not me, haven't you Phoebe?" she suddenly said softly, looking at her best friend.

Phoebe instantly blushed more and didn't say anything. She just looked very, very shy. She glanced at Helga hesitantly.

Helga smiled a little, knowing what new things might be bothering Phoebe right now and waving her off about it. "Relax, relax, Football Head didn't tell me anything. But I couldn't help but notice you occasionally talking to him in private once or twice this week. Definitely spotted you two at the park once and one time coming out of Slausens. And you were frowning…and Arnold had that look of selfless concern her gets on his face when he's giving advice." Helga's tone became very sincere and she spoke softly to her friend. "Pheebs, you don't have to tell me what's bothering you if you don't want to. Will you at least tell me if Arnold's advice is helping you, though?" She half smiled a little. "It'll make me feel better to know either way."

Phoebe, feeling a little calmer now, swallowed and nodded. "Yes, he's…he's made some excellent points and he's been very kind to listen to me. I know I was putting him in an awkward position since the situation is regarding his best friend but…Helga, I don't mean to insult you or to leave you out of things, really." She looked at Helga sincerely. "I just needed to talk to someone who's…a little more like me, I guess. Quiet and shy and reserved. That's the perspective I felt would help me best, Helga." She smiled and added truthfully, "I do appreciate your perspective too, Helga, I really do…I just need a different approach at the moment, that's all."

Phoebe's problem was simple enough actually: she was very concerned that she might be quite in love with Gerald. Before their own little 'courtship', of course, she had just liked him very, very, very, very much; he had been a young infatuation for her. But now…he was so nice and the time they spent together was so special and the feelings she got, not even just from kissing him but from being around him, even just from seeing his face…. Sometimes she felt she would all but pass out from the fluster. Actually, she was starting to get quite afraid that if left alone with him for too long she might just snap inside and say something about her feelings or even do something about her feelings that would be too extreme for him to handle. And then she would feel so embarrassed and Gerald would probably feel so uncomfortable…She knew he was already starting to seem a bit uncomfortable lately now that she was starting to avoid him a tiny bit, but still Phoebe felt she needed to address her situation as thoroughly as possible before resuming full time dating with him. And Arnold really did seem like the best candidate to help her. He was quiet, shy sometimes, reserved, just as she had explained to Helga. Whereas Helga would have probably advised something that ended with going with your feelings and passions, which was helpful in a way…Arnold's guidance had appealed to Phoebe much more so far: waiting and thinking and talking calmly with Gerald. That was what Phoebe would do. She would start tomorrow afternoon, she had decided. After she left Helga's in the morning she would call up Gerald and ask if he would meet her in the park for a walk. Then perhaps she would apologize for her distance lately and try to explain her feelings to him just a little for now. Or at least she would work up as much courage as she could (and hope they were as alone as possible on whatever outing they chose) and then do her best to try talking to him.

Helga, meanwhile, seeing her friend in such deep thought, nodded to her in understanding. Sure, it frustrated her a tiny bit to be out of the loop here, but she knew that, much like Arnold, Phoebe too was a bit sensitive and needed to work things out in her own way, especially about something as potentially awkward as all of this romantic stuff. She smiled supportively. "Well, if anyone's the best to get advice from, it's certainly the Football Head. Good call, Phoebe." She put a hand on her shoulder. "I hope it all works out soon. I miss you and Geraldo being such a cute couple with Arnold and me. Besides, I like bugging him during double dates." She laughed.

Phoebe laughed a little too. "Thank you, Helga."

"No prob, Pheebs."

There was quiet for a moment and then Phoebe considered maybe trying to talk to Helga about everything. "Um…Helga? I—…."

DING DONG. KNOCK KNOCK.

"Helga! I'm ever so certain I'm a few minutes early but I just couldn't wait any longer! I brought homemade muffins and new nail polish for makeovers and my copy of That Oh So Special Someone! Ooo I've been looking forward to this night all week! I'm ever so certain it'll just be the most special night ev—"

"Okay, okay!" Helga by now hadn't been able to help getting up and racing to the foyer, upon which she had yanked open the door, pulled Lila in, and then shut tight the door behind them. "Sheesh, Lila, tone down the excitement a little or the neighbors'll call the men in white coats to take you to the funny farm. We get it, we get it, you're here and you're happy, now make yourself comfortable." With a sigh and an eye roll, but a smile too nonetheless, Helga ushered her red-haired friend into the living room. She was happy to see Lila of course, yet she couldn't deny a bit of frustration at her sudden arrival, all things considered. 'Darn it, I think Phoebe was just about to spill. Oh well, maybe I can get her alone later before bed or talk to her tomorrow after breakfast. But at least she's got Arnold helping her, so I know she's in good hands. Hmm, that idea almost puts me in a mind to try talking to tall hair boy, see what his perspective is on all of this.' She shook her head to herself with an interested grin as she headed over to join Phoebe and Lila.

Phoebe, putting aside her sudden shyness and near readiness to confide in Helga, smiled her usual nice smile and gave Lila a small wave. "Konbanwa, Lila. I'm very happy you're looking forward to this evening, and I'm sure Helga is too. Are you enjoying your summer so far?"

Lila, arrayed in a mint green plaid nightgown, put her duffel bag full of clothes and blankets and a pillow down on the floor and smiled and nodded at Phoebe as she proceeded to take off her shoes and light jacket. "Oh yes, it's been ever so wonderful! Olga took me to the ballet and then she took Helga and me to the observatory outside of town, and Brainy introduced me to an ever so interesting series of paintings at the museum all about rural communities. Oh, and Helga invited me to go to the cheese festival with her and Arnold this year, right, Helga?" Lila beamed a little—the invitation had come out of nowhere, and she was ever so thrilled to get to spend time with both Helga and Arnold together. She thought they were so cute together, and it was so nice to finally have a real friendship with Helga and it was so nice to finally get to be friends with Arnold without him constantly trying to impress her or ending every single encounter with 'so do you like me like me yet?' It was going to be the best summer ever!

Phoebe blinked at this information and glanced over at Helga. "Helga, you invited Lila to accompany you and Arnold to the Cheese Festival this year?"

Helga nodded, popping herself back onto the couch and gesturing for Lila to take an easy chair if she wanted. Lila placed her jacket atop of her duffel bag and took the chair with a smile. Helga turned back to Phoebe and shrugged. "Yeah, well, Arnold and I spend enough one-on-one time together regularly now anyway, and I figured I owed it to her after the stunts I pulled on her and Arnold at the last Cheese Festival." Helga looked to Lila with a touch of sheepishness and added, "Sorry again I almost made you drown, Lila…and that I sat back and ate popcorn with a smile while I watched it happen."

Lila just laughed. "Oh it's okay, Helga. I'm ever so sure I was being a little dramatic at the time. It was only a few inches of water, after all."

Phoebe smiled a little more and asked Helga with a touch of humor, "So does this mean next year you'll invite Ruth to the Cheese Festival with you and Arnold to make up for—"

Helga stopped her right there. "Hey, NONE of my plans against Ruth actually worked, and she and her other training bra wearing friends can fend for themselves. I'm just doing Lila a solid, no other girls. Arnold can deal with them on his own if he wants to." She rolled her eyes and grinned.

Phoebe and Lila laughed. Lila looked to Helga again. "Oh Helga, it's really alright about the last Cheese Festival though. And it really was just an ever so shallow bit of water I fell into. This year it won't matter though anyway—Olga said maybe I could come to the beach with your family sometime this summer and that she'd teach me how to swim." Lila looked excited at the idea.

Helga actually laughed and grinned and rolled her eyes. "Oh, wow, okay, you two have fun with that. I'll be basking in the fact that I don't have to spend all of my time trying to keep Arnold away from manipulative beach bimbos, and also trying to wheedle Bob into buying us all at least one lobster dinner."

Lila giggled. "That sounds ever so nice, Helga. But if you have any time you can spare I wish you'd help me learn to swim too. Olga told me all about how she taught you how to swim when you were little, and how you picked it up so quickly that you used to run away from her before she could even get your little bathing suit all the way on you and just dive right—"

DING DONG!

"OKAY!" Helga sat bolt upright from the couch just as the doorbell rang once more, blushing and trying to look at Lila seriously. "Lila, no more stories of things that Olga ever told you about me ever, got it? Now I'm going to get that and new general rule—no one ever brings up anything about anyone that occurred before they were nine years old, minimum. Thank you." And then with a touch of embarrassment she dashed over to the front door.

Phoebe and Lila just shared a small laugh at Helga's shyness.

Helga, meanwhile, straightened her hair a little and took a deep breath to calm herself down a bit before she opened the door with a grin to greet whoever else was here now. Her eyes lit up and her grin grew as her gaze lit upon a familiar tall girl in a light jacket and a long nightgown with a flower on it, and another girl about her own height with a few blond pigtails that stuck out of her head at varying angles, and this second girl happened to be holding a small, clear, plastic 'cage' with a frog in it. "Nadine, Sheena, get the heck in here!" Helga gestured inside with a sweeping motion, and the two girls entered with smiles.

"Hi Helga, how are you?" Sheena asked politely in her slightly squeaky voice.

Helga shrugged, following after them. "Can't complain. I'm still wondering if I'm going to regret being as social as I'm going to be tonight, but what the heck, we'll see how it goes. How are you guys doing?"

Sheena smiled, putting down her things as soon as they entered the living room. "Oh I'm alright, Helga. I brought my juicer and some fresh organic fruit for drinks tonight to go with the sodas. I hope that's alright."

Helga gestured over to a seat for Sheena and nodded. "Yeah, sure. Probably a good idea actually—any more than three of those sodas in a row ever since I turned ten and I go into a major sugar crash anyway." She sighed and shook her head with a grin. "The things age'll do to you, huh?" Then she turned to Nadine. "And how are you doing, Nadine? Oh and who's your slimy friend?" Helga looked at the frog in the container.

Nadine smiled, taking a seat and setting the frog on a table beside her. "I'm alright, thanks, Helga. Oh and uh…" she rubbed the back of her neck with a sheepish grin, "Sorry, I hope it won't cause any problems but this is sort of Sid's frog Sidney." She rolled her eyes. "He came to me yesterday saying that his frog wouldn't eat regular flies anymore and begging me to find a bug he would eat and to constantly keep an eye on him to see how he did with the new food, so I figured I'd better bring him along." Nadine shrugged, raising an eyebrow. "It was kind of weird actually. Sid sounded really, really desperate. Wasn't he, Sidney?" She glanced at the frog, which croaked in reply.

Helga thought it was a little weird too. But still maybe it was just…well…she had sort of suspected a Sid/Nadine thing at the back of her mind for a while now. She decided not to pry into that, though, and to just smile her approval of the frog. "Yeah, well, boys are weird, right?" She rolled her eyes. "Anyway, yeah, sure, the more the merrier. Hey, maybe we could even give the frog a makeover like we did with Harold that one time, remember? Ugh that would probably bother Sid and the other guys so much!" She chuckled at the memory.

All the girls laughed a lot, remembering that night too.

Lila looked confused though. "Pardon? I'm ever so sorry…. Is this a story from something that happened before I moved her? Oh I'd ever so love to hear about it!" She smiled eagerly.

Lila wanting to hear about that night just made the girls laugh together all the more. "I-It…" Helga started between deep laughs, "Rhonda had a slumber party a-and I wasn't invited…s-so I crashed it and was trying to be girly b-but it backfired." She laughed more and finally went on with, "Then the guys crashed the party, all of them, and we chased them down the street and we caught Harold and tied him to a chair and dressed him up as a girl and made him have a makeover. It was the best night ever!"

All the girls nodded and laughed.

"It was such a good idea I showed up to Rhonda's," Helga went on, holding her sides, "I was the only one who was strong enough to hold Harold down while we tied him to that seat!"

"Yeah!" Nadine added amidst laughter. "And then, Sheena, you got that dress slipped over his head because you're the tallest!"

Sheena nodded. "Yes, and then Phoebe figured out how strong the ropes would have to be to hold him!"

Phoebe nodded, laughing too. "Yes and then Rhonda coordinated his color palette and we got started!"

All the girls laughed even more before finally settling down. Lila laughed quite a bit too. "Oh I'm ever so certain that sounds like such an exciting night! How did it end?"

Helga wiped a tear from her eye and, calming down a bit now, answered her. "Eh, we only held him til like midnight, then we blindfolded him, snuck out of the house, brought him to Arnold's, I threw a rock at Football Head's window and then we all bailed. The guys were all over there having a sleepover themselves and the lights were still on. We'd figured they'd find him and bring him inside." She let out a big deep breath, still smiling away. "I don't think anything I ever do will ever top that party of Rhonda's."

All the girls nodded, Lila still seeming quite impressed.

"Hey," Helga raised part of her brow and glanced at Nadine, "speaking of the princess, where is RhondaLloyd? She definitely coming?"

Nadine nodded. "Yeah, she just needs to be fashionably late, that's all." Then she looked at Helga with a touch of meaning and added, "Have you…spoken to her much lately?"

Helga nodded, looking a little meaningful too. "A little. She clamed up a bit after the first major spill though. Not sure if she's planning to surprise me with anything again any time soon."

Nadine smiled a little and nodded. "Yeah…but I think she will, Helga."

The other three girls were interested, of course, in what Nadine and Helga might be referring to regarding Rhonda right now. But they also figured they shouldn't pry, and that what was being discussed was probably a private matter.

It was 8:05 by now, and then doorbell rang again.

Nadine smiled more. "That'll probably be Rhonda, Helga."

Helga nodded. "Yeah, I wouldn't be surprised." She got up to answer it, and as she opened the door of course Rhonda Wellington Lloyd was standing there with a fancy black leather bag and a fancy long red nightgown underneath her own light jacket, her whole ensemble looking posh as ever. Helga just grinned at her, crossing her arms over her chest. "Well, well, well, princess Rhonda, how the tables have turned." Helga smirked a little, leaning against the frame of her doorway. "Who would have guessed one day you'd be showing up at a slumber party at my house of all places—isn't life just screwy sometimes?" She laughed a little.

Rhonda smirked a little back at her, checking her hair in a small compact mirror and then stepping forward. "Yes, yes, the irony is simply delicious, Helga, now can I come in BEFORE I soil my new Cabrini slippers on your stoop?"

Helga, grinning more, just stepped aside and gestured within. "Whatever floats your boat, princess, whatever floats your boat."

Rhonda just sighed and rolled her eyes and stepped inside, though she couldn't help her smile continuing. She sort of liked Helga now—and not the usual occasional liking of Helga that she had felt during their lives so far. She sincerely liked her in a more permanent way now. That probably explained why she had gone insane last weekend and spilled her guts about the Curly thing to her for a good half hour right here in this living room after Helga's sister had dropped them off here following that 'one month anniversary' thing Arnold and Helga had had together.

Thinking about that memory made Rhonda grimace a little as she sat down now in Helga's living room. Perhaps she was starting to like Helga a bit, but could she really trust her not to spill the beans about her predicament or to go to Curly or to do some entirely worse third thing that would come completely out of left field? Yes, Helga seemed to take these romantic things very seriously and also, in a pinch, an appeal to Arnold to beg Helga for her kindness and mercy could probably help. But still it made Rhonda a little uneasy taking such a big risk regarding confiding in Helga and about such a big thing too. She really hoped that at least Helga wouldn't bring up anything about the Curly situation during the slumber party. "S-So, erm…is anybody else coming, Helga? Your sister perhaps or any of the older girls?" Rhonda did her best to ask as casually and as calmly as possible to her hostess.

Helga shook her head at Rhonda's question as she resumed her seat. "Nope, just us ladies, and my sister's actually got my parents out at a long movie this evening so that I can keep any bothersome interference or embarrassing moments to a minimum. Just us…oh and whatever guy we decide to go out and rope and hogtie and makeover this time around." Helga laughed and the other girls joined her.

Rhonda remembered the incident and laughed as well, feeling the ice start to break a bit. "Yes, well, if we needed it I'm sure you could get Arnold to come over here in a pinch." She smirked just a little, though it was friendly, not hostile at all, and she laughed a bit and the other girls did too.

Helga blushed a little but managed to maintain her poise and even her smile. "Nah, it wouldn't be any fun to do to Arnold—he's not nearly 'macho' enough," She actually laughed a little. "And either way I've put the poor thing through enough over the years, he deserves quite a few years of only the most mild prankage from me if possible."

CROAK.

"Ugh!" Rhonda grimaced, glancing at Sidney. "Nadine, what is that frog doing here?" she asked in a touch of obvious disgust.

Nadine patted the frog's cage. "Oh come on, Rhonda, he's not so bad. He actually eats bugs, for starters—I'd think you'd like that. Besides, I was just telling Helga and everyone that I promised to take care of him for Sid because he thinks Sidney's sick and he was kind of desperate about it." She shrugged, looking at the little frog with a frown. "I think Sidney's his best friend, isn't that right, Sidney?"

CROAK.

Nadine smiled more at the little frog. "Just don't get loose when we get back to my room and eat any of my bugs and I'll be happy."

Rhonda just rolled her eyes. "You collect bugs, and Sid asks you to watch an animal that eats bugs. Nadine, dear, promise me you'll get that thing away from yourself and back to him as soon as possible."

"Sure, Rhonda," Nadine replied with a good-natured sigh, looking back to the other girls again.

"Aww, Rhonda, I think Sid's frog is ever so cute," Lila chimed in, smiling sweetly and holding her hands up as she clasped them together and gazed at the frog. "You're very nice to take care of it for him, Nadine." Lila giggled and glanced at Helga. "Helga, you should call Arnold and have him bring over Abner so that Sidney can have a friend."

Helga blinked at the suggestion and rolled her eyes with a smirk. "Oh please! First of all, the Football Head can take care of that pet pig he insists on having just fine on his own—believe me, he practically treats the thing like it's his baby. And besides, I've already had enough animal trouble in my life between the parrot and the monitor lizard."

Phoebe couldn't help but giggle at the comment, though the other girls looked a little confused.

Helga just waved them off, "Eh, it's a long, long, looong, story. If I ever get the urge to really, really humiliate myself but also to make you all laugh a lot in the process then I'll tell it to you one day. But until that day of girly gossip and intimacy rears its ugly head in my life…" and then she stood up, clapping her hands together commandingly with a smile, "We have snacks, we have drinks, we have movies and we have the house to ourselves. So let's shut up about men and wacky adventures and get to it then because I am starved for food and for entertainment. Phoebe, hit it!" Helga pointed to her best friend.

Phoebe nodded. "Hitting!" She then reached for a complicated remote, examining it a little and then pressing a button. Instantly the television came on, a tape sitting half in the VCR went in all the way and started playing, and then (with another press of a button or two) the lights dimmed,

"Ooo…" The girls all admired the sudden change in atmosphere.

Helga sat down with a smile, grabbing a bowl of popcorn. "Yeah, pretty boss, huh? I got the Football Head to rig up a fancy all-in-one remote for me just like he has in his room. And he didn't do a bad job if I say so myself—definitely got me a winner." She started munching and reached for a soda as she added, "I figured we'd start with a classic monster movie. Then we can try something girly if everyone really, really, really, really, really wants to. And…then if you all still want to, we can talk about boys and dating and junk…" She rolled her eyes with a smirk.

The girls all nodded and then grabbed snacks and drinks for themselves and gathered in cozy places around the living room to watch the TV and kick off their first official slumber party of the summer. And Helga tried not to 'hate' it TOO much…


A few blocks over, in the secret fourth grade bunker in the dump that Park ran and that had luckily been cleaned out of fifth graders ever since last trash can day, Gerald, Stinky, Sid, Harold, Eugene, Iggy, Curly and of course Arnold were all sitting together. And they were wearing very familiar get-ups of dark pants and sweatshirts, the occasional dark knit hat, and burnt cork under most of their eyes.

Arnold was trying very hard not to smile a lot. He figured he shouldn't seem like he was enjoying what was going to happen soon too much, though even the mere idea of it made him want to laugh. Helga was going to love this, he knew that. And the best part was that he knew Olga had taken Helga's parents out for the evening, so, as long as Helga didn't spill the beans (and he really doubted she would) and as long as they timed things perfectly, no one would be the wiser about this little prank of sorts he and the rest of the guys were going to pull tonight. And Helga thought he couldn't ever pull anything on her—oh he was going to show her. He smiled a lot more but managed to get it under control. He and the other guys were just killing time and going over details until 9 pm when their 'operation' would commence.

"Arnold, are you sure we should do this?" Gerald asked his best friend (for about the hundredth time so far) with a raised eyebrow as he tucked his tall hair into a long, stocking cap.

Arnold just nodded. "Yes, Gerald, I'm sure. I have a really, really good feeling about this."

Gerald, lowering his voice a little so none of the other guys would hear, just rolled his eyes and replied in a murmur, "If you ask me, I think you just want to see Helga in a nightgown."

Arnold blinked and cleared his throat and blushed and glanced away, still trying not to smile. "Gerald…" he said softly under his breath.

Gerald smirked a tiny bit, still speaking low. "Never mind, I'm sure you already have managed to see her with a nightgown on," he said, mostly jokingly.

Now Arnold couldn't help his smile growing. He just looked forward and gave a little shrug, recalling their one-week anniversary and coming back to Helga's room for a second time that night only to have found her already changed for bed. "Maybe…" he replied softly, but with a touch of pride, under his breath, and then he laughed a little to himself and walked over to the other guys, hearing the sound of his best friend scoffing and sighing behind him.

"Are you guys almost ready?" Arnold asked with interest, admiring their enthusiastic preparations. Everything was looking just as good as it had the night they had raided Rhonda's slumber party back at the beginning of the year.

The fellas nodded.

"Yup, I reckon so!"

"Boy howdy, we are lucky you're dating Helga, Arnold, because otherwise I'm pretty sure she would hunt us all down and kill us."

"I think this has the potential to be the coolest thing we have ever done as preteens. Ever."

"But WHY can't I free the animals for us to ride to Helga's house to crash the slumber party, Arnold? Come one, at least just the giraffes? The giraffes let you make a great entrance! Or can't I at least bring along one of the leopards in a cage? Rhonda says leopard print is in this year…"

"Arnold, Gerald's right—are you really, really sure we should be doing this?"

This last response came from Harold, who looked hesitant, to say the least.

Arnold nodded to him, still smiling confidently. "Yes, Harold, I promise, it'll be alright."

Harold scowled and frowned a tiny bit, speaking very matter-of-factly. "Because I'm NOT getting caught and left behind and forced to have some girly makeover again."

Arnold nodded. "I know, I know, Harold. And I promise, if they catch anyone I'll make sure it's me. Helga'll go a little easier on me…or maybe harder." He shrugged, not really sure. "Either way I'll make sure it's me they get, not you."

Harold sighed but nodded. "Okay. But seriously, Arnold, I don't get left behind or I'm gonna pound you." He wouldn't, obviously, but he was pouting and making the threat nonetheless.

Arnold sighed, though he still smiled a little and retained his calm manner. "Harold, I promise you can pound me if the girls catch you and give you a makeover. But…I can't promise Helga won't pound you right back if you do. Sorry." He shrugged sheepishly.

Harold just rolled his eyes and went back to applying burnt cork underneath them, grumbling something about 'Madame Fortress Mommy' and how this 'Helga and Arnold dating' stuff was very confusing to him sometimes.

Arnold just smiled and shook his head a little. "Thank you, Harold," He gave his friend a nod and then walked over to Sid. "Sid…?"

Sid—the only guy not in an obvious sneaking around disguise—let out a breath and smiled. "I'm all ready to go, Arnold. Sidney's planted and Nadine doesn't suspect a thing."

Arnold nodded. "Okay. And thanks for going in first for us, Sid. I'd do it myself but if I show up suddenly Helga will definitely suspect something. A-Also, I'm not really good at lying to her, so…"

"Arnold?" Sid started with a raised eyebrow and his head tilted to the side, "You're not good at lying to anybody."

Arnold gave a small laugh and blushed and rolled his eyes to the side a little. "I-I know. But it's worse with Helga. So that's why it's better that you go in first—at least you'll have a reason for showing up there." Sid would merely say he had come to collect Sidney—doing so would get the door open for the guys and would provide a distraction so that they could get into the house.

"No problem, Arnold," Sid replied with a smile. "Just, uh, make sure you're in there along with the other guys pretty quickly because if Helga realizes what we're up to and I'm all alone she'll kill me." He swallowed with a sheepish half grin.

Arnold just nodded in understanding. "No problem, Sid. You won't die, I promise."

Sid let out a deep breath, still doing his best to get himself frosty. "Okay. I can do this."

Arnold smiled more and shook his head a little to himself as he walked away from Sid to head back into the center of the crowd of boys. They all seemed as ready as they'd ever be now, and so he let out a sigh and then cleared his throat and spoke up to get their attention. "Alright, everyone, I think we can start this now. And thank you all for agreeing to do this with me. I know crashing a girls slumber party might seem a little…out of character for me maybe…" he smiled sheepishly and blushed a little and shrugged, "But—"

"Arnold, they found out you're dating Helga G. Pataki—nothing will ever seem out of character for you anymore to them. There's nothing you could pull that would be more out of left field than declaring your undying affection for that insane woman," Gerald had to interject dryly with a little smirk threatening to come to his mouth.

Some stifled and not-so-stifled laughs left the other guys.

Arnold just smiled more and rolled his eyes. "That's a good point I guess, Gerald. I've been…changing a lot lately, growing up a little. So I'm trying to try some new things and tonight is one of them." He looked to all of the guys again. "Anyway, I think this'll be a lot of fun, maybe even more fun than when we all crashed Rhonda's slumber party."

"Hey, that was only fun if you didn't get caught," Harold added with a frown.

Arnold nodded in understanding. "I know, I know, we'll have to be careful that no one gets left behind this time. Helga's a much more…well…um…as a hostess I guess she's much more…"

"Ruthless?" suggested Gerald, grinning more.

Arnold smiled and nodded. "Yes, she's much more ruthless than Rhonda. And also we've really got to make sure everyone's out of there before eleven because that's when her parents are supposed to come home and her Dad's…kind of…um…"

"Mercilessly protective to the point that he practically made you fear for your life that time he caught you taking a nap on his couch and letting Helga take a nap with her head in your lap at the same time?" Gerald really couldn't help himself and he even laughed now, and the other guys all went wide eyed and dropped their jaws but then laughed quite a bit too.

Arnold blushed very considerably and looked down, rubbing one of his arms. "Um…y-yeah, he's…he's a little sensitive about the Helga dating thing…" he managed to mumble despite his embarrassment.

"Arnold, you are becoming such a dog, it's fantastic!" Sid laughed out, wiping a tear from his eye.

Arnold blushed quite a bit more and looked away more. He had come to accept the bold romantic side of himself quite a while ago by now, but he had some hesitations about other people becoming aware of some of that side's more intimate except, of course, for Helga or maybe his best friend or possibly Phoebe if it was necessary. "Gerald…" he managed under his breath in a slightly chastising tone to the 'so called' best friend in question.

Gerald half smiled and said back sincerely, crossing his arms over his chest, "Sorry, man, I didn't mean to spill any beans. Just, uh, pre-operation jitters, I guess." He cleared his throat and glanced at the other guys. "Hey, come on, guys, cool it and let my man finish." The other guys finally got a little more under control and Gerald turned back to Arnold. "Continue, man. We're all listening."

Arnold swallowed and managed to smile a little again and look up. He did his best to just keep going on despite his fluster. "Th-Thanks. A-Anyway, that's why we have to kind of get in, do whatever we want to do to have some fun, and then get out before anyone can catch us or before any of the adults come back. And, like I was telling Harold, if Helga asks or gets angry with any of you, I take full responsibility for all of this so just send her straight to me."

The guys nodded enthusiastically. "That will not be a problem Arnold, that is definitely cool with all of us," Iggy affirmed with a thumbs-up.

Arnold gave a small laugh. He nodded. "Okay then. I think we can afford to take just another five minutes to get ready, and then we can all head out. Sid will go up to the stoop first to get the door open and to give us a distraction. Then half of us will sneak into the ground floor using the garage and surprise the girls and then in the confusion the other half can run in through the front door behind Sid. Any questions?"

"Just…one…" came a familiar wheezing voice, the sound of which was quickly followed by the sound of the door above them shutting.

All of the guys looked up, and Arnold blinked at who was descending to the lower floor of the secret fortress. "Brainy?" He half smiled. "I thought you said you didn't want to come because this was going to be too impolite and it was going to violate the girls privacy too much?"

Brainy sighed as he finally made it to the same level as everyone else. He took a few deep puffs of his inhaler and then put it in his pocket and replied as he caught his breath from the climb down. "It…is. But…if I don't help you all, I'll feel too guilty." He shook his head and let out a small sigh.

All of the guys looked a little confused, Arnold included. "Guilty about what, Brainy?"

Brainy smiled more. "About the thorough thrashing Helga is going to give you all when she foils this slumber party crashing scheme of yours, not to mention the thrashing the other girls will give you too."

All of the guys looked a touch uneasy for a moment. Arnold half smiled. "Brainy, we'll be okay—we've got a plan worked out and—"

"It won't work," Brainy said simply, putting a small satchel he had down on the floor.

Arnold blinked. "Why not?"

Brainy sighed and shrugged. "Because Helga alone is more clever than every single person in this room, including me a fair amount of the time, and I read encyclopedias for fun. All of you are in dire need of more assistance if you want this scheme to actually work."

The guys were starting to look like they agreed with Brainy. And Arnold couldn't even help but be a little bit interested. "That's…yeah, that's true." Arnold knew Helga was an evil genius, plain and simple. Maybe there really should be a little extra finesse added to this plan of theirs. "So what did you have in mind, Brainy?"

Brainy smiled and pulled some ropes and a few blueprints out of his satchel. "Oh, just some minor modifications." He opened the blueprints, lying them down on a table and looking over them as he spoke to the boys. "To begin, the garage and front door as entrances are acceptable ideas, but you need a quick and unexpected escape route in case Helga really is quite angry. The door is out—too obvious. The garage exit is perfect—ground floor, easy access. But she'll be reminded of that if you use it to enter. If you want to enter by some other way than the door then some of you will have to sneak into the backyard and enter by the back door if it's open, or you'll have to rappel up into Helga's bedroom window and head down the stairs to the living room." The guys all nodded at first but then looked a little uneasy—this was getting a touch complicated and…Helga's bedroom? Talk about a place often visited in one's nightmares. Brainy went on. "Secondly, and this is most important—Sid cannot be the only one to knock on the door first. You'll have to be with him, Arnold." Brainy glanced up at Arnold. "Just say you happened to be spending time with Sid when he decided he wanted to pick up Sidney. You're not very good at lying to Helga but you are the most excellent person available for distracting her and that's what you'll all need—to have her off her guard. Charm her a little, Arnold, we all know you know how." Some of the guys smirked and Arnold blushed a little but he had to nod to himself—that did make sense. "Third, all of you need a place to meet up if you have to bail from the mission because things go south. I'd recommend meeting here, or at least running to Arnold's. Absolutely decide which you'll be doing before you leave, and then try to split into two groups and take different routes to the same destination—it'll be harder for the girls to catch you. Once you're safe, enter and lock the doors. And if anyone gets left outside, I'd personally recommend hiding in a trashcan: I've always found that to be one of the most excellent hiding places." Brainy looked up at all the boys with a smile.

They all looked very impressed with him and were nodding and smiling.

Arnold went over to Brainy with an appreciative smile of his own. "Thanks, Brainy. All of that's actually really smart. We can go over the changes and then get started."

Everyone nodded.

Brainy smiled humbly. "Thank you all. And…I'll accompany you as far as Helga's house, though I don't know yet if I'll go in." Then Brainy swallowed and added, glancing up at the other boys, "Oh and one last thing to keep in mind…"

All eyes were attentively on him.

Brainy went on, trying not to look too sheepish. "Don't let the girls make you let your guard down. Arnold is supposed to be charming Helga—don't let yourselves be charmed by anyone in return. You let yourself get that distracted and then before you know it you're on the receiving end of a firm punch to the jaw or the equivalent. Just as a final warning."

All the guys blinked and then tried to roll their eyes and smirk though they couldn't help blushing a little. They were really starting to leave behind the 'yuck, girls are gross and have cooties!' stage, and it really was a weird transition for all of them.

Arnold did his best not to respond with too much warm laughter to Brainy's final (and very real) caution. Then he looked out to the boys and gestured for them all to come closer. "Okay, everyone, lets go over the changes a few times, and then we'll all head out." As the fellas moved in, Arnold wiped the burnt cork from under his eyes. Helga might be willing to let the darker clothing he was currently wearing slide as a trick of the streetlights or some random preference on his part for the evening, but burnt cork underneath his eyes was beyond a dead giveaway to her that he was up to something.

Arnold felt so excited as he went over the last details with everyone—and he felt another immense wave of appreciation in his life that his relationship with Helga had changed to such a perfect new means of give and take.


DING DONG

Sid and Arnold stood out on Helga's front stoop, trying to look as innocent as possible.

A few moments passed and no one answered the door, but the two boys could hear the sounds of movies and talking and laughter inside, and so they decided to ring again in case they hadn't been heard the first time.

DING DONG

"Alright, alright, crimeny, I heard you the first time!" Helga G. Pataki's familiar voice shouted out from deep within the house. Then the sound of her footsteps got closer.

"Arnold," Sid whispered, a big smile plastered on his face, "I'm freaking out a little."

Arnold, a pleasant half smile plastered onto his own face, just swallowed and whispered back, "I promise, Sid, Helga's really a very nice person deep down. Nothing bad is going to happen."

"Yeah, that's what you said when we tried to take back Gerald Field from the fifth graders…and the time we became friends with MonkeyMan…and the time we tried to steal Wheezin' Ed's treasure off Elk Island…and the time we went to look for the ghost bri—Ow!"

The door handle was turning and Arnold had elbowed Sid to shut him up.

The door opened now and there stood Helga G. Pataki in her familiar purple nightshirt and with her familiar pink bow atop her head, and also a pale pink bathrobe drawn hastily over her shoulders. "Wow, when I told you pizza delivery guys to have the goods here in under 20 minutes or there'd be trouble, I didn't think you'd get here THIS fa—" Helga blinked, finally taking in who was actually standing before her on her stoop.

All three of them were silent.

Helga, eyes wide, just looked from Arnold to Sid to Arnold back to Sid and then to Arnold again slowly. Then she looked a little cagey and crossed her arms over her chest. "Arnold…" she nodded at him, "Sid…" she nodded at him. "To what do I owe the pleasure?" She leaned against the frame of her door a little.

"Uh…" Sid started, then he swallowed and cleared his throat and just went for it, "I-I wanted to pick up my frog…f-from Nadine…b-because I miss him. Heh…" He smiled cheesily.

Helga's mouth twitched just slightly. Then she glanced at Arnold again. "And you're here because…?"

Arnold just shrugged, smiling more. "Well, I-I happened to be in the neighborhood, and can't a guy just want to say hi to the girl he 'like likes'?" Arnold smiled a little more. He knew Helga HATED that phrase, but obviously the two of them weren't going to parade around telling everyone that they were in love with each other—something like that still felt too weird, and they doubted their friends would understand yet anyway. Plus it was just fun to bug Helga with the 'like likes' thing.

And, indeed, Helga scowled and pouted just a little at his use of the phrase. "Oh shut up." She sighed and rolled her eyes at him. Then she leaned her head back a little and called out toward the living room, "Nadine! Chucklehead here to see you! And bring the frog!"

"U-Um, maybe I can just come in and—" Sid started bravely, taking a step forward.

Helga was a wall though. "Not a chance. Girls only. Stand down, go-go boot boy."

Sid took a step back instantly and swallowed. "Okay."

"Um…" Arnold stepped forward now, hoping to ease the tension and get things back on track. He smiled, remembering that he was supposed to be here to charm Helga as much as he could. "Sorry, Helga, we really don't mean to interrupt your party." He tried to look as endearing as possible. "We're really going to leave very soon, I promise. A-And, um, you look pretty tonight." He smiled sheepishly.

Now Helga just looked plain confused. Arnold did not flirt with her in public if he could help it. So why was he doing everything he could to flirt with her in public right now? She raised part of her brow at both of them.

"Helga, who's here and why do you need Sidney?" Nadine asked now as she suddenly appeared in the doorway with the frog in its cage in her hand.

Sid's eyes went wide. "Nadine, what did you do to his cage?!"

Nadine smiled and shrugged, holding up the cage as she moved alongside Helga in the doorway. "We all decorated it with little bugs made of craft paper. Oh and Rhonda added the glitter—sorry about that. Anyway, you can have him back now if you want, Sid, he doesn't seem to be sick anymore." She held out the cage.

Sid frowned and took the cage. "Aw, Sidney, it's okay. We'll fix up your bachelor-lily-pad good as new, I promise." He looked at his friend beside him a bit dryly and added, "Arnold, we're blaming you for this."

Arnold just sighed and replied calmly and sincerely, "I'll help you clean up Sidney's cage later, Sid, I promise."

Sid sighed. "Okay." Then he looked up at the two girls listlessly. "Thanks for taking care of him, Nadine," he added politely.

Nadine just nodded with a smile. "Sure, Sid. He wasn't half bad—he wanted to eat a lot of the bugs I caught over the last few days, but otherwise not that bad. And I guess that's a good sign, right? Seems like he's all better and back to normal. Well, anyway, see you guys around. Have a good night Sid and Arnold!" And then she returned to the living room. There was some more laughter from that direction and some sounds clearly from a fun movie.

"Alright, well, I'll see you when I see you, you couple of geeks," Helga said to the boys with a smirk. Then she glanced at her beloved specifically and added with a wink and a little extra smile to her smirk, "Arnold, stay adorable as always." Then she gave a quick salute to the two of them and stepped inside and prepared to close the door.

"Wait!" Arnold suddenly called out, stepping closer again and holding up a hand in hesitation.

Helga stopped in surprise. "What?!"

Arnold blinked. "Um…" Okay, this was starting not to go well. He'd had these visions of grand plans for weeks but no fantastic entrance was presenting itself, and he was starting to lose confidence in sneaking everyone in, and he was kind of starting to be nervous about his plan in general. Crashing a girl's slumber party? What was getting into him these days? And yet he wanted to, and yet he…he…Oh just hang it all! At least they had the emergency escape parts of the plan down pat (thanks to Brainy) in case they needed them.

Arnold instantly grabbed a walkie-talkie out of his pocket, pressed a button and spoke into it nervously. "Gerald, Plan B!"

Now Helga looked utterly confused as could be. "Arn—"

Instantly, then, cries met her ears, and then suddenly from the alleyways on either side of her brownstone poured every guy she knew in dark clothes and with burnt cork under their eyes, and they all charged up Helga G. Pataki's stoop and right into Helga G. Pataki's house!

Helga was only saved from being dragged along with them or getting trampled by them by jumping aside in surprise and conveniently right into a waiting Arnold's arms. Smiling, Arnold then ducked inside the house with her, still cradling her, and let the door close behind them.

Helga just clung to Arnold in shock for the moment, breathing heavily. "A-Arnold!" she practically squeaked, she was so flabbergasted. Then she looked at her beloved in bewilderment.

Arnold just swallowed, breathing a bit heavily in surprise too. What a rush that had all been! No wonder Helga had taken to crazy schemes so regularly over the course of her life—talk about a thrill! Finally, though, he got over his giddiness enough to manage a small sheepish smile to her and to reply in explanation, "U-Um…s-see, I can pull of schemes, Helga. Um…" from the living room there were sounds of screams and rampage and empty soda bottles falling and couch cushions being thrown around, and it made Arnold wince, "Well, I-I'm not sure if whatever's happening in there right now is according to the scheme's plan—I-I actually didn't think things out much farther than just getting in here. But, um…for what it's worth…surprise." He gave her a little smile and a shrug.

There was just silence.

The two of them remained in that silence for a few more moments as the chaos in the other room continued.


"I should destroy you for this, you know," Helga G. Pataki mused, trying not to smile, as she now leaned back against one of her living room walls alongside one of her favorite people (and one of the only football headed ones she knew.) They were watching the current chaos of the slumber party play out from a small place of peace together.

Arnold, beside her, just sighed and nodded with a small smile. "I know."

"I mean, destroy you in a really brutal way," Helga went on, adding some emphasis and glancing at him. "Like worse than that makeover Rhonda and the rest of us girls gave to Harold that one time. Like worse than the bunny pajamas thing. Like worse than the time you ran out of the house in teddy bear pajamas just because you couldn't handle a dream about being over the moon for me."

Arnold just sighed and nodded again. "I know."

"What I should do is start critiquing you as a boyfriend in front of all the guys and all the girls, but this time I should go for the personal stuff. I should tell them all just how much of a hot blooded, flirtatious, sensual little stud you really are behind closed doors…and on rooftops…and in tree houses…and in the alley behind the school and…Oh come on, Arnold, I'm not actually going to tell anyone any of those things, sheesh." Helga gave Arnold a playful nudge and smiled a little. He had been starting to look rather red in the face and overwhelmed, so she had figured she should maybe cut him a break. Besides, this whole 'crashing her slumber party' thing was a little boss…and surprising—and she did like this unpredictable side of Arnold.

Of course it would have helped things if the chaos in the living room had died down at all yet.

Helga looked out to the living room again with a cringe. Girls were chasing boys, boys were chasing girls, people were climbing on other people's backs, some boys were trying to bail through the window and being dragged back inside, some girls were trying to dash upstairs and being blocked, pillows were flying, the TV was blasting, popcorn was being thrown everywhere—it was utter bedlam!

Helga just sighed and shook her head with a look of concern. "Boy, Olga's gonna have an awful time cleaning this up tomorrow morning."

Arnold had to laugh at that statement. It was so Helga. He looked at her. "As soon as they leave, I'll help clean up as much of it as I can before your parents and Olga get home, Helga. I promise. And I'll do my best to stay out of your way since your party will still be going on. Will that make up for everything?" He smiled sheepishly at her.

Helga just smirked a little back at him. "Only if you do the cleaning in a French maid's costume and agree to be our butler for the rest of the night, you great big lug."

Arnold blushed a lot and turned away but did smile quite a bit too. He even laughed a little, and then he glanced back at her. "How about this—cleaning, no outfit, your personal butler for one weekend this summer, and that'll get us half way there to making up for all of this."

Helga smiled back and then held out her hand. "You drive a hard bargain, Football Head, but it's a deal."

Arnold reached out his hand too and they shook on it.

Then Helga sighed deeply, turning back to the chaos, and finally moved away from the wall. "Alright, seriously, I've gotta break this up. Cover your ears, Arnold."

Arnold did so.

Then Helga took in a deep breath, put two fingers in her mouth, and finally let out a piercing whistle so strong it stopped everybody in the room and even made a few of them hold their ears and cringe.

There was silence then save for the occasional croak of Sidney.

"ALRIGHT!" Helga took a very commanding tone and slowly strode into the middle of the room with a dark scowl on her face, glancing around. "So, you fellas crashed my slumber party—well hardee-har-har and congratulations. You made it in and I didn't skin you alive in the process. And so now we're all trying to torture each other to get back at each other, and everyone's screaming, and there's food everywhere, and half the furniture's turned over, yada yada yada. My point is that this is lunacy!" She held out her arms wide.

Everyone looked kind of nervous and also maybe a touch ashamed.

Then Helga sighed and picked up some throw pillows and some of the pillows the girls had brought to sleep on. "If we're going to destroy each other, let's at least do it in an organized and mature fashion. Pillow fight, cage match rules, a good clean battle." She tossed half the pillows to the girls and half to the boys. "But we've gotta be done by 10:30 before my parents and sister get back, alright?" Helga smiled now out at the crowd.

Everyone blinked in surprise for a moment…but then all of them smiled and nodded and took up their weapons.

Helga grinned and picked up the room remote. "And a little music for fun…" She flipped through and found a decent dance song—some Ronnie Matthews remix (but with something undeniably Yakety Sax-ish about it). "Ready…aim…fire!" And then she ducked away as the pillows started to fly.

Helga nearly tripped as she just barely made it out of the crowd, but luckily Arnold came forward to catch her under the shoulders and hold her up a little.

She smiled down at him as he held her like that and as she held his shoulders in return for support. "Remember that night you confessed to me? You caught me and held me like this just before you did…" She blushed a little.

Arnold blushed a little too. "I remember…" He looked a little shy—sure, everyone was distracted right now but he and Helga were still in public after all. The idea of reliving such romantic moments right now made him nervous. "Um…do you want to join the pillow fight?" he asked her with a little shrug.

Helga just giggled and straightened up. "Actually…honestly, Arnold, I'd rather dance."

Arnold blinked, looking curious. "Dance?"

Helga shrugged and nodded. "Well…yeah. We really haven't since that April Fool's dance. And there's chaos going on here anyway. And it's my party, and you do still owe me." She held out a hand to him. "Come on, Football Head, let's cut a rug." She smirked a little.

A very intrigued looking Arnold smiled and nodded and took her hand. "Whatever you say, Helga."

And then they started.

It was strange but somehow they just worked so well when they danced. Even not doing anything set like the tango or anything rehearsed, there was nothing awkward, no confused hesitations. They moved and twirled and pulled close right at the right times in their little space near the pillow fight, and Helga laughed and all she said was, "Okay, this plus the other stuff makes up for your stupid slumber party crashing scheme entirely, Football Head."

Arnold laughed too, giving her a quick little dip and then pulling her up. "Thanks, Helga."

People did start to notice them eventually: the girls first, finding the sight interesting and sweet, and then the guys, finding the sight unusual and intriguing. Then the pillow fighting resumed, though everyone was getting a bit worn out so the whole thing was much tamer than before. Then dancing really didn't seem like a bad idea, and soon some other people were even joining Arnold and Helga.

Arnold noticed and moved himself and Helga more towards the center of the crowd.

Helga blushed a little, smiling more. "A-Arnold!" But she did go with it. She even laughed.

And then somehow another twist and a turn brought them very close together again.

Rather than move and dance more they just remained very close.

They were both trying to see about something with each other.

And then they swallowed and gently and briefly let themselves kiss.

There was a definite change in the atmosphere of the room as this action took place between them, which they both picked up on, though they waited a few more seconds before separating. Then they just stayed near each other, blushing a lot, glancing away, clearing their throats.

"Wh-What? Ain't any of you ever since two people who lo…l-like each other kiss?" Helga managed in a very mumbly and soft voice as she felt so many eyes upon her.

There were one or two light snickers and gasps and ooos of shock from some people.

Phoebe ended up making the party move again by doing the only thing she could think of: she went near Gerald (which was a lot for her considering some of her current awkwardness about him) and lightly hit him with a pillow.

"Ow!" Gerald said, rubbing the side of his head. Then he saw that it was Phoebe and got what she was trying to do. He smiled and then hit her back, and then, on a backswing, 'accidentally' hit one of the guys.

The pillow fight started up again, and so did the dancing and general merriment.

Arnold and Helga even danced a little more too before retiring to a quiet space behind the sofa and sitting down together. "Well..." Helga started, blushing and beaming, "We just got through our first public lip lock, I think. Not bad…No interruptions or cataclysmic cosmic rips in the fabric of space time or anything."

Arnold laughed a little, unable to help himself, and nodded sheepishly, likewise grinning and blushing away. "Y-Yeah, it went okay. Um…it was interesting to try at least…"

Helga nodded. "Yeah, to try…Um…we could do that sometimes if we want, but I'd rather wait for anything regular until we're a little older."

Arnold nodded. "Me too, I think."

Just then the doorbell rang.

Helga looked like she was going to panic.

Arnold put a hand on hers though. "Helga, that can't be your parents and sister. It's too early, and besides they wouldn't ring the bell."

Helga calmed down. "Oh…yeah. Probably the pizza guy." She brightened up a little. "Wanna intercept it and sneak it to the kitchen and pig out before anyone else gets to it?"

Arnold brightened up and nodded and laughed. "Whatever you say, Helga." He stood up and took her hand, helping her up. "Let's have some pizza."

Then they dashed to the door to claim their prize.


"Alright, goodnight, ladies, and have a good party!" Sid called out, waving behind him as he exited the Pataki household for the evening

"Yeah, and thanks for not getting angry with us, Helga—this was actually kind of a fun sleepover to crash!" Harold added with a smile and a wave as he headed down the stoop too.

"Yes, very cool shindig—you should try throwing some boy/girl parties, Helga. Now one of those would be the epitome of cool," Iggy chimed in as he left as well.

"Aww, do we really have to go?" asked Eugene cheerily. "This has been so fun, and I love all of your nightgowns, girls!" Still, though, he headed out to the stoop too—it was getting a bit late after all.

"Well, Helga, I've gotta hand it to you," Curly started, reaching out and shaking Helga's hand, "For someone almost as 'crazy' as I am, you sure kept a level head about everything and at the same time threw a pretty zany party. I especially liked when you threw everyone for a loop and went and smooched with Arnold on the lips in the middle of the pillow fight—you two wacky kids." He gave Helga a playful punch in the shoulder.

Helga smirked and laughed and rolled her eyes. "Yeah, well, I just wanted to really mess with everyone for trashing my living room. Oh, and Arnold and I ate all the best slices from each of the three pizzas I ordered for the party. That was part of my revenge too." She winked.

Curly grinned and gave her a thumbs-up. "Very nice. I'd personally toss in some maniacal laughter too and maybe a mongoose or something, but to each her own I guess."

Helga just sighed and shook her head, crossing her arms over her chest. "Whatever you say, you poor, twisted little freak."

Curly just gave her a salute. "Well, see you around, fellow obsessor! I—"

"Oh boys, before you all leave I just wanted to let you know that Helga and Iggy just now have inspired me, and I'm planning to have another boy/girl soiree of my own in a couple of weeks! I hope you all can attend!" Rhonda suddenly appeared in the doorway to make this announcement to the guys before they were out of earshot and while the mood still seemed ripe to accommodate a party.

Her announcement over, she suddenly found herself face to face with Curly.

She swallowed and took a step back, but did manage to refrain from making an excuse and popping right back into the safety of the living room. "Um…hi Curly," she said simply, managing to keep any malice out of her voice.

It was honestly a golden moment for Curly's obsessive love to shine—his Rhonda was right there, she had just (albeit indirectly) invited him to her house for a party, AND she was wearing a nightgown.

Instead though…. "Um…h-hello, Rhonda. P-Pleasant evening, huh?" Then Curly swallowed and gave Helga another quick wave. "Well, goodnight Helga. Say bye to Arnold for me." And then he dashed off.

Helga watched him with interest as he left. Then she looked to Rhonda.

Rhonda looked confused and unsure.

Helga half smiled. "Um…hey, at least he didn't come on to you like a leech onto a medieval sick person, right?" She shrugged.

Rhonda still looked just so puzzled though. "Yes, but…that doesn't make any sense." A touch of concern came to Rhonda's features. "Heh, I hope the little freak's not…broken or anything…?" Her tone sounded much more concerned than the actual question sounded.

Helga frowned a little. But then she smiled again. "Maybe he's just trying to give you a little space, not come on so strong…. Maybe he's hoping that you two can just be…friends first."

Rhonda glanced at Helga. "Friends?" She looked very curious. "I…Helga, have you been talking to Curly?" She frowned and scowled a little.

Helga shrugged again. "In general? Oh yes. In regards specifically to you? Nope, not at all." She shook her head. "I take my confidences very seriously, ask Football Head. Seriously, there are things he's done in regards to me over the last five or six weeks that would let me own him until Armageddon if anyone else found out about them. But have I told a soul? Nooo. Oh sure, I've hinted, I've implied here and there…"

"Helga…" Rhonda said seriously, wanting her to cut it out and really answer her question.

Helga just smiled and then sighed. "Look, all I've done is point out to him a few things about me and Arnold's relationship, and I've shared some of my experience and great wisdom with him about wooing members of the opposite sex. That is all, princess, I swear." She made an X over her chest with her index finger, crossing her heart in a pledge.

Rhonda just sighed, looking away. "Oh, fine, I guess." She looked after where Curly was walking away. "I just don't like him changing like that—it always worries me. It usually means he's going to try something unpredictable soon."

Helga watched Rhonda with interest as Rhonda just shook her head and then headed back inside to the living room.

Gerald popped into the foyer now, heading toward the door to follow suite with his friends. "Hey, Pataki, have a good night and thanks for not killing all of us for crashing your party." He winked at her and pointed at her and made a little clicking sound with his mouth as he stepped outside onto the stoop.

Helga made the same gesture back at him. "You got it, hair boy." Then she blinked and beamed. "Oh, hey, and wait, before you go…" She then slipped back into the house and closed her door for a moment.

About two minutes passed, and then Gerald heard some struggles nearing the front door…and some voices.

"Helga, I don't—"

"And Phoebe would like to wish you an extra special goodnight too!" Helga suddenly announced proudly as she door instantly opened and she popped her best friend out onto the stoop all of a sudden, and then quickly shut the door slightly behind her.

Phoebe just stood there out on the stoop in her pajamas, eyes wide, blushing brightly.

Gerald's eyes were kind of wide too.

He smiled though, looking at and talking to her warmly. "Hey, Babe." He gave her a wave. "Great party. Maybe I'll throw a shindig of my own after Rhonda's—of course, we'll have to padlock ourselves in the garage otherwise Jamio'll crash it and pile drive me into the floor." He laughed a little.

Phoebe managed a small smile, looking down shyly. "Y-Yes, of course…" she said softly.

Gerald let out a small sigh. He took a step toward her. "Babe…um…this might be a dumb question but…well, are you alright? You seem kind of 'reserved' lately, like more than normal." He smiled a little again. "Maybe we could hang out together again soon and you could talk about it if you want too?" He looked hopeful. It really had been at least a week since he'd had a date with Phoebe. At first he had just chalked it up to their schedule's changing as part of summer starting, but now he was sort of worried that something really was up with her or, worse, that he had done something wrong to upset her.

"O-Oh, I…" Phoebe took a step back, "Gerald," she looked up at him hesitantly, "It's not that…well…" Honestly, she did want to talk to him…but she did feel the need for a bit of transition first, and also for a much better situation in which to do so than a five minute window in her pajamas out on Helga's stoop with a bunch of their friends still right inside and a bunch of their friends still lingering right out here on the sidewalk. So she would start slowly… "Th-That would be fine, Gerald, but would you mind if our outing was actually a double date with Arnold and Helga? I-I promised Helga now that she and Arnold have announced their relationship publically that we would attempt a more non-covert double date sometime soon." She smiled sheepishly.

"Oh." Gerald blinked at the offer. "Well…" he smiled again though, understanding, "Alright, babe, that works for me. We could all go out to dinner or something to celebrate. Um…then maybe we could have some alone time afterwards though?" he tacked on unsurely.

Phoebe nodded, a small grateful smile coming to her lips. "I think that would be delightful, Gerald."

Gerald smiled brightly. "A-Alright, cool! Thanks, Phoebe." Then he gave her a little wave. "Alright, well, we'll work out the details later then. Have a good night! Um…your pajamas are cute." And then he turned and walked very briskly down the stoop and away from the house toward the fellas. 'I just told her that her pajamas were cute—I'm getting worse than Arnold.' He shook his head, feeling so embarrassed and yet happy nonetheless. It really had been a good night, after all.

Phoebe, meanwhile, couldn't help blushing as scarlet as her pajamas at his comment before then heading inside with a little soft, private smile. She thought him saying that her pajamas were cute might have been the single most adorable thing he had ever said to her yet in their relationship.


There was still a little bit of time until eleven, and everything was cleaned up already and a fresh movie was popped in the VCR and there were still plenty of snacks to eat, so the girls were settling in for the continuation of their sleepover.

"Wow, this really has been a fun party, Helga!" Nadine commented with a smile as she pulled a blanket over her legs and dug a hand into a bowl of popcorn. "You should throw parties more often."

Lila nodded. "Oh yes, I'm ever so certain you should, Helga. This has been such an oh too delightful night." She cuddled close with a rag doll as the movie started.

"Oh, I'll admit, it's had a certain…je ne se qua in regards to it so far," Rhonda added with a little smirk and a smile as she brushed out her hair on the couch.

Helga smiled as she reentered the center of the living room from the hallway, carrying another six-pack of yahoo sodas in hand. "Oh, quit sucking up. That's Arnold's job. And speaking of Arnold…" She put down the sodas on an end table and called out over her shoulder toward the kitchen with even more of a smirk on her lips, "Football Head, you done with those dishes yet? Come on, it's like twenty minutes to eleven—chop chop!" She laughed, clapping sharply at delivering the last two words.

After a second or two, Arnold finally did come out of the kitchen now, rolling down the sleeves of his sweater as he did so. "All washed, Helga—but you dry them." He tossed a dishrag at her. "That was the deal, remember?" He smiled.

Helga just sighed and rolled her eyes with a grin as she caught the dish rag and proceeded to head back to the kitchen. "Yeah, yeah. But we're definitely working out a better system for these kinds of things once we're hitched, Football Face." She shook her head.

Arnold stopped entirely and blushed distinctly. "Helga—" he started with a touch of concern. He did not want anyone else to know about the fiancée thing—and especially not every girl in their class.

Helga cut him off, though, with a casual shrug and smile as she passed him by. "Oh relax, Arnold, I'm joking. Sheesh, you take our relationship way too seriously. Relax a bit, Football Head. In fact, snag a soda and take a load off for a few minutes. I'll finish up the dishes quickly and then join you." She headed off into the kitchen.

Arnold let out a breath of relief—she was just joking, just doing one of her 'hiding in plain sight' things. And he was kind of tired. And a soda did sound kind of nice, come to think of it.

Of course, though, Arnold also realized that taking Helga's advice and relaxing for a moment would leave him alone in a room full of almost every girl he knew during a slumber party. Not that Arnold ever felt shy around any of them regularly, but these were special circumstances. Not to mention he had just been dancing with and kissing Helga in front of them.

Still, though, Helga would be back shortly, and so he thought he might be okay just for a little while.

Arnold quietly walked forward and took a soda and then sat down on the floor underneath where Helga's spot on the couch would be. "Um…hi, guys—u-um, girls." He blushed a tiny bit and smiled and tried not to be too awkward. "Sorry. Anyway, I hope the rest of the guys and me didn't ruin your party or anything. I guess the whole thing was sort of a silly idea, but we thought it would be fun." He looked around to all of them.

Phoebe smiled, seeing how slightly nervous he seemed to be at the moment and wanting to help him. "Oh of course, Arnold. It was quite diverting and a wonderful surprise tonight."

The other girls nodded.

"Hey, at least you guys did it right this time and not like at my last sleepover," Rhonda chimed in with a smile. "There you ruined the whole soiree atmosphere, but here it worked."

"Yes, Helga's lucky to have you as a boyfriend, Arnold. You two seem to get along together so well," observed Sheena with a smile.

Arnold smiled more and looked down with a little blush. "Thanks, Sheena."

The girls giggled. Nadine smiled. "And it was really nice of you to help clean up so much afterwards, Arnold, and to even wash the dishes for her."

Arnold swallowed, still smiling to himself, playing with the top of his soda bottle a little. "Oh, well, it just seemed like the right thing to do after making such a mess with the other guys. A-And there really were only a few dishes anyway…" he finished modestly.

Lila giggled then and added, "Oh Arnold, it's ever so cute that you're so very shy about liking Helga enough to plan something this big to surprise her. I'm just oh too sure she picked the best boyfriend when she picked you."

The other girls giggled a little more, and Arnold just smiled more and looked down more shyly, blushing again and rubbing one of his arms.

"Hey, hey, hey, little miss sunshine, I hope I didn't just hear you calling my man cute!" Helga, with a big grin, sauntered back into the living room. "That's my department now." She glanced at Arnold. "Arnold, you're cute." Then she looked back at Lila, hands on her hips and her smirk growing. "See?"

Everyone laughed a bit and Arnold just blushed all the more and managed to mumble a "Thanks, Helga" as he continued smiling away to himself.

Helga sat down next to Arnold on the floor, grabbing a soda of her own. "Seriously though, Arnold, I wish it wasn't so close to eleven. It'd be nice if you could stay, Football Head. Hang out with just us girls…Oh, unless that would make you seem even more girly to the other guys. Those chuckleheads." She rolled her eyes with a smile as she took a swig of soda.

The scarlet in Arnold's features softened but still remained, and he looked at her. "Helga…" He shifted uncomfortably.

The other girls giggled again and Helga just took his hand and squeezed it. "Alright, Arnold, I promise I'm not going to embarrass you about what the guys said last night…about you being all sweet and demure and ladylike and how it looks like you wear a skirt."

Arnold gave her the tiniest little nudge, though he was still smiling mostly so Helga kept smiling too. Then she shrugged and glanced at the TV and added, "I may embarrass you, though, with some of what I said last night—about how great of a catch you are, not to mention very boyish when you get down to it."

Arnold just rolled his eyes now and tried not to laugh.

"Aw, Helga, you stood up for Arnold as a boyfriend to all the boys? That sounds ever so sweet," Lila cooed.

Helga nodded in her direction. "Yup. Told them all he was cute and nice and a great catch overall. Plus I lo-… 'like' like him so, you know, there's that." She laughed.

"Helga, I'm going to have to leave early if you keep this up. I'm really starting to get embarrassed," Arnold couldn't help but observe. Then he sighed and added, "And you're cute too." Then he kissed her cheek.

Helga just sat there wide-eyed and blushing. The girls laughed warmly again.

The sound snapped her out of it, and then Helga grinned and snuggled in a little close beside Arnold on the carpet. "Shut up and watch the movie for the ten minutes you have left here, Arnold."

"Whatever you say, Helga," he replied simply. He let himself snuggle a little alongside her too.

The other girls admired the cute sight.

The movie was getting good, so most of the room's attention went there now.

A few minutes passed, and then Helga mumbled to Arnold, "Didn't this whole thing involve breaking that promise to my dad you made about no sneaking in?"

Arnold smiled a little and mumbled back. "I didn't sneak in. You invited me in. The other guys snuck in. And either way the promise was about no sneaking out with you."

Helga smiled a lot. "Very clever, Arnold."

There was a pause and then she lightly sighed and added, "You know, if Olga and my parents really do pull up outside early or something, there'll be no way to get you out of here from this floor. You'll have to get up to my room and bail out the window."

Arnold just nodded. "Okay, Helga. I will. I'm used to it by now anyway."

She laughed a tiny bit, though she kept it very low.

"Hey Arnold?" she then asked, this time in a very soft whisper.

Arnold nodded and whispered back, "Yes, Helga?"

She then said as breathily as possible so that only they could hear, "I love you. Not just 'like' like, like we keep having to say to everyone. I love you."

Arnold blushed a little and whispered back, "I love you too."

"But you're lucky I don't critique every boyish charm you have right here and now to make up for one upping me like this, Football Head."

Both kids shared a laugh now and the movie played on. Then Helga's sister and parents did come home a few minutes early (not to mention Arnold and the girls had started to get distracted with the movie and lost track of time a little), and Helga distracted everyone long enough by feigning panic to let Arnold sneak up the stairs and out to safety. No one could be the wiser.

It really had turned out to be a wonderful slumber party and a promising start to the summer…and to Arnold and Helga's mutual, open courtship together.


Another Beach Story

HONK! HONK!

Arnold Phillip Shortman, hearing the perky horn of his ride honk outside one more time, double checked to make sure he had everything for the summer outing he was currently about to go on. He was already in his red plaid bathing suit and had a green t-shirt on as well as a pair of brown sandals. He opened the small beach bag he had and looked inside. 'Towel, sunblock, sunglasses, money…' Seeing everything there he glanced up and approached his front door to exit the boarding house. "Bye, Grandpa!" he called over his shoulder as he opened the door. "I'll see you tomorrow!"

"Oh!" came Phil's voice as he suddenly stepped out of the kitchen and into the hallway very quickly with a smile. "Alright then, Shortman. You and Helga and her sister have fun!" He winked at his grandson cheekily.

"Thanks, Grandpa," Arnold replied with a small smile, trying not to blush…and especially trying not to blush as he hesitated for one more second before exiting to his front stoop. He swallowed and added to his grandfather, "Oh and like I said I probably won't be home until tomorrow…I mean, we'll be getting back kind of late and I'll be eating at Helga's house anyway so she said it'd probably be okay if I slept in her living room tonight."

"Right…" Phil just gave Arnold a sly look, crossing his arms over his chest. "In her 'living room'…" He made air quotes around the last two words.

Arnold blushed very hotly and looked away shyly. "Grandpa! I told you…her ending up spending the night in my room two weeks ago during our anniversary was an accident…She just fell asleep and I didn't want to wake her up, so…"

"Right, right…" Phil rolled his eyes and put up his hands, more than familiar with 'the story', "So you put her in your bed and slept on the couch…And then somehow the next morning when me and your Grandma came in to check on how your date went and why you hadn't come down to breakfast yet, you two were under the covers and cuddled near each other on your couch totally by accident…Do I have that right, Arnold?" He was doing his very best not to laugh but…it had been a hilarious situation to catch the kids in, to say the least…especially when they had jumped in surprise at being suddenly interrupted and Helga had fallen upon the floor with a small scream and Arnold and turned bright red as can be as he calmly tried to handle the embarrassing situation.

Arnold meanwhile, continuing to blush, just sighed and rolled his eyes back in the direction of the stoop. "Goodbye, Grandpa…I'll see you in the morning…"

"Heh, heh, heh!" Phil finally had to give in to some chuckles. "You do that, Arnold. But just don't let Bob Pataki catch you cuddling in your sleep with Helga tomorrow morning or you'll have to have a jailhouse wedding with the girl in the future if you want Bob to give her away since after he finds you asleep with her, he'll probably try to kill you!"

Arnold just finished closing the door behind him, thankfully muffling his grandfather's next bout of laughter. Getting caught cuddled next to and holding Helga in his arms while the two of them had been in their pajamas under the covers on the couch and totally alone after their anniversary weekend had been about the most embarrassing thing ever…and he really didn't want to relive it right now. Sure, his grandparents really had understood and it had been a special occasion…and also who could feel funny about reposing near the woman he had promised to marry that morning… But still, it had been a very intimate experience for Arnold and one about which he didn't do too well with having jokes made.

It was also an especially awkward experience to think about since, as he recalled with a smile as he saw Olga wave from her car's driver seat, he was leaving right now to spend the day at the beach with Helga…and maybe, though he wasn't about to admit it to anyone including his grandfather, he and Helga had been talking and they had some plans of their own for the sleeping arrangements tonight…

"Hi Arnold, sweetie!" Olga called with a cheery smile as Arnold approached the car. "You can just put your stuff in the trunk—Helga?" She then seemed to look over her shoulder into the back seat with a very sly smile. "Why don't you get out and, um…help Arnold. You know the latch always sticks on my trunk…" She had this look on her face that couldn't help but remind Arnold of that time so many, many weeks ago when he had knocked on the Pataki's door to return a book to Lila only to find himself on a surprise first date with Helga…And thus Arnold couldn't help but raise an eyebrow in curiosity at whatever this observation might mean…

His suspicions that something was up were only further confirmed by the reply Olga got to her request from her sister who was obviously slouching in the back seat since she couldn't be seen by Arnold, though her voice rang out pretty clearly. "Olga…Oh fine…I guess…Mary freaking Sunshine princess…"

Arnold was very intrigued now, to be sure.

The sound of the other side of Olga's passenger door opening and closing met his ears. He waited patiently and with interest as he heard the footsteps of Helga obviously walking around the front of the car to meet him…

They hesitated for just a second though, Helga still out of sight. "Hey, uh…Football Head?" came her voice now.

"Uh…yes, Helga?" Arnold had to half smile…. What was with all the build up?

He heard her clear her throat. "Uh…could you do me a favor and just…close your eyes for a second?"

Arnold tried seriously hard to fight back a chuckle as he replied with, "Helga, is this another lip gloss thing?" That whole incident seemed like it had happened so long ago even if it was only barely over a month behind them. It would always be such a funny and amusing memory to him though.

A very exasperated sigh came rom the other side of the car now. "NO! Doi! Just do it already, Arnoldo! Crimeny…"

Arnold just sighed and rolled his eyes at her defensiveness.

"Please Arnold," Olga looked at him sincerely, "She's a little nervous, I think, and—"

"OLGA!" Helga yelled from the other side of the car, causing Olga's head to whip around in that direction. "For Pete's sake, maybe I don't necessarily want him to know every single freaking emotion I'm feeling at the moment!"

Olga just smiled. "Okay, okay, sorry, baby sister…" She turned back to Arnold. "Anyway, Arnold, ple—" She stopped at the sight of Arnold just standing there smiling, his eyes already closed politely.

"Okay, Helga," he called out to the girl on the other side of the car. "My eyes are closed… Will you please come 'help me with the trunk' now?" He did his best not to laugh at the obvious excuse for just letting Helga come out and see him, however she might look right now or whatever she might have to show him.

He heard Helga give a sigh that a mixture of nervousness and frustration. "Okay…Ugh…"

A few more light footsteps met Arnold's ears, and then they slowly ceased somewhere not too far from him.

"Alright, open sesame, Arnoldo…"

With a small laugh at the command Arnold opened his eyes…

She was standing there in an actual bathing suit for once, not just pink shorts and a white tank top like he had seen her in the last time they had been at the beach. No, this was a regular, full pink bathing suit, and with a little thin, white wrap around her waist. And she had her hair tied back in a loose bun and white sandals upon her feet.

Arnold blushed, unable to help doing so…After all, he had seen female friends in bathing suits before. But this was just…different in a way. Very different, actually. He understood now why she had been nervous—he had never seen her specifically in a normal bathing suit, and never ever when they had been in love.

He imagined she must be terribly self-conscious. He knew he was going to be a little once they were at the beach and in the water. But it didn't seem as bad for him since Helga had seen him in a bathing suit a few times before.

He noticed her looking down now, digging one of her feet into the sidewalk pavement. "Take a picture, it'll last longer…" she mumbled under her breath to him with a small half smile.

Arnold swallowed and finally found his voice. He approached her, gripping his beach bag a little more snugly by the handle in his hands. "Sorry," he mumbled. "Um…you look nice, Helga. Is that bathing suit new?"

She sighed a little, crossing her arms over her chest defensively, unable to help it. "Yeah. I got it when Olga took me shopping last month. I usually don't go swimming much so I didn't have a regular bathing suit…but then I figured I might as well get one, just in case. Like for days like today." She looked down, feeling frustrated and slightly embarrassed. She wished the big deal about her outfit for the day could just be over and done with already.

"Are you comfortable in it?" came Arnold's quiet voice suddenly to her ears.

Helga's eyes went a little wide and then softened. Only Arnold was that considerate and intuitive. She smiled more. Then she looked up at him again. "Yes. I like it actually. And it'll be nice to go swimming this time at the beach." She blushed a little and shrugged. "I just get nervous about you seeing me in new things sometimes, Arnold." Then she swallowed and, before he could answer, she had walked over to Olga's trunk and opened it up. "Um, you can put your things in there, Arnold. Then you can come have a seat in the back with me." Her smile grew a bit more and she slipped around the back and into the car, closing the door behind her.

Arnold did not move to put his things in the trunk at first though. He merely looked toward where she had disappeared into the car, a pensive sort of look on his face. On the one hand, he knew Helga would have told him the truth and said she wasn't comfortable in the new bathing suit if she really wasn't—in fact, she probably wouldn't have worn or bought it at all if she had really been uncomfortable with it. So Arnold knew she was okay about the new outfit. On the other hand, he understood her nervousness, her slight awkward fluster. The physical thing, the bodies thing…that was still a very sticky point for them (not to mention they were right on the cusp of the most awkward age to be considering it). She probably felt a little too exposed, and that could be unsettling regardless of whether or not a person was comfortable with what they were wearing…And it didn't help either of course that she knew Arnold saw her in an attractive light. He felt kind of the same way, considering that they were going to the beach and everything…He had a bathing suit too after all.

Arnold got a little idea then to help Helga. After all, he probably couldn't make her nervousness go away, at least for a little while, but he could join her in being nervous so that she wouldn't have to feel alone.


Meanwhile, Helga had been just sitting in the back of her sister's car with her seatbelt on for a good five minutes now after having invited Arnold to come inside. And she had never been a patient woman. With a slight scowl she sat up a bit, trying to peer out the opposite passenger side window to the place where she had left Arnold. "What is taking him so long…?" she mumbled to herself. "Hey, Football Head!" she tried to call out of the half opened window now. "Come on, I wanted to watch the sunset on the beach, but I didn't want that to be the only thing I got to do at the beach! We're waiting!" She sighed and sat back a bit, crossing her arms over her chest again and rubbing one of her temples. 'Somebody just get me there with A/C blasting the whole way, then get me to a beach umbrella with a tall Shirley Temple and nothing to do. Maybe I shouldn't have worn the actual bathing suit and should have just stuck with the shorts and shirt—we're both going to feel awkward today and all I wanted to do is relax with my beloved in the surf and sand and—'

The sound of the opposite car door opening, the car shifting with the weight of someone new getting in beside her, and the sound of the opposite car door then closing snapped Helga out of her thoughts. She sighed softly, slumping down in the car's leather seat. "About time, Arno—…HmmMMM, A-Arnold…!" The second she had laid eyes on him, her words had caught in her throat and she hadn't been able to help the soft exclamation of his name and then turning away with an awkward blush and clearing of her throat.

The silly boy had gotten into this car beside her without a shirt on, of all things.

Yeah, sure, Helga had expected that would be a part of today, of course, since they were going to the beach and Arnold clearly wasn't going to need a shirt the entire time for that. And she had seen him like that before. Very nice to look at, but manageable. She had just never seen him like that sitting right next to her and also in love with her at the same time, not to mention she hadn't been expecting him to just…well, freaking get in the car like that! No warnings, and her sister was in the front seat (though Olga had promised to give them both as much privacy as possible, and, hey, having her as a driver beat having Miriam or Bob as a driver any day). The point was she was really not in the mood to be flirted with just yet. Maybe later at the beach near some sand bar or on some secluded dock or after building a sand castle and getting some ice cream but not right now.

Arnold just swallowed and smiled humbly, trying to keep himself from blushing. This definitely felt as awkward as he had imagined it would, but still it was manageable…He hoped it would be manageable for her too. "Alright, Helga, I'm all ready to go…" he replied softly, putting on his seat belt.

"Alright, baby sister and Arnold, I'm taking off then. Oh this is just going to be the most wonderful summer day ever, Helga!" Olga giggled, and then the car moved away from the curb and started down the street.

Meanwhile, a still rather intrigued Helga just glanced at Arnold, giving him a sort of confused and scrutinizing look. She didn't even say anything, she just waited for an explanation.

Arnold swallowed and shrugged. "Wh-What?" He smiled a little more.

Helga's look got a bit dry. The two of them were speaking quietly now to keep it so that only they would hear each other. "Okay. I can't believe I'm saying this but where's your shirt and why isn't it on your body?"

He looked down a little, shrugging. "Because we're going to the beach, and it's hot…"

She just kept looking at him though. She knew his actions were a bit more deliberate than that, and he knew that she knew that. "Arnold…" she blushed a little, "Another thing I can't believe I'm saying, but couldn't you have waited…just a bit? You know how I feel about you…all the parts of you." It was really hard for her not to look at him like this. The thundering pulsations it sent through her heart to do so were very pleasurable to say the least.

Arnold blushed a little more. He understood now: she thought he was flirting… He moved a little closer, glancing at her. "Oh. No, Helga, I didn't mean to…well…Since you were looking a different way around me today, I didn't want you to be alone with that so I thought it might be good for me to look a different way around you too, especially if I was going to once we got to the beach anyway. I thought it might make things less awkward." He watched her blush softly, her eyes wide, though she didn't say anything back. Then he frowned a little and added sincerely, "But if you want me to put the shirt back on if you don't feel comfortable right now, I can ask Olga to stop for a second and then get it out of the trunk agai—"

Arnold stopped at the feeling of Helga suddenly moving up alongside him and laying her head on his shoulder.

He heard her sigh softly. "Sorry. Your godlike grace overwhelmed my better judgment once again, my beloved. You were just trying to make me feel more comfortable." She smiled and laughed warmly to herself. "Do-gooder little shrimp."

Arnold, though blushing quite a bit from her sudden contact, sighed and smiled, his gaze going half lidded. He put one of his hands over one of hers. "Are you more comfortable?" he asked softly.

Helga nodded. "Absolutely, my darling. Absolutely."

Arnold smiled warmly. "Good. Me too."


Though they had been speaking very softly, and though the engine of her car made a bit of noise as she drove, Olga had been able to hear the better part of what had been said between her baby sister and Arnold. And though, since they had been a little vague and she had missed a few words, she hadn't understood all of the details of the situation, it seemed like overall Helga had still been nervous about her bathing suit and Arnold had done something to make her feel better and more comfortable. And they seemed very happy now.

Olga knew her parents had some small reservations about Arnold and Helga's relationship (Bob especially)—they didn't necessarily entirely care for the exclusivity or the intensity or the passionate quality of the feelings of the two ten-year-olds. The children seemed awfully young for that kind of interaction, and it worried them a bit, especially since, to their observational skills, Helga had never shown the slightest interest in boys until all of a sudden over these past couple of months. They knew Arnold was nice and they knew Helga wasn't a pushover, but they would have preferred a little preteen crush (whether it had turned out to be the only one in her life or the first of many) to whatever it was that seemed to connect Arnold and Helga so deeply and so thoroughly. Or at least they would have preferred to have them both be about another ten years older before finding a relationship this deep with one another. Heck, even another five years would have taken some of the edge off of their worry and slight confusion about their daughter's affection for Arnold.

Olga disagreed though.

She saw Arnold care for her sister in a way that surpassed the capacities of most men even her own age that she knew. He was sincere and attentive and intuitive, and he never did stereotypical things that seemed like they 'should' make her baby sister's problems better and then expect her to be better…He actually thought about what Helga might want and need as an individual and did his best to provide that for her and to respect her reactions to his actions. And in Helga, Olga saw a girl care for a boy in a way that, though she blushed to admit it, she herself couldn't claim to have mastered yet. Helga didn't just obsessively pour herself into Arnold, she didn't do everything to please him and look for faults in herself upon failing at such a task. She didn't seem to base her value as a person on her relationship with Arnold, and she didn't seem to have chosen him for any sort of superficial or selfish reason. Helga could still be very tight-lipped with her big sister about her true romantic feelings, but what Olga saw in her was a young lady who cared for another person based on who he was as a person. Helga clearly found Arnold attractive, yes, considering all the blushing and swooning she did around him, but that attraction stemmed from her love and not the other way around.

Helga also fascinated Olga in how true and serious she could be regarding her feelings for Arnold. Helga did not love lightly…Olga always sort of had, she knew many other girls and women who did. But not Helga. And perhaps loving that deeply and thoroughly was overwhelming and even frightening to some people…but Olga also suspected it was the only true and real way to love. She suspected that loving lightly would always lead to a lot of problems. She had seen it lead to a lot of problems. It had almost led to some problems at least once in her own life.

Furthermore, despite how very deeply she cared for Arnold (and Olga could tell from the passion and sincerity in her sister's voice when she spoke about him that she did care for him very deeply), she maintained standards regarding him. Helga had shared with Olga so far a small story or too—silly things her sister had done to try and impress Arnold like pretending to have interests in things that bored her to tears or even dressing up like another girl he had liked once…Things not unreasonably expectable from a young and potentially vulnerable kid in love for the first time. But instead of not seeing why those choices had been mistakes or making such mistakes again, Helga professed to have learned greatly from them—she and Arnold would care for each other on their own mutually respectable terms or she would not be cared for by him at all. Even the new outfits or new things she did with her hair or appearance now weren't for Arnold, they were just for her, to grow and experiment a little and try new things as she felt ready. She appreciated the value of being your own person and putting that freedom over pleasing another person just because you so very much secretly wanted them to be pleased with you. Olga thought that was very wise. Olga knew she still didn't understand how to do that in her own life. She pleased her parents. She pleased her school. She pleased her educational employers. She had even pleased that fiancée she had had once. She just wanted everyone to like her and be pleased with her, even if she didn't like some of the things she had to do to win that approval. But now that she had graduated she wanted to work on that a little. Helga would be an excellent example to follow.

Come to think of it, Olga just wished that another ten years or so would pass because she wanted to talk to Helga about all of these things, but she couldn't bring herself to try discussing them with her baby sister when she was only ten-years-old. But she wanted to one day. Helga had great judgment and deep wisdom, and Olga knew that and wanted to share in it with her, and to share anything with her baby sister that Helga might find helpful at some point in her life, regarding love or anything else.

Olga also respected very much how Arnold and Helga's relationship was about mutual benefits for themselves and each other, just like whatever the situation was that had just occurred in the back seat. They gave each other something good when it was needed. Olga thought it was beautiful.

But, really, she was not going to overwhelm her little sister now in her life with all of these things. She was just going to drive Helga and Arnold to the beach, maybe let herself get a little bit tan (an option not really available in Alaska), then buy them all dinner and ice cream and drive them home. And she had a feeling something was going on with her sister and Arnold tonight, but she would cover for them, whatever it was. And then later she would just let Helga know later that as long as whatever they did wasn't dangerous or over the top with bending the rules Olga would be happy to cover for them in the future.

Olga turned onto the expressway and pretty soon they were over the bridge and out of town, heading to the shore.


Arnold and Helga remained very cozy and comfortable throughout the car ride. They also remained quite content and happy together throughout the day as they walked on the beach, played in the surf, took part in a bout of expert sandcastle building, and went for a few strolls up and down the boardwalk followed by eating a fun seafood dinner and ice cream before the sun finally set and Olga finally took them back home.


Later that night…after returning from the beach and Helga wishing Arnold 'goodnight'…only to have him double back, sneak into her backyard, sneak up her tree and finally sneak into her room…

"Helga I already told you—I am sleeping in the sleeping bag on the floor, not in your bed with you. Absolutely no way." Arnold, his bathing suit still on and his green shirt now too, looked at Helga firmly as he knelt on the floor by her bedside, though he was trying to hide a smirk.

Helga, her bathing suit still on as well but with a white shirt and pink shorts over it for now ever since they had eaten dinner earlier, just let out a sigh and rolled her eyes, removing the second pillow from her bed and finally grabbing the rolled up sleeping bag she had snuck up to her room for Arnold a few days in advance. "Oh fine, you great big stick in the mud." She unrolled the sleeping bag and laid it upon the floor and then placed the pillow at the head. "It was worth a shot…" She sighed. "You just get into your pajamas and you can sleep on the floor…"

Arnold sighed and grabbed the bag with pajamas and a fresh change of clothes that he had likewise left here a couple of days ago during one of their dates. "Okay, I'll just go change…. Be back in a second Helga."

He stopped, however, at the feeling of Helga suddenly grabbing one of his arms. "Wait, Football Head! Crimeny you can't go out there—my parents'll see you! Or my sister!"

Arnold blinked suddenly realizing how true that was. "Oh, right…"

She half smiled. "Looks like you'll have to just change in here…"

Arnold blushed furiously. "Helga!"

"Oh relax!" She gave him a playful nudge, shaking her head and laughing a little. "Just messing with you—I'll grab my stuff and go change in the bathroom and you just change in here, okay?" She put her hands on her hips.

Arnold just cleared his throat and rolled his eyes and took a step back. "Whatever you say, Helga."

"Very good, Arnold…" She walked across her room and opened a drawer and pulled out a pink thing or two. "Be back in a jiff!" She headed over to her door and paused, her hand on the handle. "And don't worry—I'll remember to knock…probably." And with a wink she exited to her hallway, closing her door behind her.

Seeing her go, Arnold couldn't help shaking his head and thinking in momentary amusement, 'It'd serve her right if she came back and found me faking being asleep in her bed just like she did to me during the anniversary…' And then he couldn't help but add to himself, making sure to kind of pick up the pace with his changing a little, 'But…just in case she decides to take any, uh, 'revenge' for what happened that night w-with me forgetting to knock, let me change really quickly, heh, heh….' As Arnold did so, he couldn't help but recall how thankful he was that not only had sneaking up here tonight worked out perfectly, but that tomorrow Olga had invited him over for an early breakfast. He could just change here early as soon as he and Helga woke up, then sneak out of Helga's window and then knock on her door and say he was sorry to come so early but he was hoping to help Olga with making breakfast since she had been so take them to the beach yesterday. And Helga had promised to come downstairs (feign pleasant surprise at his arrival) and help too, even despite her constant desire to sleep in and her loathing of cooking. Piece of cake.

This 'private sleepover thing' was fun…but it would also not be a regular occurrence. Arnold had assured Helga of that while they had been planning this. He was just going along with it now to celebrate the summer, to celebrate being open with their relationship, and also to kind of reciprocate for her having spent the night in his room that last evening of their anniversary weekend. So just this once, and maybe on certain special occasions, private sleepovers like this could happen. And as long as they both wanted to and didn't do anything to make anybody else uncomfortable, Arnold figured it was all right. But he really didn't want to push things by having them occur too regularly, all things considered.

By now Arnold was all dressed in his pajamas. And then there was a light knock on the door. "Come in," he said as softly as possible so no one else would hear. Helga entered with a smile. She was wearing a long pink nightgown—it looked very comfortable and cool for the summer, and Arnold always had found pink to be one of her best colors of course. She closed the door behind her and made sure to lock it, just in case.

Helga glanced at him with a smirk as she headed over to her bed. "What, no teddy bear pajamas this time, Football Head?" She noted his plain blue cotton attire.

Arnold just rolled his eyes, blushing and trying not to laugh as he knelt down near the edge of his sleeping bag. "Maybe next time, Helga," he joked to her.

She just laughed and then got onto her bed and under the covers. She sat up a little and gazed at her beloved. "Hey Arnold? Thanks for doing this. I-I promise I won't request it too often. Even just this once is wonderful, you staying up here in my room." She blushed softly and laid down on the pillow on her side, still gazing at him.

Arnold got into his sleeping bag and got comfortable. He looked at her warmly. "You're welcome, Helga. I think it'll be nice. I-I just have to make sure to sneak out of here just before breakfast so that I can get downstairs and knock on your door at the right time and everything'll work out." He shrugged, looking optimistic as always.

"It'll work out, Arnold, I promise." Her smile picked up on one side. "Come on, you and us, Football Head—when we're a team we can do anything. Climb any mountain, swim any ocean—"

"Rappel down any tree and rappel up any boarding house wall," he added in amusement, and the two of them shared a warm laugh.

Just then there were steps in the hallway.

They both got very quiet.

"Baby sister, are you still awake? And what are you laughing at?"

Helga swallowed, giving Arnold a signal to shush, and she replied to Olga, "U-Uh, yeah, I'm still awake! Sorry, Olga, just…talking to Arnold." Helga glanced at Arnold and grinned sheepishly and shrugged—hey, it was technically the truth even if Olga probably assumed Helga meant on the phone.

"Oh, alright, Helga! Well, have a good night and wish Arnold a good night as well for me. Tell him I can't wait to see him in the morning for breakfast!" Olga called back cheerily.

Helga's voice got a little too perky as she replied quickly, "Can do, Olga! You have a good night too!"

There was the sound of her sister lightly laughing, it seemed, and then Olga's footsteps departed.

(Helga wouldn't realize until tomorrow when she and Olga talked that Olga had actually been going through that rather loud question and answer bit with her to prevent their parents from questioning Helga still being up and giggling in her room, and possibly wanting to enter to check on their daughter. Helga would be very grateful to her big sister after learning this.)

Meanwhile, here and now, Helga let out a big sigh of relief. She looked to Arnold and whispered. "Alright, on that note, I think we should hit the hay, Football Head. Pleasant dreams." She reached over to her nightstand and turned off her light.

Arnold nodded, whispering back to her in the semi-darkness. "Goodnight to you too, Helga. See you in the morning." He grinned a little and added playfully. "And no pretending to sleepwalk and coming down to the sleeping bag with me, alright?"

She laughed a little, but mostly stifled it, and replied back, "Fine, but no lying down next to me 'just to see what it's like' and falling asleep from you, Casanova. Now go to bed. And sorry in advance if I snap at you a bit in the morning when you get me up to finish executing this nutty scheme of ours. I'm really not a morning person, like I told you."

"It's alright, Helga," he replied back, yawning as he really settled in and closed his eyes, "I am a morning person, so somehow it all works out. Sweet dreams."

"Thanks, Arnold, my love…" was the last thing she said in the darkness before they both fell asleep. It really had been a long, tiring and wonderful day after all.

They decided they were going to enjoy summers spent actually not being at each other's throats for once in their young lives.


Fou Amoureux (Crazy in Love)

"Helga, I really, really, really, really, really, really, REALLY, really do not want to do this," Rhonda Wellington Lloyd assured Helga G. Pataki with a nervous cringe as the two girls stood near the front doors to Chez Paris. Rhonda was dressed in a black summer dress with a red sash around the middle and red Cabrini pumps on her feet, a red barrette in her hair and a strand of pearls around her neck, for effect of course. Accessories made the outfit, after all.

Helga, dressed in a red skirt and a pink blouse with a familiar pair of red sling backs on her feet and her hair loose save for her familiar pink bow planted upon the top of her head, just smiled a little and started pushing Rhonda forward from behind toward the restaurant doors. "Rhonda, look, this is going to be a piece of cake, and I'll explain why AGAIN: first, the invitation you got to come here was signed 'your secret admirer'. So even though it's going to turn out to be from Curly, since I'm the one who suggested this indirect idea to him and you're the one who, unbeknownst to him, has decided to go along with it, you're still saving face because, in the eyes of others, for all you knew it could have been from…I don't know, Ronnie Matthews or someone." Helga rolled her eyes.

Rhonda glanced over her shoulder at Helga with an eyebrow raised, stopping their movement forward. "Ronnie Matthews? Helga, please, he is such a has-been. Why would you even bring him up?"

Helga blinked and then looked away innocently. "Uh, no reason, just the first famous name to come to mind. And hey," she shrugged, "sure he's kind of a jerk but he can really work the system. Don't knock it. And anyway quit trying to change the subject." She smiled more and started pushing Rhonda forward again. "Okay, so, where were we…. Oh, yeah, well, so, no one can blame you for showing up. And then, second, who could blame you for staying even if your date does turn out to be Curly? You're already dressed up, you're already here and it's a free meal—why rock the boat?" They were right at the front door now and Helga stopped her pushing and just shrugged with an innocent grin. "And then, well, if you do have a good time, who could blame you for becoming friends with Curly? Heck, I'm sort of becoming friends with Curly, and frankly I wish I'd done it sooner. Little freak has some great strategies for stalking—he gets a little random for me at times but otherwise I think I've only outdone him in the 'hardcore worshipping your beloved from afar' category in one way so far."

Rhonda, despite the fact that she was still blushing a little and hesitating all she could, couldn't help looking back to Helga and asking curiously, "How could you possibly outdo him in this? In ANY way? Helga, do you understand what that little freak has put me through? He tries to sniff my hair for crying out loud!"

"Hey, at least he asks permission to do that—I used to just wait until the old Football Head wasn't looking and then just go for it!" Helga pointed out firmly and yet with a touch of a blush and a sheepish grin. "A-And never mind how I beat him out," 'Shrines—Shrines of used gum, kissing shrines, tantric spells with…' Helga shook her head to clear it of such mortifying thoughts (which she would NEVER share with Curly, even if it would top him and his usual antics) and went on. "Y-You're trying to change the subject again. The point is…" Helga pointed at the interior of the restaurant through the front door, "Get in there, get yourself over to your 'secret admirer's table, talk to Curly, eat some overpriced foreign grub, be grateful that none of our chucklehead friends ever bother springing for a fancy joint like this so none of them will possibly see you, and be grateful that Football Head and I will be eating at a table outside right across the way at Chez Pierre to keep an eye on things. Then go home tonight and use this whole memorable experience I've personally set up for you to think about some things, like your feelings for starters, Mrs. Gamelthorpe." Helga hadn't been able to help herself.

Rhonda whipped around, eyes narrowed and flashing. "If you ever call me that again, so help me, Helga G. Pataki, I'll—" she started darkly.

Helga just smirked, leaning closer to her. "Get in that restaurant or I'll chalk it on every wall from 33rd to 39th street, MRS. RHONDA WELLINGTON LLOYD GAMELTHORPE."

Rhonda looked so frustrated for a moment. And the most annoying thing was, despite the sort of friendship and truce the two of them had now, she really couldn't tell whether or not Helga would actually do something like that. "Oh fine!" She gave a little pout, and then Rhonda finally stepped into the restaurant.

Helga, from outside the glass doors, watched her go and made sure she (albeit reluctantly) made her way to the right table and actually finally (after overdramatically feigning a ton of surprise and annoyance upon setting eyes on her companion for the evening) sat down with Curly.

Then a grinning Helga dashed over to her own little table with Arnold at Chez Pierre across the way.

She sat down briskly, straightening her hair, her eyes beaming a little. "The peacock has landed in the roost with the cuckoo bird, carrier pigeon."

"Helga, can we talk about a new codename for me? You promised we could…" Arnold tried very hard not to smile too much as he put down the menu he had been glancing at while Helga had been off with Rhonda for the moment.

"Oh, 'promised' is such a strong word, Arnold," Helga sighed wistfully with a grin, "I'm pretty sure I just said we maybe could talk about it, which means that I'm just really hoping if I put you off long enough you'll come to accept 'carrier pigeon' since I like it so much myself." She chuckled a little.

Arnold just rolled his eyes and glanced at the menu in front of him again. "Whatever you say, Helga…"

"Up bup bup!" Helga corrected him, grinning a little. "Codenames…"

Arnold sighed, trying not to laugh as he managed to mumble out. "Whatever you say, 'mighty falcon.'"

Helga just laughed, snatching up her own menu. "Crazy schemes really are much more fun with you along, carrier pigeon." Helga glanced over at Chez Paris, where she could just see Rhonda and Curly's table through the window. Rhonda had managed to stay, Curly wasn't dancing on a table or diving on her or anything. Helga just wished she could hear what was going on…


"So, uh…thanks again for agreeing not to run away in disgust, Rhonda. Um, I-I picked this place because it's kind of fancy and you're really, really fancy and you said you and your mom went to Paris sometimes to check out the new fashion lines each season so…Chez Paris." Curly smiled a little, really trying to keep himself toned down and mellow tonight. He figured, considering the results she had been getting lately, Helga had to be right about starting slow and building to expressing your obsessive devotion to another person. Just give Rhonda some time to get used to him, try to be her friend, and just be himself, both the zany parts of himself and the not so zany parts. No problem. Doable, at least.

Rhonda gave a small sigh. It was annoying, but his concern for pleasing her tastes really was considerate of him, wasn't it? She swallowed and managed, still trying to maintain her emotional distance, "Thanks, Curly. That was nice of you." Then Rhonda added, trying to be considerate herself, "A-Are you sure this restaurant's okay for you, though? French cuisine can be a bit of an…acquired taste."

Curly smiled. It was nice of her to ask, and Rhonda being nice to him meant he was doing something right. "Oh don't worry about me, Rhonda baby. This menu's got snails on it, cow brains, aged cheeses—I'm in heaven. Garçon!" Suddenly Curly snapped his fingers.

The familiar face of Jacques came over to the table. "Alo, my name is Jacques and I will be your waiter for the evening." He seemed particularly snooty as he looked at Curly, obviously recalling some of his more colorful experiences with ten-year-olds at this restaurant.

Then Curly proceeded to speak to Jacques in perfect French. "Ah, et je suis sûr que vous serez un bon garçon. Pour commencer, nous voulons de l'eau Pyrénées. Et nous voudrions pain, s'il vous plait. Ensuite, je voudrais l'escargot et une ordonnance de la vichyssoise. Et que prenez-vous, mon chéri?" He looked to Rhonda with a grin.

Rhonda was just sitting there…stunned, just stunned.

It took her a second, but then she recalled the basic bit of French she knew thus far and managed, "Ah, oui, je voudrais le coq au vin et une salade au bleu de gex, s'il vous plait."

Jacques looked very impressed with the two children, to say the least. "Bon. Votre repas sera bientôt prêt!," he replied in French, and then took their menus and dashed away with a smile of approval.

Curly just grinned in that half crazed way he had.

Rhonda really looked confused.

Then Curly cocked his head to the side. "What?"

Rhonda blinked a bunch of times and then held out her arms. "I…you…the French, Curly, the French!"

"The French?" Curly grinned again and shrugged. "Lovely people, I guess, though a bit too stuffed-shirted for me. What about them?"

Rhonda just rolled her eyes and sighed. "I mean you speaking French! You speak French! How do you speak French?!"

"Ohhh…" Curly understood now, "Oh, I have a lot of spare time. And if I ever get caught doing a wacky stunt, breaking into another language sometimes confuses whoever catches me and gets me off the hook. I've got quite a bit of that fancy talk under my belt along with some German, some Welch, Esperanto of course, and I've been working my way through a little Russian. Oh and Klingon!" He leaned back a little in his chair. "Being a little nuts isn't half bad, Rhonda—gets your mind working, makes every day a game and a challenge."

Rhonda just looked at him quizzically, arms crossed over her chest. She almost wanted to…But then…She sighed. "S-So, um…what else do you like to do Curly? I-I mean, what other hobbies do you have?"

Curly beamed a little. She was actually asking about him. He shook his head though, leaning closer. "No, no, no, I don't want to talk about me. I want to talk about you! What are your interests and secret hobbies, Rhonda baby, I want to know!" He tried his best to make his request sound genuinely interested rather than overbearingly creepy.

Rhonda blinked at that question. Then she smiled a little. He wanted to know about her. She liked that. "Oh, well…a-are you sure, Curly?" She rolled her eyes a little and smiled more and added, "I promise I'm far less fascinating than you might think."

Curly just laughed a little and nodded. "Of course I want to know about you, Rhonda. Your likes and dislikes, your greatest hopes and darkest fears, even just about your day today."

Rhonda smiled a little more. She couldn't help it. She maybe even blushed slightly, though possibly it was a trick of the warm candlelight glowing between herself and her date for the evening. "Well…o-okay, I guess. As long as we're here and have to wait for the food anyway…."

Curly looked positively joyful. "Oh, but, um…one thing, Rhonda?" he then tentatively asked before she could begin.

Rhonda nodded, tilting her head to the side curiously. "Yes, Curly?"

Curly swallowed and blushed a little and then asked, "Would you, um…if you'd be comfortable…would you call me Thaddeus? I-I mean, not around other people, I don't like it too much, but since it's just us and everything I'd like that."

Rhonda blinked a few times at the strange request. But then…well…why not? But she had to save some face first. So she sighed and rolled her eyes, but couldn't help smiling a little too. "Oh…I must be out of my mind but, what the heck, the evening's shot anyway, so…" And then she nodded, her smile returning. "Alright, Curl—um…Very well, Thaddeus." Thaddeus. It made her want to giggle a little, which freaked her out very considerably so she did her best to suppress it like crazy. She cleared her throat and then started, "Well, anyway, um… right now it's summer so I love when Mummy and I really can jet off to Paris to see the new swimsuit lines…But when I'm around here I actually like to go butterfly hunting with Nadine. I look in her book on Butterflies and find the ones I like the most and that I think are prettiest, and she takes it as a challenge to find one before the afternoon's over. And she usually does pretty well at it too. I'm also getting ready to participate in a piano recital in a couple of weeks—my teacher says I have excellent posture and poise. Oh, and speaking of things going on now, I must compliment you and the other boys on crashing Helga's slumber party the other week—simply genius. I do hope to see you all breaking into my room at my next slumber party as long as you pull it off with the same pizzazz."

Curly—pardon, 'Thaddeus'—grinned in that kind of maniacal way he had, but it didn't come off so badly. "Oh sure, Rhonda, baby, whatever you say—you know how much I love spicing up a party. Not to mention I never thought I'd actually see the inside of your bedroom unless it started with me committing a few minor burglary and breaking and entering felonies, and ended with a restraining order."

Rhonda blushed a bit and couldn't help but look down a touch uncomfortably, almost with a frown of displeasure.

She noticed her reaction made Curly blink a few times and sit back a little and look down with a touch of disappointment.

Now Rhonda frowned at herself more than at Curly. She tried to smile a little. "Um…that's funny, Curly…A-And it's even funnier because I could probably see you doing it and getting away with it." She was trying to be supportive, but then got a sort of dry look and added just for good measure, "But seriously if I ever do wake up to find you've snuck into my house or into my room, I reserve the right to pound you to within an inch of your life and to sic the hunting dogs on you, got it? Slumber party crashing fine; randomly breaking and entering only fine in joking format. Okay?" She smiled a little again and held out a hand for him to shake.

Curly's smile actually returned now too. "Oh…okay, I think I understand…" Then he reached out and took her hand and shook it. Then a little extra grin came to his mouth. "But of course you do have to allow me some liberties at least. My impulse control really does leave something to be desired, hot lips." Then he dramatically pulled her arm forward and gave the back of her hand a passionate and fiery kiss. Hey at least he had resisted intruding upon her lips this time in his life, right?

Rhonda turned bright red and scowled, getting worked up (but not genuinely angrily…rather it was just in that playful, back and forth, love/hate way she'd always had of dealing with Curly). "Oh, you little—Curly, for crying out loud!" She rolled her eyes and managed to get her hand away. She cringed at the feeling of the moisture of his mouth on her hand and quickly wiped at it with a cloth napkin.

"Ah, you know you love me, Rhonda baby!" Curly merely waved her off with a grin and a wink. "You only yell at me the way you do right now when I get just enough under your skin that you like it but hate to admit it to yourself. I know how you yell when you really are upset with me." His smile lessened a little bit and he swallowed, "It hurts when you do that, but…hey, at least it gets me to stop, right?" He was recalling how she had yelled at him when she had broken up with him during that incident with him fixing the stain on her mother's coat, or how she had yelled at him last month during the baseball game against the fifth graders when he had finally flirted with her in public one too many times. That was a very different kind of yelling from her usual annoyed complaints, and he would always listen to and respect that kind of yelling. Despite his strange, obsessive desire for her, he did want to respect her wishes and make her happy more than anything else, after all.

Rhonda blinked a few times. Then she recalled what he meant and blushed. She put down the napkin and folded her hands on the tabletop, looking down. "I'm sorry if I hurt you, Cur—erm…Thaddeus. I promise I'll try to control my temper a little more. I-I've just been under some stress lately." She smiled a little and finished, "You really aren't such a bad guy, Thaddeus. And…" she blushed a lot but added, "…if I had to make a list of the last people on earth I'd want to eat dinner with tonight, you wouldn't necessarily be at the top of that list." Then she swallowed and looked down politely and took some bread as a distraction.

He was silent at first.

Then he grinned in an undeniably maniacal way. "I knew you had the hots for old Thaddeus, Rhonda baby. Never any doubt in my mind." Curly took some bread too…and then proceeded to remove a small container of something from his pocket.

A blushing Rhonda caught sight of his action and looked up. She raised an eyebrow. "Um…Thaddeus?" she questioned as he started to spread the stuff on his bread. "What's that?"

Curly smiled back at her. "A mixture of guacamole, garlic paste, an a few chopped up anchovies thrown in for flavor. No restaurant I go to ever has this, only just butter for bread—go figure, huh?" He shrugged. "Anyway, it's delicious." He took a bite of his bread covered with the concoction and smiled. Then he swallowed and put some of the stuff on another small piece of bread and held it out to her. "Wanna try?"

Rhonda looked positively appalled. But then…well… "I-I suppose since the night's already shot anyway like I said, I could…um…" Before she could reconsider she then reached out and took the bread and quickly (her eyes shut in a cringe) stuffed it in her mouth. She chewed, looking like she was ready to be horrified.

"Well?" asked Curly eagerly.

Then Rhonda opened her eyes. Then she blinked few times. Then she swallowed. "It's…actually quite…good! Sort of like a combination of Mediterranean flavors. Have you ever thought of adding a nice French cheese to it to complete the pallet?" she asked with interest.

Curly shook his head, his whole countenance brightening. "No, but good idea, Rhonda! I'll give it a shot the next time I whip up a batch. Do you want some more?" he offered her some of the paste.

Rhonda smiled a little and nodded. "Well…sure, okay…maybe just enough for one piece of bread more. Thanks, Thaddeus."

"You're always welcome, baby."

The two shared a laugh and shared some more bread together.


Across the way, Arnold and Helga could see through the Chez Paris window a very clear image of Curly and Rhonda smiling and laughing. A very excellent sign.

Things did threaten to get a little choppy at a point later in the evening when Curly pulled the violin player over, got up from the table and took Rhonda with him and then proceeded to dance with her amidst the other tables. But by the end when he dipped her back Rhonda was laughing, she just couldn't help it. And Curly was laughing too. Hey, he had to throw SOMETHING a little extra zany into the evening after all? (And it was a good precursor, he thought, to his after dinner plans of having them both raid the lobster tanks out in back of the restaurant to free the cute little crustaceans into the City Lake. Rhonda didn't end up being entirely on board, but she did sit back and let him have his fun before he walked her home. And that was something).

Based on what they could observe thus far though at least, Helga and Arnold felt that all of this was a very promising turn of events.


Brainy's Girlfriend

"Brainy, I couldn't help but notice that you refrained from crashing my sleepover with the other guys—what's the deal?" Helga, standing on Brainy's stoop with her arms crossed, just smiled with a touch of smugness up at the boy in question (who now stood before her after unwittingly answering her ringing of his doorbell).

Brainy blinked at the sudden question and sudden presences of Helga G. Pataki. But then he had to sigh and roll his eyes. Honestly, he had sort of been expecting some acknowledgment of his absence during Helga's sleepover night. Still, she certainly was being rather direct about the whole thing. "Uh…" Brainy, wheezing deeply, held up a finger for a moment and then reached in his pocket and pulled out his inhaler. He took a few puffs and then cleared his throat and spoke. "Helga, come on, you know I wouldn't have enjoyed myself crashing an all girl slumber party…again." He rolled his eyes to the side awkwardly, recalling accompanying the guys on their crashing of Rhonda's slumber party earlier on in the year…and mostly because of Sid's announcement that in attendance at said slumber party was one Helga G. Pataki 'dolled up like a girl.' The thought almost made him blush, but he did his best to suppress it and just finished quickly, "I-It just didn't seem appropriate. I-I did help the other boys with their plans though. I really am trying to be a bit more social, see?" He smiled and shrugged a touch sheepishly.

Helga just kept smiling at him with interest. Then she leaned against the ledge railing of his stoop. "Okay then, fair enough. So just one more question: when are you and Siobhan and Arnold and I going on a double date?"

Brainy blinked and blushed a little, frowning a bit. "Helga…"

Helga laughed, unable to help it. "Ooo, that sounds just like when Arnold gets annoyed at me. He just says my name, but in that tone that speaks volumes, you know?" She crossed her arms over her chest.

Brainy sighed and leaned against the other ledge railing of his stoop. "Yes, well, stalking you for all these years meant spending a lot of time around Arnold by default. Some mannerisms couldn't help but be picked up, I suppose."

"You're still not answering my question. When's the big double date?" Helga asked, grinning smugly again.

Brainy sighed. "Helga, please. Not that your interest in my private life isn't very flattering—and the subject of four of the screenplays I've written, using different names and situations of course—but you're embarrassing me. And do not talk to Siobhan." He looked at her very firmly as he said this last thing.

He was met with Helga looking…well, embarrassed at first—clearly the idea of being the person who was written about instead of being the person writing about another was a new concept to her. But then, intent on her mission still, she quickly shook off her intrigue and grinned and then gave Brainy an 'innocent' look and started to open her mouth.

He cut her off at the pass. "And by that I mean no talking to her, no 'randomly' bumping into her, no having Arnold talk to her for you, no gesturing to her, no having anybody talk to her for you, as a matter of fact, no talking to somebody who knows somebody who knows somebody who knows her and having whatever you have to say passed through the grapevine. No writing to her. And no stalking her." Brainy almost smiled a little. He liked throwing Helga for a loop by being just as clever as she was.

Helga blinked. Her jaw even opened a little. 'Wow, cut off at every pass…Arnold would be laughing so much right now if he were here.' Brainy really wanted her to stay out of this, didn't he? "Oh…erm….o…kay…" She frowned a little in a touch of confusion, not really sure what to say next.

Brainy just watched her. Then he sighed, that slight smirk of satisfaction leaving his features. He looked at her and spoke calmly. "Helga, not to harp on these examples, but how would you have felt if I had just popped out of a trashcan one day a few months ago and started asking you a bunch of questions about when you were finally going to start dating Arnold? Or better yet, to get the potential situations more accurate…let's say a few months ago I'd popped up behind Arnold and started asking him when he was going to court you, Helga G. Pataki? How would either of those situations have made you feel?"

Helga blinked once. Then she looked very sheepish. She sighed and looked downward. "Sorry." She shifted back and sat down upon the ledge railing of his stoop. " 'Courting' Arnold gets me a little punch drunk, I guess. It's hard for me to remember right away how certain things would have made me feel not too long ago." Then she looked up and spoke to him in that kind of quiet, sonorous, sincere tone she had but rarely used, even with Arnold. "I promise I won't interfere, Brainy. And…if you don't even want me to bring this up alone with you, I won't. You have my word."

Brainy smiled softly. He liked that tone of voice. It was Helga G. Pataki speaking from her heart, no gimmicks, no tricks, no hiding. He found it beautiful, actually, and always sort of hoped, at the back of his mind, that when Helga grew up her voice would sound like that normally, except for when she chose to make it sound differently maybe for whatever special purpose.

Brainy spoke back to her with equal sincerity. "Thank you, Helga. But you can bring it up with me at least, if you want. Just…don't push me too hard…alright?" Brainy felt his wheezing coming back. The new prescription really had been helping but lately but now, once again, its potency on him was weakening. It was really only with the nebulizer machine that he could get any prolonged talking time. He knew one day when he was a bit older he would be able to have some minor sinus surgery done to fix most of his breathing problems, but for now it was such a bother trying to work through things daily using different kind of inhaler after different kind of inhaler.

Helga got up and stepped toward him, looking a touch concerned. "You need to step inside and use the nebulizer machine, Brainy? We can keep talking in there if you want."

Brainy shook his head, his full wheezing starting to return. "No…thank you, Helga. I can't use…so much medication…at once…I'm afraid I'll just have to be the strong…silent…type for you for a bit…. I'll use the…inhaler…later…"

Helga nodded, understanding that he knew best. Then she smiled a little and shrugged. "Hey, um, since you can't talk…and since the big double date is postponed indefinitely," she chuckled a little, "and if you're not doing anything right now, wanna catch a movie, Brainy? My treat—and like, seriously my treat, not 'my treat' as in I'll sneak us both in." She rolled her eyes to the side. "Arnold's got this thing about me being as upstanding a citizen as possible."

Brainy smiled. "Um….okay…Helga…"

Helga laughed. "Ah, if only dating Arnold were as easy as this." She walked over to him and hooked arms. "I could do all the talking, he could just smile and say 'okay'. It would make our lives so much easier, you know?"

Brainy laughed a little, and so did Helga.

Then Siobhan came from around the corner and suddenly ended up at the bottom of Brainy's stoop. "Oh, um, hi, Brainy!" she squeaked with a shy smile. "Um, I just wanted to see if, since it's summer, you'd be okay with changing our regular appointments at the doctor's office from 4pm to 2pm on Wednesdays. I have cello lessons at 4 right now…but I still hoped we could walk together, so would that be alright?"

Helga, who was still holding Brainy's arm hooked with hers, felt him tense considerably. But she was smart enough to realize of course that this action did not necessarily indicate some deep attraction on Brainy's part to little Siobhan. Brainy was surprised, not to mention he had just indicated to Helga that he wanted her to leave Siobhan alone and yet here Siobhan was all of a sudden, ripe for Helga's picking.

Beside Helga, Brainy composed himself and then gave his usual calm, appreciative smile to the little girl below them. "Um…okay…that's fine…" he wheezed, wishing he could still talk fully.

"Okay. Thank you," Siobhan squeaked with her usual little smile. Then she stepped back, like she was going to leave. But then she paused and looked back up at Brainy and Helga…more specifically, at Helga. "Um, hi. I'm Siobhan." She waved her hand.

Helga opened her mouth but then paused and looked at Brainy. She had promised not to say a word to Siobhan after all.

Brainy saw her looking at him and looked back at her a touch dryly, trying not to smile too much, and then he gave her a little nudge, clearly saying, 'Well, of course, greet her, Helga.'

Helga smiled little and tried not to laugh. She looked back at Siobhan. "Hi Siobhan, my name's Helga. Helga G. Pataki. Pleasure to meet ya." Helga held out the hand of her arm that wasn't currently hooked with Brainy's.

Siobhan reached out and shook Helga's hand in her light, shy way. "It's nice to meet you too." Then she smiled kind of funny and blushed a little and said, "Your girlfriend's really pretty, Brainy."

Helga blushed, grinned, looked embarrassed, and then grinned again, unable to help herself…as meanwhile Brainy started so badly that he was clinging against her for a moment until he then blinked and pulled directly away from her, unhooking their arms. He looked down. "Siobhan…Helga's…not…"

Brainy already couldn't breathe well and Helga didn't want to strain him with the pressure of this. She spoke up for them, a very casual smile on her face as she did so. "Oh, whoa, whoa, hold on there, I am not Brainy's girlfriend. I am Arnold P. Shortman's girlfriend, thank you very much. Brainy here's just a good buddy, right, Brainy?" She gave him a little punch in the shoulder and grinned.

Siobhan seemed to brighten a little. "Oh. Really, Brainy?"

Brainy still looked very uncomfortable. At being directly addressed by Siobhan again, though, he blinked and looked toward her and nodded very emphatically, almost nervously.

Siobhan still had her bright smile. "Oh, well, that's nice. Anyway, I should be going. Bye, Helga, it was very nice to meet you. Bye Brainy." She gave him a little wave and then dashed off.

Helga and Brainy just stood in silence for a moment.

Then Helga couldn't help herself, and she figured it was okay since they were alone again. "Awfully jumpy for someone who does not have romantic feelings for his asthma buddy, aren't you?"

To be honest, a big part of Brainy wanted to laugh right now because Helga G. Pataki, when all was said and done, was just a funny person. But he didn't want to encourage her. So he gave her a bit of a look and wheezed out, "Helga…if I…could talk, I…" He had to take a few extra breaths—too many words at once.

Helga just laughed and rolled her eyes. "Ah, but you can't talk, Brainy, you can't. Now come on, buddy, I was just teasing you, and I was on really good behavior with her, wasn't I? So let's hit that movie and I'll even throw in some popcorn and a soda to help calm your nerves. And you're in luck—you get real movie popcorn and a fountain soda with ice instead of a plastic bag of popcorn and a bottle of pop I've been hiding in my pocket, and all because Football Head's encouraging me to actually bother to patronize the concession stands. I'll even let you pick the movie—" then she gave him a slightly serious look and added, "But nothing with subtitles. We're not doing that again. You want subtitles, you go with Olga or with Lila or even with Phoebe on occasion. If I want to read, I'll pick up a book, got it?"

Brainy had to give a wheezy laugh. He nodded. "Uh…okay…"

Helga smiled brightly again. "Good, that's what I like to hear. Let's go!"

And with that she hooked their arms again, and the two friends headed off to the movies together.


Gerald and Phoebe and Love

"Hey Arnold? You up here? You told me to meet you here at four, and it's already—Oh!" Gerald Johansson stopped in his tracks (which currently put him just a step away from dropping onto Arnold's rooftop from Arnold's fire escape) and blinked. He saw a familiar face up here, though not his best friend's. "Phoebe?" He came onto the rooftop entirely now and walked toward her with a curious smile. "What are you doing here, babe?"

Phoebe, rather surprised by his entrance herself, blinked and stood up from the lounge chair she had been sitting upon the edge of. "Oh! Um…Gerald." Phoebe blushed a little. She was still having quite a bit of that 'fear of growing intimacy' problem with him…They had done the double date with Arnold and Helga already, they had done another little date or two together on their own…but always Phoebe felt like she just couldn't say anything, like the place was awkward, like she would never be able to put it right before they got interrupted or had to go somewhere. Phoebe swallowed and continued on in her greeting. "Konnichiwa. Um…Helga told me Arnold was making a bonsai garden with his grandmother and wanted some tips, and that I should come over today at precisely four pm to help him."

Gerald looked confused. He approached Phoebe. "That's weird. Arnold had Chester fly me a note saying he wanted me to meet him up here at four o'clock to work on his checkers game so that he can beat Helga one of these days." Arnold may have been King at Chess but Helga was Queen at Checkers, hands down.

They both looked very confused and unsure for a moment.

"Hey guys, figured it out yet?!" a familiar voice suddenly called up to them from the street below.

Gerald and Phoebe blinked and then both went over to the ledge of Arnold's window and looked down to the sidewalk below.

There was Helga, grinning triumphantly.

Gerald and Phoebe still just looked confused.

Helga G. Pataki rolled her eyes and called up with satisfaction, "We pulled a fast one and did that thing where you trick two people into getting together by inviting them separately to the same place and then ditching them together. Arnold's skylight entrance to his bedroom should be locked by now, and we took out a section of the fire escape earlier, so it looks you two are stuck up there for a bit. Arnold and I will see you in a couple hours once we get back from the movies. Bye bye!" She gave them a wave.

Gerald just rolled his eyes. "Oh for crying out loud, Helga!" He scowled down at her. "Seriously? Don't you have anything better to do? Besides, why would you need to trick Phoebe and me into spending time together?" He crossed his arms over his chest and looked away. Okay, maybe he was aware that things between himself and Phoebe had felt a little funny lately, but, come on, he didn't need to be tricked. He was practically a fifth grader (well, only two months more of the summer away from being a fifth grader), for Pete's Sake!

"Helga," Phoebe frowned down at her friend, "I really wish you would talk to me first before you—"

"Phoebe, this is me we're talking about—when am I ever considerate to the feelings of others? And besides, you promised me you'd spend some real alone time with him weeks ago and you still haven't done it so now I'm helping you do it." Helga grinned cheekily, crossing her arms over her chest. "So, yeah, we'll be off then! Come on, paste for brains." Helga made this call in the direction of the front door of the Sunset Arms. Then Gerald and Phoebe could make out Arnold coming into view from the direction of the front door, which he had apparently just exited. As he came over, Helga hooked arms with him and proceeded to lead him along down the street.

"Um, bye, Gerald, Phoebe! I'm sorry, and we'll be back soon, I promise!" Arnold managed to call up to them with a quick wave and a sheepish but guilty smile before he was pulled around the corner by Helga. He was a little less sure about this idea than Helga seemed to be, yet he had agreed to go along with it. After all, as Helga had pointed out, a couple of (initially unwanted) hours locked alone together one evening had done wonders for the two of them not too long ago following the catastrophic effects of a certain poetry tutoring fiasco.

Back on the rooftop…

Gerald turned to Phoebe with a dry look. "Is it possible for us to divorce ourselves from those two? Or at least to get a trial separation or something?"

Phoebe had to smile a tiny bit. She always found Gerald funny. "I think we're stuck with them, Gerald. Better to go along with their complicated plans and pretend they don't bother us. I believe that's the only way to get Helga to stop interfering in your life—giving her negative attention only fuels her on further, as we've seen in Arnold's case."

Gerald sighed and shrugged. "Yeah, you're right, I guess. Better off just letting them get it out of their systems." Gerald smiled warmly at Phoebe and gestured to the lounge chairs behind them. "So, anyway, as long as we're 'stuck' up here," he rolled his eyes, "Wanna have a seat, maybe just enjoy the view, babe?"

Phoebe smiled softly and nodded with a light blush. "Hai, Gerald-kun," she replied softly. Then she went over and sat on the edge of one of the lounge chairs.

Gerald followed after her. At first he had been going to take the second lounge chair…but then he paused and finally ended up sitting alongside Phoebe on the edge of hers. "So, um…Arnold and Helga are being kind of silly, right? Why would the two of us need to get forced together after all, right?" He shrugged, smiling sheepishly…maybe a touch nervously.

Phoebe swallowed. She knew he knew something was wrong, and, what was more, she knew that he knew that she knew something was wrong. Perhaps it wouldn't be the worst time to bring it up—they were alone and everything. No interruptions or obligations…and the topic had sort of been breached already, so… "Gerald, I…"

"I-I'm doing something wrong, aren't I?" Gerald suddenly started right out of the blue, looking at her with more nervousness than she had realized he might be experiencing right now. Phoebe looked to him and watched as he rubbed the back of his neck and went on. "I've been being a little geeky with all the 'dinners at each other's parents houses' thing, and taking you to spoken word shows, and telling you all the details about that 'Gerald can't ride a bike' fiasco, haven't I?"

Phoebe blinked and shook her head. "Gerald, of course not. It's just—"

"Is it that we're spending too much time around Jamieo and Timberly?" he couldn't help having to ask, even if it meant interrupting her. "I'll get Jamieo to stop making stupid jokes and blasting love songs every time he drives us anywhere. And we don't have to play princess tea party with Timberly if you really think it's lame or boring or something—I'll just make Arnold go back to doing it with me full time instead." He smiled hopefully (though a touch desperately) at her.

Phoebe shook her head again. "Gerald, please, I—"

"I'm just imagining things, and you're just busier lately, and I just totally humiliated myself and made myself seem really desperate, didn't I?" he finally suggested with a defeated sigh, unable to think of anything else.

Phoebe not only shook her head but also, at this suggestion, took up his hands in both of hers. "Gerald…" she squeezed his hands, and the surprise of that kept him from interrupting her again, "No, you're not imagining anything, and you don't appear desperate to me, promise." Then she smiled a little and went on. "And I don't mind so much if you're older brother teases us—I know he means well. And I like playing tea party with Timberly—it's sweet to watch you two interact together. And I've enjoyed the dinners and the spoken word contests very much, Gerald, really. And…I think the story of how you learned to ride a bike is quite cute actually." She blushed extra and looked down with an even larger smile. "I promise you, Gerald." She gave him a soft kiss on the cheek and then pulled back.

Gerald was frozen for a moment, eyes a bit wide and blushing lightly. Then he shook it off and blinked a few times and spoke again. "Um…oh, um…okay, I-I'm glad." He smiled but then the smile faded and he added, "But…what's wrong then?"

Phoebe sighed softly and looked down. She took her hands away from his and adjusted her glasses nervously. "I don't want to embarrass you…us. And you might think it's silly."

Gerald scooted just a bit closer to her. He spoke very sincerely. "Babe, come on, you can tell me. We're…friends. Very, very, very, very close friends. And you know I respect that mind of yours…." He smiled a little.

Phoebe smiled a little too. Then she replied to him. "Things between us have been going very, very, very well, Gerald."

There was a pause, and Gerald (understandably) really wasn't sure what to say. He shrugged. "Yeah, they have." He smiled more, hoping her starting out this way was a good sign.

Phoebe went on, articulating herself as carefully and as best she could to express herself as accurately as possible. "But…things are going so well that we might get too close too quickly. I-I know we've already both been feeling it sometimes… What if we f-fall in l-love with each other…" Phoebe had all but stumbled over those words, "and then everything really does move too quickly? It's very difficult not to think about considering how directly the situation confronts us in the form of Arnold and Helga's relationship. I just…feel very unprepared for kissing and touching and saying things like how the case is with Arnold and Helga…B-But I do like to kiss you Gerald…and to touch sometimes, like our hands…and I even like telling you how you make me feel sometimes." Blushing entirely now, she finished awkwardly, "I'm distressed at the idea of confronting things I'm unprepared for as our relationship proceeds to progress so expeditiously, even if part of me does want those things in some small respect…" She was slipping into larger vocabulary as she got more and more nervous.

Silence met her ears for quite a bit.

Phoebe glanced over at Gerald hesitantly.

He was just blushing and sort of half smiling but mostly looking a little surprised.

"Gerald?" she prompted softly.

Gerald blinked and snapped out of it. He swallowed. "S-Sorry, uh…it's just…no girl ever talked about loving me before. I-I figured that was something most guys didn't deal with until like high school. Guess Arnold's rubbing off on me a little…" He shifted a little.

Phoebe frowned a little, blushing more. "Sumimasen. I didn't want to make you uncomfortable, Gerald."

Gerald shook his head. "N-No, no, you didn't. I-I'm flattered actually, really. D-Didn't know I was that appealing, heh…" But then, especially since Phoebe only blushed more now, he cleared his throat and spoke more seriously. "But, seriously, come on, babe…. You and I both know that we aren't emotionally old enough to feel like we l-love each other. We are just very, very close friends who dig each other a little…romantically."

Phoebe still looked to him with concern. "But our feelings, what if we cannot control them, and—"

"Phoebe," Gerald felt he really had to be very serious now. He looked into her eyes, taking her hand and squeezing it. "We are never going to do anything we're not ready for. And…it's not like…I mean…I…" he blushed a little and his breathing picked up, but he had to say it to her, especially since it was the truth, "I already love you as a friend, Phoebe. I always have…I think I always will. And I hope you love me like that too already…. So, see, we've been fine so far even though we love each other sort of…" He smiled and blushed and couldn't believe he had just told a girl he loved her, even just as a friend.

Phoebe blinked. The thought had never occurred to her, at least not directly. Yet…she really… "I love you as a friend too, Gerald. Perhaps…you're right." She had turned to look at him again with a soft smile, but now couldn't help but realize, after their small intimate talk, that they really were quite close together. She blushed more. "It's very considerate of you to be so understanding. Arigatoo gozaimasu…" she added softly.

Gerald was blushing more too. Usually they really were so casual when they talked…Usually they didn't talk about big things like this directly. Usually they both just blushed and got quiet and looked down really awkwardly until they could find something to help them sweep it under the rug for now. He understood why Phoebe had been nervous, had been distancing herself from him a bit lately…He felt nervous too. "No problem, b-babe…" Loving Phoebe…Arnold had said he secretly wanted to marry Helga one day. What if he and Phoebe… Gerald blushed a lot more.

The both of them were kind of glad they were on Arnold's rooftop. It was a very private and secluded place, and much better than either of their houses where any of their family members could interrupt them.

They leaned in to kiss each other.

They had never kissed like this before. Usually they thought of kisses as sort of points in time. A kiss was a single action, like swinging a bat or licking an ice cream cone. This, right now, however was not a point in time. This was an ongoing action, like the entire process of playing a baseball game or the full twenty minutes it took you to polish off a complete triple scoop ice cream cone. There was nothing heated, nothing excessive, nothing that probably needed to wait until at least junior high. They were just sitting together on a quiet summer afternoon and kissing slowly. Phoebe didn't even keep count of the time…. The seconds melted into each other too much and too pleasantly for her to care.

They really weren't sure how much time passed, but eventually they pulled apart as awareness started to sink in and as they feared continuing too much longer would mean too much awkwardness after the fact.

Gerald just sat with his hands in his lap and Phoebe just gripped the edge of the lounge chair, and both were heavily flushed.

"S-Sorry, babe. Are you okay?" Gerald managed softly, glancing at her.

Phoebe nodded. "O-Oh yes, I'm…. No need to apologize, Gerald. I'm okay."

"Yeah, but we were just talking about you not being ready for—" he started with concern.

"I-I know…" she interrupted shyly, adjusting her glasses nervously, "But that wasn't o-out of control or anything of that nature, Gerald. It was certainly, um…different. But I…enjoyed the experience. Did you?"

He absorbed her words and then nodded and sighed. "Y-Yeah…a lot." He smiled and looked at her. "Phoebe? Maybe we can just do whatever feels right as it feels right…and maybe if we're every really worried or upset about anything we can just agree that it's okay to talk to each other about it—no feeling awkward or anything, just…kind of like sharing a secret with each other?" He smiled a little. "The only person I trust nearly as much as I trust you is Arnold, babe. But I still don't think I'd be okay with talking to him too deeply about things like this…But I wouldn't mind talking to you. I-I've gotten over a lot of the awkwardness about us being an item, after all, and I haven't been nearly as much of a spazz around you anymore, right? So maybe we could just follow the advice Arnold always gives and talk about everything together whenever we can. What do you say?" He awaited her reply hopefully.

Phoebe had just been looking at him and smiling more as he spoke. Then she nodded. "I think you're right, Gerald. That would probably be the best way for us to handle our situation." She giggled, "And…I'm not as shy around you as I used to be…and I can become even less shy, I think, eventually." She lightly laced the fingers of their hand. "I trust you very much too, Gerald. You're a very dear friend." Then she did something she had always imagined doing: she leaned to the side a bit and gently rested her head against Gerald's shoulder.

Gerald beamed a little inside. "O-Okay…that'll work. I-I mean, that's cool, babe." He leaned in a little too, just to make them closer.

Phoebe smiled more. "I'm sorry I didn't discuss this with you sooner, though…and that I've been avoiding you. I was going to talk to you, even before Arnold and Helga planned this little escapade of theirs…I just wasn't sure what to say yet. But it was nice just talking to you without thinking it through too much before hand—I feel like we were able to be more honest and direct with each other that way."

Gerald sighed softly and smiled more. "It's okay, Phoebe. Sometimes…we both need time for some things…and that's cool with me.

They sat in sweet silence for a few minutes, just enjoying the view.

Then Gerald almost laughed. "Did Arnold really give Helga a pre-engagement ring?"

Phoebe almost laughed a little too and nodded. "Yes. She shows it to me a lot. She's quite enamored of it."

Gerald just sighed and shook his head. "He's a bold kid. And insane."

Phoebe laughed. "Yes, he and Helga are very compatible that way, I suppose."

Gerald laughed at her joke. "Yeah, who says opposites attract?"

They shared a laugh.

Then Gerald spoke again. "So, while we still have some time up here, wanna have some fun and pick the lock on Arnold's skylight, and then drop in secretly and crosswire his room remote so that all the buttons do random things, and then hide some of his pigeons in his wall behind his couch so that he and Helga really have some fun when they at least get that to work?"

Phoebe laughed a lot. "Soodesu, Gerald-kun. Tanoshiidesu."

"Sounds good to me too," Gerald replied with a grin. "Then wanna go down to the boardwalk and eat funnel cakes and use those algorithms you're always coming up with to win a bunch of stuff at the prize booths?"

"I think that would be lovely, Gerald. Then sushi afterwards for dinner?" Phoebe sat up a little and glanced at him hopefully. "I promise if you'll just sample it, you'll like it, Gerald. And if you really don't then I'll just get you a big bowl of noodles and then ice cream afterwards, my treat."

Gerald sighed and nodded with a smile. "Alright, babe, I'll give the raw fish a shot." He looked at her with a touch of seriousness. "But just make sure that whatever the heck I order really is just raw fish and not raw eel or octopus or squid or sea urchin or something—one step at a time, babe." He winked at her.

Phoebe nodded with a big smile. "Of course, Gerald."

Then Gerald smiled more and added, "And do you promise me that later tonight after all of that I can pick you up a milkshake and some fries and you'll try dipping the fries in the milkshake and eating them? Seriously, Arnold and I discovered that in the second grade and it's delicious. And I'd recommend either a pistachio milkshake or a peanut butter swirl one, but you can just stick with vanilla or chocolate if you really want to."

Phoebe just sighed and rolled her eyes with a grin. "That sounds like something Helga would find very appetizing—can't you take her to do that as part of the both of you trying to be better friends?"

Gerald just smiled and shook his head. "No way, babe. It'll be more fun with you. Besides, I'm sure Arnold's got that department covered with her."

Phoebe just sighed and nodded. "Very well, Gerald. I'll try it." Then she stood up. "I'll pick the lock and rewire the remote while you get the pigeons?" She smirked a little.

Gerald smirked and nodded, standing up as well. "You got it, foxy lady."

Phoebe giggled a lot and then dashed over to Arnold's skylight window (but not before giving Gerald a nice hug).

Gerald grinned ear to ear before heading over to the pigeon coop to take care of his role while Phoebe took care of hers. Pranking Arnold and Helga, followed by food and games, and all of that following a very nice talk and a very, very nice kiss? Gerald became even more convinced that he and Phoebe really knew how to have a good date even better than Arnold and Helga did.


Fifth Grade

"Class, I'd like to welcome you all to your first day of fifth grade, and may I just add how special I feel to be your teacher again for this year!"

The class cheered and welcomed back Mr. Simmons on their first day of the new school year. Helga had been very good about keeping Mr. Simmons' reassignment to fifth grade teaching a secret, so everyone really was surprised to see him (even Arnold!)

Mr. Simmons, with a big grin, held up his hands to let the class know to please simmer down a little despite how much he appreciated their enthusiasm. "Thank you all again. Now, before we start our first day—which is going to feature a lot of special and fun activities—I have two announcements to make. First, I'd like to introduce you all to someone you may have seen around the halls a few times last year, and who will now be our new full time school counselor available Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays—Dr. Bliss!"

Dr. Bliss, who had been sitting serenely in a chair in one of the corners with her familiar clipboard, stood up with a smile. At least a couple of the kids in the class knew her well, of course, and all of the kids recognized her at least, and Helga gave her a bright grin with a little salute. Helga now only visited once every two weeks, with the occasional extra visit thrown in if needed. Her progress was swift, and Dr. Bliss felt amazed yet again at the resilience of children and especially her. "Hello, everyone," she addressed the class, "it's nice to see you all again. I hope you enjoyed your summer break. I'll be walking around the halls some of the time that I'm here, but most of the time I'll be either in my office in this building or available to meet at my office uptown Tuesdays and Thursdays after school. If any of you want to visit me, please do anytime. I'm here to help you." She smiled in that warm, welcoming, and sincerely caring way she had.

"Thank you, Dr. Bliss," Mr. Simmons assured her with a smile, "I'm sure everyone here will take advantage of your special abilities if they need them during this brand new school year."

"Thank you, Mr. Simmons," Dr. Bliss nodded with a smile. "I hope so." She looked back at the kids. "My office will be down the main hallway, two doors to the left of Principal Wartz's office. Have a very 'special' first day, kids." She gave them all a wave (and Helga a meaningful smile), and then departed to let the kids continue to start their day.

All of the kids seemed very content and happy with all of this.

Mr. Simmons turned back to them all. He opened his mouth, about to say something, when then there was a knock at the classroom door. He paused and then smiled more. "And now for our second announcement, class. We have a younger student who's very delight about being transferred up to our grade." He walked over to the door. "Please give a very special welcome to Siobhan." He opened the door.

There stood little Siobhan with a big smile, pushing up her taped glasses and holding some books in her arms. She shuffled inside and waved. "Hi," she said in her light, squeaky voice, "I'm Siobhan and I just moved up from the third…um, the fourth grade."

Mr. Simmons smiled, leading her over to a free desk. "Yes, Siobhan was actually skipped up three grades at one point, but then decided she preferred students her own age. But she really is a very special student so Principal Wartz and I felt moving up just one grade might be better for her. I'm sure you'll all make her feel very special and very welcome."

The class murmured hellos, and seemed generally happy and accepting of their new peer.

Helga smiled a lot as she looked at Siobhan taking her seat. Then she looked at Brainy who looked at Siobhan and then looked at Helga (who held up her hands with a grin, indicating to Brainy that she wasn't going to jump all over the poor girl and that she hadn't had anything to do with this). Siobhan in this class: this turn of events would make things interesting. Helga felt like she could see it already: Brainy would be infinitely more awkward…Lila would want to get to know the 'new' new girl with an abundant enthusiasm …Phoebe might get a bit jealous if Siobhan was smarter than her sometimes but then might actually welcome someone she could relate to about her more advanced intellectual interests and hobbies…. Siobhan might end up being unsure about staying at some point and either Helga or Arnold or both could convince her to keep with their grade…. A lot of potential plot points waiting to be unfurled…

Not to mention Bliss was going to be here regularly now, which would only add to how interesting things would be around P.S. 118 these days in general.

Helga G. Pataki leaned back in her chair. She decided she was going to enjoy being a fifth grader.

English class would be up first. What a pleasure to start the year by signing your own names to your own poems.


Scenes from a Treetop Balcony

"Come on, Arnold, do this for me—before all the leaves drop off of my tree for the fall and you can't hide up there, and before you have some annoying inevitable growth spurt and can't climb up the tree anymore at all, Mister 'almost-11-years-old-and-officially-a-fifth-grader -for-three-weeks-now'." Helga smirked down at Arnold from her bay window. He was on the ground in her backyard standing near her tree and looking up at her.

Arnold was smiling but also looking a little shy and sheepish. "Helga…" he looked around a bit, rubbing the back of his neck, "It's not that I don't want to, but I'm outside and someone could hear…. Do I really have to?" He looked up at her again.

"Please, Arnold…" Helga's voice was very soft and nice, and she sat on the seat of her new bay window now and looked down to him with a little sweet, hopeful smile, "Just once…for me? For old time's sake? For the sake of our first kiss technically?" She played with a leaf or two from her tree, which were all now starting to turn gold and orange from the oncoming autumn weather.

Arnold sighed softly. He wasn't going to be able to say no to a request put like that. But he figured he could at least get something in exchange for doing this. "Afterwards will you help me catch Abner to give him a bath?"

Helga blinked and then moaned a little and rolled her eyes. "Arnold, come on, you know I hate doing that. The last time I ended up stuck half way through that doggie door in your kitchen and covered with coffee grounds. No way!" She shook her head.

"Helga…come on…" Arnold grinned up at her with a knowing look, "If I'm really going to do this, then helping me with Abner is the least you could do. Besides, you like him and he really likes you and you are the best at catching him…although I think you'd catch him more quickly if you didn't get angry and excite him sometimes by yelling that you would 'sell him to the bacon factory for five cents and a Mister Fudgy bar if you had the chance'." He rolled his eyes, trying not to laugh. "And besides, he really likes how you let him jump in your arms after he's all dry and you tell him that he's not so bad and scratch behind his ears…"

"Oh alright, alright, I'll catch the pig and give him a bath, sheesh, just quit getting all sappy on me about it!" Helga grinned down at Arnold and couldn't help but add, "Your parents couldn't have just given you a nice normal cat or dog or something when you were a baby, huh?"

Arnold just shrugged. "Well, I had a parrot once but someone's MONITOR LIZARD—"

Helga cut him off, holding up her hands. "Okay, okay, do not lay that guilt trip on me, please. And yeah, touché, monitor lizard is freakier pet than a pig." She smiled and shook her head. "Alright, deal, you do this for me, I'll catch the pig for you."

Arnold nodded. "Deal."

Then there was a moment of silence and Arnold blushed a little, looking to the side and digging his foot into the grass a little.

"You have to start, Arnold…" Helga prompted gently.

"I know…" Arnold sighed once more. Then he cleared his throat and finally looked up at her and started what she wanted. It was a desire which was a result of how her window was now more like a balcony, not to mention there was such an understandable temptation to relive the nostalgia of their first kiss and everything.

"But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks?

It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.

Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon,

Who is already sick and pale with grief,

That thou her maid art far more fair than she:

It is my lady, O, it is my love!

O, that she knew she were!

Two of the fairest stars in all the heaven,

Having some business, do entreat her eyes

To twinkle in their spheres till they return.

What if her eyes were there, they in her head?

The brightness of her cheek would shame those stars,

As daylight doth a lamp; her eyes in heaven

Would through the airy region stream so bright

That birds would sing and think it were not night."

Helga was all but beaming. He hadn't exactly been 'passionate' about the delivery, but he had definitely put some genuine emotion and sincerity into it. Then she had to get out without giggling too much, "Ay me!"

Arnold was blushing so brightly. He kept going. "Sh-She speaks: O, speak again, bright angel!"

Helga leaned out of her balcony a little bit and gazed down at him with a loving, doting look.

"O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo?

Deny thy father and refuse thy name;

Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love,

And I'll no longer be a Capulet.

What's in a name? that which we call a rose

By any other name would smell as sweet;

So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call'd,

Retain that dear perfection which he owes

Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,

And for that name which is no part of thee

Take all myself…"

Their little repetition of the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet continued throughout the rest of the truncated scene until Arnold finally cheated at the ending a bit by climbing Helga's tree and making it to her 'balcony' rather than fleeing into the night as the character of Romeo would do.

They then laughed a little bit together, until they went downstairs and exited Helga's house and started to take a walk to Arnold's house to help with Abner.

"I asked Simmons if we could do another Shakespeare play this year—I suggested Macbeth though," Helga mentioned with a shrug as they turned the corner onto Vine Street.

Arnold looked at her with interest. "What's that one about, Helga?"

Helga sighed. "Eh, another tragedy, but much less sappy—it's got witches, murder, political intrigue, ghosts. Plus I'm totally cut out to play the power-hungry and devious Lady Macbeth."

Arnold smiled more. "I'm sure everyone'll like the idea of doing that play. And I can't wait to see you try out for Lady Macbeth. I hope you get the part, Helga."

"Eh, getting the part won't be the hard part," Helga waved her hand through the air, "What'll be fun is my personal goal to somehow get Rhonda cast as a witch…Or as Lady MacDuff with Curly as MacDuff." She laughed to herself.

Arnold laughed too. "I don't think she'll mind, Helga…Um, the getting cast with Curly option, not the witch option."

"Aw, darn, and the witch option is my favorite," Helga snapped her fingers and faked a disappointed frown.

The two shared a laugh again. They were nearing the Sunset Arms now.

"So, Arnold, what do you want to do for your birthday? Seriously, it's in a week, I need some feedback from you," Helga looked to him with interest.

Arnold just sighed and shrugged, smiling humbly. "Well, I'm having my birthday party like usual, Helga, and…that's more than enough. They'll be cake and ice cream and music, and everyone's invited so…"

"Arnold, come on, you know I mean what do you want to do special? I want to do something special for you, with you," Helga prompted, giving him a little nudge.

Arnold smiled a little more. He knew what she meant. He gave a little humble, mild-mannered shrug. "Maybe just a quiet movie together in my room after everyone goes home would be fine, Helga. Or a game of chess."

"You're really not going to let me like take you to a rock concert or anything, are you?" Helga couldn't help but ask with a little smirk as they reached Arnold's stoop and paused together for a moment.

Arnold just shook his head and glanced at her peacefully. "No, thanks, Helga. I'd really just prefer something nice and quiet."

Helga sighed but nodded. "Okey dokey, you got it, Football Head. You are the birthday boy, after all."

"Thanks, Helga." Arnold smiled up at her appreciatively.

"Of course you know this means I get WrestleMania and a concert at the Cocoa Hut and dinner at Chez Paris on my birthday, right?" Helga gave him a dry look with a half grin and crossed her arms over her chest.

They shared a laugh and Arnold nodded, heading up the stoop and opening the door for her to go in first. "Whatever you say, Helga. Whatever you say…"

Helga just sighed, walking past him into the boarding house foyer. "Now all that's left if figuring out what the heck to get you for a present." She shook her head, turning to face him again as he entered after her and shut the door behind them both. "I swear, you are the most difficult man to shop for, Arnold." Arnold raised an eyebrow at that, and Helga went on with in explanation. "You want nothing stereotypical, nothing material. You want things purely from the heart, you love things that help other people more than things that help yourself. You make a person have to look into the depths of their soul for what the most meaningful, selfless thing they could do for you would be. It is a ton of work, Arnold, especially for someone who prefers the materialistic flashy stuff usually." She laughed a little and nudged him.

Arnold wasn't smiling back at her though…Actually, he was just looking at her with interest…curiosity…that same look, in fact, that he had used to give her after her confession when he would realize the truth about something about her or about something she had done for him in the past…And, in truth… 'What has she gotten me before…. And…last Christmas…the thing she doesn't want me to ask about…'

"Arnold?" Helga interrupted his pondering, looking at him with a touch of hesitation. That 'figuring it out' look of his always made her uneasy. She wasn't even sure what he might be figuring out now exactly.

Arnold blinked and snapped out of his thoughts and smiled. "Oh, um…sorry, Helga. It's just, what you said, how you think about what I'd like…well, it's really sweet that you care so much. Thank you." He leaned and kissed her on the cheek. "I'm sure I'll like whatever you get me, Helga."

Helga smiled, seeming relieved again. "Oh. Thanks, Arnold." She moved a little closer to him and then hooked their arms and started to head them to the den where Abner was most likely taking his midday nap. "I'll do my best."

"I know you will, Helga. I can't wait." He moved closer alongside her as they prepared to begin their search for Abner to bring him to the backyard and give him a bath. And it was a good thing they were getting this all done in the middle of the day—the evenings and nights were already starting to get quite chilly, too chilly to get soaking wet with water outside in the freezing air while you tried to scrub down a rambunctious pig.

Arnold couldn't believe it was already fall, and that Halloween and Thanksgiving and even Christmas would already be coming up again soon…


Chocolate Boy

But in the meantime, there were things to take care of between the holidays, and one of Arnold's jobs besides his chores and his school work and socializing with his friends was to give advice to his classmates lest P.S. 118 be thrown into an inescapable vortex of preteen chaos and drama.

And, what a surprise, Chocolate Boy was in need of help again.

Arnold didn't know about Chocolate Boy's slight relapse at the end of the last school year. How the kid had started dipping his radishes in chocolate…how when Mr. Simmons had done all of those fun things for his fourth grade class on the last day including (and most particularly) bringing in Fudgy Nut Nut Bars for everyone to figure out the areas and volumes of before eating them, something in Chocolate Boy had snapped. It was going to be summer, after all, and that meant chocolate ice cream and chocolate sodas and chocolate covered popcorn for the movies, and…a-and…Arnold had said the most important thing was to be good and be happy…And missing out for the first time on a summer of unbridled chocolate fun would not make him happy.

Still, after three months of then doing everything but shipping himself back to the Yahoo soda and candy factory to go swimming in the chocolate sauce vat, Chocolate Boy was starting to rethink this whole 'But what if chocolate IS what makes me happy?!' thing…And, as he felt absolutely sick to his stomach from the sugar crash he was experiencing as he tried to wean himself off of chocolate cold turkey again, Chocolate Boy figured it was time for another trip to Arnold to beg him for his help again and figure out where he had gone wrong.

Arnold's nice, old Grandpa had let him into the boarding house this afternoon after school and had told him with a smile that Arnold was upstairs, but to knock first because he had a lady friend over. Then he had laughed and pointed Chocolate Boy in the direction of the boarding house stairs.

Chocolate Boy had nodded and thanked him and then started heading up. He knew Arnold was dating someone now. Helga G. Pataki. She could put away chocolate, but only did so when she felt like it—Chocolate Boy admired that about her a lot, actually. He was glad Arnold had gotten together with someone so levelheaded and sensible.

Walking down the hall and up the attic steps, Chocolate Boy finally made it to the outside of Arnold's closed bedroom door.

He paused for a moment before knocking, and during that pause he heard a light giggle and chuckle or two, and then some low talking.

He wrung his hands, unsure of what to do. Arnold was a nice guy, he really didn't want to bother him if he was busy. It was just—"OH..." he moaned a little to himself as his stomach made a bunch of unpleasant sounds. Okay, no choice, needed to talk to Arnold. This was an advice emergency.

Chocolate Boy knocked on the door gently. "Um…hello? Arnold? I'm really sorry, I know you might be busy and I don't mean to bother you. Um…it's Chocolate Boy and I…think I'm sort of having an emergency…and I think I've kind of lost control of the situation." He rubbed the back of his neck. Two weeks ago he had filled the water tank at his house with chocolate drink powder so that all the sinks and the showers would flow with chocolate milk. Uh…no one had been happy about that stunt, to say the least, and Chocolate Boy figured that was his 'rock bottom' moment to seek help again.

Chocolate Boy heard a few unhurried sounds, then a set of footsteps coming across the room.

The door opened and there Arnold stood, blushing a little but otherwise looking normal. "Oh…" he smiled—he always had time for a friend and for anyone in need, "Hi, Chocolate Boy. Come in." He stepped aside and gestured into his room. "Is everything alright?" He looked at the new fourth grader with a touch of concern. He hadn't seen much of Chocolate Boy over the last few months…but it seemed now Chocolate Boy's mouth and hands were covered in sticky chocolate residue again, so that probably wasn't the best sign.

Chocolate Boy just looked at Arnold appreciatively. "Hi Arnold…" he glanced across the room to see Helga G. Pataki sitting there, a few closed schoolbooks on the couch beside her and blushing a tiny bit but otherwise just smiling normally and waiting patiently. "Hi Helga…" Chocolate Boy smiled and gave her a wave. Then he looked back at Arnold, wringing his chocolate stained hands a bit. "Um…Arnold, I think I may have unintentionally fallen off the bandwagon and sort of deluded myself into needing chocolate again, and my stomach's starting to hurt a lot and I'm constantly on a sugar rush or sugar crash so, um…I just need help, Arnold." He looked up at the older boy sincerely. "I promise, I was really sincere about quitting last time and I'm really sincere this time. I just messed up, and I'm not sure how. But I do want to get better again. Please." He looked at him desperately.

Arnold blinked a few times and nodded. "Of course, Chocolate Boy. Um…here, have a seat on my bed, we'll talk about this a little bit." Arnold glanced back at Helga. "Helga, do you mind? It's just…he needs advice, and I—"

Helga held up her hand, an understanding smile coming to her lips. "Say no more, Arnold. You have a job to do, go ahead and do it." She crossed her legs and picked up one of the schoolbooks, flipping it open and reclining back on his couch a bit. "I'll just watch and admire you while you save another poor soul." It was a joke, but her tone and smile were sincere in their support.

Arnold smiled sincerely back. "Thanks, Helga." Then he walked over to the edge of the bed and sat down next to Chocolate Boy. "Okay, Chocolate Boy, tell me everything that's happened…"

"Well…" Chocolate Boy started, rubbing his neck, trying to think things through, "I-I don't know, at first those radishes I got hooked on instead of chocolate were working great. But then I just figured if radishes made me happy and if chocolate used to make me think I was happy, maybe the two of them together would be the best of both worlds. So I started dipping the radishes in just a little chocolate. But then sometimes I'd just take a fingerful of the melted chocolate and sniff it and it smelled soooo good…" A little shiver of pleasure went through him. "A-Anyway, then I just started thinking about chocolate and noticing it all the time, and it's hard, Arnold, with people eating it all the time. And then summer came and that's usually so full of yummy chocolate-based treats, and I figured it wouldn't hurt to have some since the idea of a chocolate free summer made me sad. So I started eating chocolate again a little, and still the radishes too. But, well, now we're back in school and I tried to stop myself from eating it and to go cold turkey but it mocks me, Arnold, from the chocolate milk in the lunchroom every day to the Fudgy Nut Nut Bars in the vending machines all over the halls! It mocks me! And I'm either on a sugar high from binging on the chocolate or a sugar crash from resisting it, and now Halloween's coming up, Arnold—HALLOWEEN! Do you KNOW what that holiday is like for me? So you've gotta help me, Arnold—I just don't know what to do anymore!" By now Chocolate Boy's words had grown quite passionate and he was clinging to Arnold's collar and looking up at him with wide desperate eyes.

Arnold just looked down at the poor younger boy in surprise at his sudden outburst. He considered and then gently took Chocolate Boy's hands and pulled them away from his collar. "Chocolate Boy, it's going to be all right." He spoke soothingly and calmly to the younger boy. "We can start meeting after school again to work on this, figure out why you're slipping again and what you can do to feel better about yourself again and about chocolate." He smiled supportively. "I promise."

Chocolate Boy sniffled a little. "Really, Arnold? Even though I'm a fourth grader now and you're a fifth grader and trash can day's in a few months and everything." Chocolate Boy knew that traditionally fifth graders tended to pick on fourth graders a lot. He just wanted to make sure Arnold wouldn't get in trouble with everyone if he went and jumped ship and helped a younger kid like him.

Arnold blinked but then smiled with that sort of all knowing gaze he had. "Oh, that." He took his hands away from Chocolate Boy and shook his head. "Helga and I have decided we're ending that together. Um…" he bit his lip, glancing to the side, "Of course, last year's fifth graders aren't too happy about that and they've threatened to turn trash can day into a sixth grade tradition but…well, we'll cross that bridge when we get there." He shrugged sheepishly. "The point is no more fourth and fifth grade fighting, at least not between our classes. Right, Helga?" Arnold glanced over at her, where she was still sitting on the couch patiently with a smile on her face.

Helga nodded. "Yup. Arnold asked nicely for everyone not to shove the new fourth graders in trash cans at the end of the year, and…for anyone who was resistant to that approach I threatened to sock them one." She punched a fist into her palm and shrugged. "You're safe, Chocolate Boy." She winked and pointed at him. Strangely enough, somehow she and Arnold seemed to have become the social leaders of their class in a way. But then again maybe it did make sense—after all, everyone had always looked to Arnold for guidance and planning and everyone had always looked to her for leadership and discipline, so combined together the whole class pretty much looked to them for both its major trends and even some day to day activities. It was kind of nice being admired and needed like that, and Helga greatly enjoyed sharing the responsibility with Arnold.

Chocolate Boy smiled at her, wiping a tear from his face. "Thank you, Helga." Then he looked up at Arnold. "Thank you, Arnold." He dove at him in an appreciative hug.

"Whoa!" Arnold almost toppled back a little but then smiled and patted Chocolate Boy on the back. "You're welcome, Chocolate Boy." Arnold glanced at Helga. "Helga, um, since helping him seems to be a long term thing, are you okay with studying together a few less afternoons a week for a little while?"

Helga nodded. "No problem, Football Head. You do your job, when you're done come find me and we can go back to being joined at the hip then." She stretched a little. She already had been here an hour and maybe Chocolate Boy wanted to talk right now, so she stood up and grabbed her backpack. "Actually, if you two wanna start a session now, I could get going, get an early start on some writing I wanted to do." Mr. Simmons had been encouraging Helga to both continue with and branch out from the love poems—experiment, whatever she wanted, and he would give her extra credit for whatever she submitted. He was also thinking of petitioning Principal Wartz for an Elementary School Literary Magazine that Helga could run: sort of a preparation for having some kind of leadership role on the Literary Magazine that would inevitably be at her junior high school when she went in a couple of years (though he wanted this idea to be a surprise so he hadn't told Helga about it yet).

Arnold sighed, kind of wishing she could stay. But he already did get to spend quite enough time with Helga, and he wanted to help his friend. He nodded. "Alright, Helga. Thanks. I'll call you later."

She winked at him. "You got it, Football Head." She began to head toward the door.

"Can Helga stay, Arnold?" Chocolate Boy suddenly curiously asked. He turned to Helga. "Can you stay, Helga?"

Helga paused and blinked, turning to look at him. "Me? Why?"

Arnold nodded, seconding that. "Yeah, why her?" He raised an eyebrow in utter perplexity, his tone sounding like Helga staying to give advice was the most foreign concept imaginable.

That sort of 'not thought entirely through' question got a little bit of a scowl out of Helga followed by a reply of, "Gee, darling, thanks for being so supportive of my capacity to help other people. I can be helpful and give advice too…in my own way…" She swallowed and rolled her eyes to the side innocently. "Sometimes my way is a bit 'dubious' and sometimes it does get people into worse trouble before it fixes things, but a lot of it is still valid at its core as long as I try my best." She looked back to Arnold, putting down her backpack and crossing her arms over her chest.

Arnold blinked and blushed and looked down sheepishly. "Sorry, Helga. I didn't mean for it to come out like that. Really." He looked into her eyes sincerely.

Helga scowled at him for a moment longer but then just sighed and smiled. "It's okay, Arnold. And even if you did mean it that way, I guess I couldn't blame you entirely—I did send our class into turmoil once by accident with my advice and your advice did fix it after all."

Arnold smiled back at her, happy he hadn't hurt her feelings.

Then Helga looked to Chocolate Boy, addressing him seriously. "Uh, anyway, Chocolate Boy, listen, I'm flattered that you want me around but…seriously, like Football Head and me both said, why me? Arnold's advice usually has a much better chance of working than mine does."

Chocolate Boy shrugged, but he spoke to her sincerely. "Well, maybe so, but you're a really cool person, all the younger kids think so."

Helga's grin brightened. "Really?" She stepped over toward the bed. "Go on…Any particular reason they find me so fabulous?"

Arnold tried very hard not to smile too much at Helga's small ego trip. He just watched the exchange between her and Chocolate Boy with interest.

Chocolate Boy, meanwhile, just shrugged. "Well, they know you always stood up to last year's fifth graders and they know you helped save the neighborhood last year and they know that nobody can yell at people as good as you do, not even the teachers, and they also know that you went and kissed a boy in front of everyone and proved definitively that cooties do not exist because otherwise we all figure that you and Arnold would have kicked the bucket by now…"

Arnold tried very hard not to laugh.

Helga let out a deep sigh and rubbed her temples, a light blush on her features. "Yes, okay, uh huh, yeah…moving along…"

Chocolate Boy smiled and finished. "Well, there's all that stuff, and also…I've seen you pack away chocolate like crazy, Helga, but you always know how to stop yourself, and sometimes you even just turn it down altogether in the first place. That's a skill, Helga, believe me, it is," he pointed out very seriously.

Helga blinked and raised part of her brow at him in interest. She watched him very closely, seeming to be in deep thought…. Then her eyes lit up a little. She looked to her beloved. "Arnold, do you mind if I stay, maybe throw in my two cents? I promise, nothing illegal or immoral, okay?" She gave him a little grin and shrug.

Arnold smiled back and nodded. "Of course, Helga. If Chocolate Boy wants you to stay and if you want to help then you should definitely stay with us for a little while."

She smiled and nodded back to him. "Thanks, my love." She trotted back over to the bed and sat down beside Chocolate Boy, crossing her legs and trying not to smirk too much at Arnold's blushing due to her calling him 'my love' in front of another person. She just shook her head and looked to the younger kid. "Okay, first thing's first—you got a real name, I'm assuming. It seems kind of pointless to be trying to get you un-addicted to chocolate and yet to be calling you Chocolate Boy all of the time."

Chocolate Boy, paying very close attention to her, just put his hands in his lap and shrugged. "My name's Charlie."

Helga sighed deeply and did her best to keep her composure and not laugh. 'Charlie. Chocolate. There is an amusing Roald Dahl joke somewhere in there, I just know it…' "Alright—Charlie," she proceeded, smiling down at him supportively. "You say I'm good at taking or leaving delicious things. Now, while that may be true of chocolate for me, it was certainly not always true for another dessert—'ice cream.'" Helga gave Arnold a look and a smirk confirming that she was talking about what he thought she was talking about.

"H-Helga…" he started, raising a hand and turning very scarlet.

Helga just grinned and waved him off. "Eh, in a minute, Arnold, I'm talking to Charlie here. Anyway…" her attention went back to Charlie, "So, yes, Charlie, I was obsessed with and hopelessly focused on ice cream."

Charlie blinked, looking at her with interest. "Really?"

Helga nodded. "Oh yeah, could not get enough of that stuff. Seriously, morning, noon, and night I thought about ice cream, I dreamed about ice cream, I doodled and wrote about ice cream. I hung around ice cream every second of every moment I could spare, longing for its sweet feeling upon my lips, aching for the chance to dive into pools of it and let it consume me…" She was looking a LOT more at Arnold now than Charlie, and grinning like mad.

Arnold was just very red and had his eyes closed. He let out a deep sigh at her momentary break. "V-Very nice, Helga…You're making a point anytime soon, I'm assuming…?" He gave her a frustrated little pout, yet Helga could tell it wasn't so much because she was describing the depths of her longing and affection for him right now in front of Charlie (the kid would never know that Arnold was 'ice cream') but because she was causing him to feel very passionate and full of desire for her too though he couldn't express any of those urges since a third party was in the room with them at the moment.

Still, Helga did love to make Arnold sweat. She did tone it down a touch but went on anyway, looking to Charlie now as she did so. "Of course there's a point. So here I am, practically in love with ice cream…But I realize I'm unhappy because how is ice cream ever gonna love me back? And after a while, even though I love ice cream, I start to get angry at ice cream for never appreciating that love, but I guess it's kind of my fault for never being direct about that love to ice cream, but then also let's all admit that it's a tiny bit ice cream's fault for always being more available to silly little airheads who barely appreciate a quality dessert instead of to me who has been faithfully choosing ice cream without fail for six years and dedicating my entire body and heart and soul to the ritualistic celebration of that most clueless and yet appealing dessert of the gods, and—"

"Helga!" Okay, she was standing up and gesticulating vehemently now as she passionately delivered her praise for and tirade against ice cream, and Arnold figured all of this was getting very off track now, even beyond just being a joke, so maybe she had lost control of the situation a bit and needed someone to help guide her back to the point of the matter they were trying to deal with.

Helga blinked and stopped, though she found herself breathing heavily. Then she blinked a few more times and seemed to come out of something. Then she blushed and sat down and quickly added in a very straightforward tone, "Uh…yes, and, well, I loved ice cream. Heh…A-Anyway, getting back to your addiction problem…" 'Wow, I need to relearn how to suppress things in front of random acquaintances…Whoo boy.' "Well, um," she cleared her throat and managed to recompose herself a bit, smiling at Charlie, "the point is I know what you're going through. Now, since you and Football Head worked on this in the past, what conclusions did you come to and what was your final strategy for fixing the problem?" She looked to the younger boy with interest.

Charlie thought back and then told her (and also he was rather impressed that she had clearly managed to fix such a strong addiction in her life). "Um, we figured I was upset about something from when I was little, but chocolate made me feel better then. So now I use chocolate to kind of make myself happy no matter what's bothering me instead of dealing with the problem itself. But chocolate doesn't make me happy, not really…at least not the way I usually eat it." He frowned a little.

Helga nodded, considering that very carefully. Then she bit her lip and glanced over Charlie to Arnold. "Arnold, you trust me?"

Arnold blinked and nodded. "Sure."

Helga smiled. "Thanks." Then she looked back to Charlie. "Charlie, I'm going to hit you with something I don't think you're expecting—you don't have to give up chocolate."

Charlie looked confused and uncertain at this statement. "But…how? How can I stop hurting myself with chocolate if I don't give it up?"

She sighed and spoke to him very seriously. "Charlie, denying yourself access to chocolate—something you really did genuinely like once and maybe still genuinely like in some healthy way deep down—is only going to make you want the chocolate since you can't have it, and especially since the chocolate is pretty much everywhere. And I think you've already seen that with the relapse you've had. Personally, what I think is that you need to learn how to have a healthier relationship with chocolate." She smiled a little. "Chocolate can be a good, happy thing, but it's the way you use it that robs it of that quality. I think you need to learn to have chocolate in your life in such a way that it helps you to be a better and happier person rather than using it to make yourself a sadder person or getting rid of it entirely which is only going to frustrate you and make you miss something you love." She considered more. "Tell you what—why don't you keep chocolate around at first, but not as something to eat. There's chocolate shampoo, chocolate scented candles, chocolate…flavored toothpaste, I don't know…" She rolled her eyes, continuing on. "My point is try to find ways to use chocolate in your life that don't include eating, and ways that help with either your health or your daily activities or your peace of mind, alright? Form a good relationship with chocolate outside of it being just something for you to consume…and then maybe, as time passes and you feel more comfortable, find a healthy way to incorporate chocolate back into your eating if you want to: a mug of hot chocolate before bed time to help you fall asleep maybe or some healthy chicken and vegetables with mole sauce for dinner." She smiled.

"What's mole sauce?" Arnold and Charlie couldn't help but suddenly ask at the same time.

Helga blinked then tried not to laugh as she replied, "Kind of a savory chocolate and chili sauce—Olga's made it sometimes, and it's not too bad actually." She went back to Charlie. "Anyway, how does all that sound, Charlie?"

Charlie considered. In a way he sort of liked the idea of it. He'd have to make sure not to start consuming any of the chocolate-ish non-edible products, of course, but…it might be nice to try something like that, learning to love chocolate for the right reasons again, getting back to a healthier mindset about it. He smiled at Helga. "I like those ideas, Helga." He looked back to Arnold. "Arnold, do you think they're good too?"

Arnold was just smiling softly. Actually, he almost wanted to let a tear fall from his eye. How sweet…hearing about Helga's change in her love for him in that sort of way… He stayed focused on Charlie though since he knew he needed it. Arnold nodded to his question. "I actually do, Choc—um, Charlie. And if you want we could all talk sometimes while you're transitioning into this, just to see how you're doing and if you need anymore help."

Charlie beamed. "Wow, thanks, Arnold. Thanks, Helga."

Helga and Arnold smiled and spoke at the same time. "You're welcome, Charlie." They shared a laugh at speaking in unison like that.

A grinning Charlie stood up from Arnold's bed enthusiastically. "Alright, I'm gonna go get started right now shopping for some non-edible chocolate stuff. I can't wait! This might even help me get through Halloween with hardly a scratch!" He gave them both an appreciative wave. "Thanks, guys, I really do appreciate this, really. I know I can kick the habit for sure! I'll let you know how things are starting out in a day or two. Have a good night!" He started to walk confidently toward Arnold's door.

"Uh, Charlie, before you go, can I ask you just one more thing?" Helga suddenly said, looking at him curiously.

Charlie turned around and nodded. "Sure, Helga. What is it?"

Helga replied with interest, "You said something kind of upset you when you were little and that chocolate made you happy again, and that's why you became so focused on it. If you don't mind me asking, what was the thing?"

"Oh." Charlie frowned a little. Then he looked down and shrugged and replied, "My nanny left us to move away. And…she was my best friend in the house sort of, so I missed her a lot…But she gave me a bag of chocolates before she left and told me to be good and be happy…and that's when I started needing chocolate to be happy." He looked up at her again.

Helga was very still for a moment. Her face didn't show any clear expression. Then she took a breath and did her best to smile. "A-Ah, I see. Um…thank you for sharing with me, Charlie. I'll make a mental note of that situation for the next time we talk."

Charlie nodded and smiled. "Okay. Thanks again, Helga. Bye for now."

And then Charlie slipped out of the door, leaving Arnold and Helga alone.

There was just silence at first.

Arnold knew something was up with Helga. He started gently with just her name. "Helga…are you alright?"

She looked down now, seeming pensive. Something in her face twitched a little.

Arnold moved closer alongside her. He placed his hand atop hers on the bed. He spoke softly. "Are you remembering when you were little and how your parents left you alone to go to preschool?" He squeezed her hand and moved close, frowning too. He knew that memory was a very deep wound to Helga, even if it had ended with her meeting and falling in love with him.

Helga swallowed. She shrugged a little. "I…" she began quietly, "A little, but that's not…all." She almost smiled but also wiped a quick tear from her eye. "You're right, Arnold, I'm…not the most obvious person to want to take advice from, I…Sometimes I've done such bad things, Arnold. I don't even know why…" She leaned against him, and though she was quiet Arnold felt a few tears hit his jeans. He moved even closer, gently holding her with his other arm as he continued to hold her hand with the first one. She went on. "My nanny, Arnold…I did that bad thing to her, remember? Stealing... And she was my friend…She was strict with me but she cared about me. Reminded me of you actually." She glanced up at him a little. Then she let out a breath and managed to separate herself from him a little. "S-Sorry…" she wiped the tears away from her face, "I don't know why that just got to me. It's been so long and she's even forgiven me, I just…I don't know. The memories about my childhood and the memories about that kind of clashing together did it, I guess." She shrugged, trying to smile again.

Arnold still looked at her with a concerned but supportive frown though. "Do you want to talk about it a little, Helga?"

Helga swallowed and looked away, then she glanced hesitantly at him over her shoulder. "Yeah. If you won't feel too ashamed of me to talk back to me, Arnold."

Arnold took her hand and squeezed it again. He looked into her eyes. "I'm never ashamed of you, Helga. I'm here to help you." He smiled softly. "I'm your devoted ice cream, remember?"

She smiled a little too, almost laughed. She squeezed his hand back. "Okay, Arnold. Let's….Let's get some real ice cream downstairs and then maybe we can talk about it."

Arnold nodded. "Okay, Helga." He stood up and pulled her up along with him. They headed toward his doorway. "And I think you did a wonderful job helping Choc—erm, Charlie, Helga. Will you…help me give advice sometimes like that if you have any ideas and the other person really needs it?"

Helga smiled more and nodded. "Sure, Arnold. Anything you need…I'm here to help you too."

They moved closer to each other as they headed downstairs together.

Helping Chocolate Boy was a great first project (and first success) for them both.


Christmas Presents

This Christmas Arnold was feeling particularly generous. It was a very wonderful time of year in general, of course, which always appealed to his optimistic and caring nature. But this year he just had an extra little spring in his step and an extra devotion to making sure he really did get the perfect presents for everybody. For Gerald he had gotten some bongos for him to use in his spoken word performances. For Phoebe he had gotten a very nice carved wooden chess set. For his Grandma he had gotten a small bonsai tree for her dojo. For his Grandpa he had gotten a new Chinese checkers set. And for his Secret Santa present among the boarders (this time he had gotten Suzy) he had gotten a CD of Salsa music (he had asked Helga for advice on what to get her, and Miriam had overheard, which had led to some kind of memories about salsa lessons starting at the beach and continuing now, and…Arnold had found the whole thing a little funny while Helga had seemed pleasantly mortified as usual and had calmly made him swear never to speak of this again as soon as her mother had left the room so…yeah, Salsa music for Suzy.)

Anyway, speaking of Helga, even though it was only a couple of days before Christmas Eve, her present still wasn't done yet. He had recalled how much she had liked the one-month anniversary present of the Dino and Nancy Spumoni album that they had enjoyed together autographed by Nancy, and he had also come to find out that Dino and Nancy were releasing a Christmas album this year by surprise the day before Christmas Eve. So Arnold had sort of gone to Dino Spumoni and asked him if he could buy an advance copy of this forthcoming album for a 'special friend' of his, and he had also asked, if it wouldn't be too much trouble, if Dino and his daughter could autograph it, and Don Reynolds too since he had done the melodies. Dino (and Don, who had happened to be over at the time apparently—they were getting better about hanging out again more and more) had of course agreed and even offered Arnold the advance copy for free, though not after a little good-natured ribbing to Arnold about having a special lady friend now. The only snag had been that Nancy was in New York at the moment promoting the brand new edition of her line of snow boots, which would only be released at midnight on December 23rd, so she wouldn't be home until Christmas Eve morning. But, if Arnold wouldn't mind waiting, he could swing by that day and pick up the record for Helga. Arnold had, of course, agreed and been very grateful for all of their help, and now was just waiting to return to Dino's house the day after tomorrow for Helga's present.

At this particular moment, however, thoughts about Helga's gift weren't really paramount in Arnold's mind. His focus was on the gift he was delivering a bit early right now, and to one Mr. Bailey of the Federal Office of Information. After all, Arnold was feeling particularly generous and cheerful this year, and Mr. Bailey had helped make last Christmas pretty merry (Arnold was never quite sure how Mai Hyunh had found her way to the Sunset Arms that night, but he had always figured the only thing that made sense was that Mr. Bailey had had a change of heart and had searched for her even without the getting those snow boots he had wanted for his daughter), and he had even helped Arnold save the neighborhood by sending him and Gerald on the right trail of the Tomato Document (even if it had mostly been to save Dolly's Donuts). Speaking of donuts, Arnold had a box full of a dozen fresh Dolly's Donuts in one hand as he walked down the hallway of the Federal Office of Information now. He also had another surprise. You see, Arnold really was grateful to Mr. Bailey for his help with some things over the last year…and also Arnold had just received the annual Christmas card that Mr. Smith, of all people, always sent to the boarding house each year…and, so, long story short, he'd had Gerald call in a favor from Fuzzy Slippers, who had in turn managed somehow to get a message to the elusive Mr. Smith (head of Satellite Industries…which Arnold had a pretty good idea had some ties to the government and the Federal Office of Information, as Fuzzy Slippers had later confirmed). The message, in the form of a letter from Arnold, had been simple enough: Arnold wished Mr. Smith a happy Christmas, he wanted to let him know that his room was always still free if he ever wanted to visit the extended family again, and he wanted to impose on him for one small favor in light of the holiday season. Mr. Smith clearly had the ability to pull some serious official strings, and there was a man at a certain federal office who had helped their extended family last Christmas but who seemed very overworked a lot…so Arnold had asked if Mr. Smith would make it so Mr. Bailey could have Christmas Eve and Day off as part of Arnold's present to the bureaucrat. Mr. Smith had sent back an affirmative response along with wishes of love to his extended family and a promise to try visiting soon if possible.

So now Arnold was on his way with a box of donuts to tell Mr. Bailey that he was going to have Christmas Eve and Day off…(and a little more thanks to Mr. Smith's generosity…) (and with pay…), and to just wish him a happy holiday.

Hearing voices in Mr. Bailey's office as he approached it, though, Arnold paused and chose to wait in the hallway for a moment. If Mr. Bailey was working, he did not want to interrupt him. He would just wait for his meeting to be over or for his client to finish.

It was when the sound of the voice (it was her softer tones, her more reserved speech, and he only got that from her sometimes so it took him a moment to recognize it) turned out to prove that Helga G. Pataki was its owner that Arnold didn't just wait quietly but listened intently instead. What in the world could Helga be doing here, after all?

"—but my point is, I need you to not say anything. Because he's coming—I know that little Football Head is coming. He's been spreading more Christmas cheer lately than a sugar plum fairy on an eggnog bender, and I know he's getting you a yuletide present too. I know you think it's funny and that it really doesn't matter, but I'm serious…if he brings up the Mai Hyunh thing, you CANNOT tell him. Please…" Helga G. Pataki, wrapped in her purple parka and red snow hat and sitting on the edge of Mr. Bailey's desk, looked at Mr. Bailey very sternly and very seriously…but also with a very real degree of tenderness and sincerity.

Mr. Bailey had been smiling a little but then he just looked a touch bored. It wasn't his fault really—he was just such a bureaucrat, and at this point in the conversation he had more interest in getting through the pile of spreadsheets in his inbox than trying to understand why this little girl was back in his office again and why she was so nervous that her little strange-headed friend would find out she had talked to him last Christmas. Kids…. He had never been very good with kids. He just didn't understand them too well. Though last time this particular kid had talked to him, she had seemed a lot more like an adult than he could have imagined a nine-year-old could be. And she really wasn't asking much from him right now. And it was Christmas after all. And she had made his daughter happy with those boots…. And maybe he was a little ahead on those spreadsheets, come to think of it. "Alright, Alright…" Mr. Bailey pushed his chair back a little and nodded to Helga, "I won't say anything to Arnold. What, is he your little boyfriend or something?" He smiled a little. Kids and their crushes.

Helga was normally very capable at maintaining a no nonsense, professional, and quite commanding air when in business situations and with adult. But Mr. Bailey really did have her over a barrel. And his question, however rhetorical it might have been, had caught her off guard. "Yes, he is," she replied softly, blushing a lot. "But he doesn't have to know every detail about my past. The Mai Hyunh thing was a deal between you and me—you got my Nanc…you got Nancy Spumoni snow boots for your daughter, I stayed up all night helping you pull off that missing person's search, I even gave you the address for where the girl needed to go, and honestly I think all of that extra work was worth even more than the pair of snow boots, so you owe me a little." She tried to be stern, but then looked sincere again. "Just don't tell him, alright? It's a secret. And it's important to me…He actually still believes in miracles…I don't want him to know the miracle was just me." Helga was quiet for a moment. Then she let out a breath and added much more casually, just trying to get Mr. Bailey to agree and move on already, "And I promise I'll buy you Dolly's Donuts every morning for a month if you'll just keep my name out of anything the Football head might bring up about last year, okay? Deal?" She sighed and held out her hand to him, clearly waiting for an answer.

Mr. Bailey just looked at her curiously. Then he scratched his head. "You kids sure take things seriously. You know, when I was your age, all I cared about was the normal stuff—ice cream and stickball and my stamp collection. But he's in here saving neighborhoods and you're in here finding missing daughters and keeping secrets…" He sighed and shook his head. 'Those kids should relax while they can,' he thought to himself. Then he looked back at Helga and finally nodded. "But alright, I won't say a word to Arnold, no donuts required even. I promise."

Helga smiled, finally seeming at ease. "Thanks, mack, I appreciate it. And I promise you won't be getting any more surprise visits from me for holiday person searches anymore." She grinned.

Mr. Bailey smiled a little. At least these kids were kind of funny sometimes even if they did occasionally ask the bureaucratic moon of him. "Alright, alright, enough now. I won't tell. Now shouldn't you be out building a snowman or throwing snowballs at my car or eating Christmas cookies? For Pete's sake, you're only ten. Enjoy it while you can!" He started to shoo her out of the office playfully.

Helga just rolled her eyes but finally popped off of his desk and started across the room. "Yeah, yeah, I'm going." Helga turned around in the doorway and smiled at him. "Thanks, Mr. Bailey. And merry Christmas."

"Merry Christmas to you too, Helga," he called out with a little wave.

Helga pushed open the door when she went out and of course had no need to look behind where the door swung out…where Arnold was hiding with his box of donuts.

Both he and the donuts got a tiny bit crushed by her opening the door but otherwise no major damage to speak of.

Back in the office, Mr. Bailey just shook his head as he watched Helga go. Then he turned back to his desk and yawned and stretched up. He glanced at his inbox. Not too many more spreadsheets to get through. He could probably finish them tonight if he put in a few hours overtime. Of course, there would be a fresh new stack twice as long come tomorrow, and that would take up his entire tomorrow and Christmas Eve. He sighed. "Oh well, better get to work…" he mumbled to himself and then turned back to his keyboard.

It was then that Arnold chose to approach.

He shuffled out from behind the door and shuffled into Mr. Bailey's doorway. "Mr. Bailey?" he started kind of quietly.

Mr. Bailey blinked in surprise and then looked at Arnold, an eyebrow raised. How long had… "Arnold! E-Erm…that's your name, right, kid?" He smiled a little…but then the look on the young boy's face told him Arnold knew everything. Mr. Bailey sighed deeply. It really was a little sad—that girl had seemed to care so much about Arnold not knowing all of the things she had just been talking to him about.

"Merry Christmas, Mr. Bailey." Arnold put down the donut box. "I heard Helga, Mr. Bailey," he admitted.

Mr. Bailey rubbed a temple and shook his head. "Arnold, you know, I've been married almost thirty five years, and one thing women hate is when you eavesdrop on them, and especially when you spoil their surprises."

Arnold blushed and swallowed a little. Then he grabbed an extra chair and sat down on it. "Mr. Bailey, tell me everything about Helga and the snow boots…please. I promise it's okay, and I promise not to tell her you told." Then Arnold smiled slightly and added, "And thanks for finding Mai. I wasn't sure if that was you or not."

Mr. Bailey sighed, glancing at his inbox. "Arnold, believe me, I'd love to share all the details with you, but I've got the whole rest of this stack to get through, and another one twice the size of the original pile coming along tomorrow, and I'll be lucky if I finish by midnight on Christmas Eve."

Arnold just smiled more and stood up, placing a little pink and grey memo on Mr. Bailey's desk. "Actually, as part of your Christmas present, I got you off for tomorrow through new year's and a few days after…with pay. I hope that's alright, Mr. Bailey."

Mr. Bailey just sat there frozen for a moment. Then he grinned and even laughed a little. "Oh, Arnold, that's a good one. No one would ever okay me doing…um…" He had started to read the memo. And it looked very official and real and everything…

"Um, I-I know this guy named Mr. Smith a little… He pulled some strings and arranged it. I hope that's okay," Arnold explained humbly.

Mr. Bailey seemed to read the memo a few times to take in its message, and then he smiled widely. "You mean...the holidays off? No final spreadsheets to…Oh Arnold, this is…" He looked back at the boy with such gratefulness, but then blinked and had to ask, still reeling a bit (it had been DECADES since he'd had Christmas off, after all), "But, still, how did you manage…?"

Arnold just gave a small, humble shrug. "I still believe in miracles…. Don't you, Mr. Bailey?" He gave the older man a meaningful smile.

Mr. Baily just blinked and looked at Arnold with such…awe.

Arnold started to feel a touch shy and embarrassed. He brought for the donut box now to help break the ice. "Oh and I got you a dozen of Dollies Donuts. Bear claws and glazed and ones with sprinkles—everything you like."

Mr. Bailey's jaw actually fell now.

Arnold smiled warmly and shrugged. "Like Helga said, I'm spreading a lot of Christmas cheer this year." Then his tone became a touch more sincere, and he added, "But mostly I wanted to thank you. I figured you must have had something to do with finding Mr. Hyunh's daughter, and then you helped Gerald and me find the Tomato Document so that we could save the neighborhood. I just wanted to make sure you had a good Christmas as part of all of that."

Mr. Bailey was just quiet for a moment. Then he looked down at his desk a little, rubbing one of his temples. He sighed deeply. "Look, Arnold…? I'm…I'm sorry last year that I didn't want to help you without the snow boots and that I snapped at you a little and sent you and your other friend packing that night even after you guys did my Christmas shopping for me. You're young, you have freedom and energy and a whole life ahead of you. Me, I get crammed in a cubicle six days a week, I've got bills to pay, and I started going bald at 29. I'm a little on edge most of the time." Then he looked at Arnold again. "So…thank you for the presents. I appreciate them. And…I'll tell you about that Helga girl. But I've really got to warn you, Arnold," he added, "I don't think she's going to be happy if you confront her about this. She's a tough cookie—I think she's gonna get angry and take it out on you big time."

Despite the warning though, Arnold (of course) just smiled a little more. "It's okay, Mr. Bailey. I don't mind if she does a little. And you're welcome. And thanks…. Do you have time now to tell me?"

Mr. Bailey nodded. "Yeah, sure, if this really is the only work I have to get through, then I'm all yours." He stretched a little and grabbed a donut. "Help yourself, Arnold." Arnold grabbed a glazed donut and waited eagerly but with patience for Mr. Bailey to start. "Well…" the older man began nostalgically between bites of a bear claw, "It was late that night, a while after you'd left the office. The Christmas party here was over and I was just locking up myself when all of a sudden that Helga girl comes dashing up the stoop with a pair of Nancy Spumoni snow boots giftwrapped. Still don't know how she managed to get those…She told me later it was a Christmas present she didn't want, but the girls were crazy for those boots last year, so I don't get that. Anyway she said the snow boots were for me and that we had to find that missing person you were looking for right now! But it was so late and so cold, I told her I was going home now no matter what. Then she…" Mr. Bailey had paused, partly because he had finished his donut…partly because what Helga had said, despite the lateness and the cold and his exhaustion of that Christmas Eve night, has struck him to the core as a person…The thing Arnold had just referenced. "She said that…I was being cold…and that I had a chance to do the right thing and spend all night trying to find that girl with her. Or I could go home…and then you wouldn't believe in miracles ever again… So…"

Arnold…touched quite a bit himself already…just nodded softly and proceeded to listen very intently to Mr. Bailey's story.

After this encounter, Arnold would make several phone calls and cash in all the favors he had to Dino Spumoni. But it would be absolutely worth it and then some.


"Arnold, it's Christmas Eve and it's dark out and it's freezing and it's about to snow…don't you want to be inside with your wacky but lovable family exchanging more gifts and drinking hot chocolate while your Grandma actually plays Christmas carols on the piano for a change this year?" Helga G. Pataki asked her beloved Arnold as they sat on the lounge chairs on his rooftop, totally exposed to the December cold and night. Helga wrapped her arms around her purple parka more and nestled her head down into it, allowing her long, loose hair to help her scarf keep her warm.

Arnold, just sitting there in his winter jacket looking casual enough and not seeming to mind the cold much, shrugged with a warm smile. "We can do that later. Besides, I wanted to give you your Christmas present in private."

Helga smirked a little and blushed. "Arnold, if it's an actual gift, you know I prefer opening them on Christmas morning…. I mean, I don't mind taking the occasional peek beforehand, but I like the actual opening on that morning. I appreciate the Christmas Eve tradition your family's got going though of course, Arnold." She blushed a little more and went on, "And if it's just kisses, we could do that just as easily in your room as here…" She leaned a little closer to him.

Arnold just remained casual and calm as ever, though. He reached under his lounge chair and pulled out a thinly sized gift-wrapped box. "Here you go, Helga…. You can open it whenever you want."

Helga blinked in surprise and took the thin box. She looked down at it curiously, and then looked up at Arnold with a smile. "Oh…alright, I can't resist—can I really open it now?" She smiled hopefully.

Arnold nodded. "Of course, Helga. I was hoping you would, actually. Merry Christmas."

Helga grinned and was instantly at her present. "I'll swing by with your present tomorrow morning after breakfast, Football Head," she assured him as she eagerly worked her way through the wrapping to the gift underneath. "I can't wait to see if you like it…" 'Totally sewed him a scarf by hand—he'll eat something like that up, sentimental little shrimp.' She giggled mentally to herself in anticipation of seeing Arnold's response to her present tomorrow morning, a gift which she had been working on for a month straight now actually.

"I'm sure I'll love it, Helga," Arnold assured, still smiling. He was obviously very happy that she was about to see (part of) her present right now.

And indeed, Helga finally sat there now with an exposed gift. An album—Dino and Nancy Spumoni's duet…no, wait…this was different…Oh, wow, it was their new Christmas album! But that hadn't even come out until yesterday, and every store in the city had sold out of every copy within an hour! And…oh, this album was autographed by Dino and Nancy too, just like their first compilation album was that Arnold had given her! And Don Reynolds had even autographed it too! "Oh Arnold…" she cooed softly, her eyes wide with surprise and then flying up to meet his, "This is…great, Football Head! I really wanted to listen to this, and you even got it autographed again. Thank you." She smiled so appreciatively at him.

Arnold smiled warmly back at her. "You're welcome, Helga. A-And, yeah…I-I know Dino Spumoni pretty well, so him and Nancy and Don were really happy to sign another album for yo—Oh!" Helga had flown over to his lounge chair at this point to wrap him in a big, warm hug and with a big, warm smile plastered on her face.

She just squeezed Arnold tightly as could be and then pulled back with a big smile. "Arnold, it was so sweet of you to call in another favor for me like this. And seriously, this is so boss." Helga sat up a bit and looked down to the record again with a big grin. "I love Nancy Spumoni. I can't wait to listen to her together again. Thanks, Football Head, this is such a good Christmas gift. Really. Thank you." She seemed truly happy.

Arnold just smiled at her…and then he smiled more.

Helga was back to admiring her record, meanwhile. Then it seemed to her that Arnold hadn't said anything for a bit, and so she finally glanced up at him again. "Sheesh, no 'you're welcome', Football Head?" She grinned a little. "Crimeny, I guess all of the goody two shoes Christmas cheer you've been spreading to everyone else couldn't help but make even a polite guy like you slack off a lit—"

There was the sound of someone climbing up the fire escape.

Helga's smile fell and she sat up straight. After all, to the best of her knowledge she and Arnold were the only ones who used the fire escape (Grandpa had expressly banned the boarders from using it ever since they had all tried using it at once and had broken it last year during the tutoring fiasco), and Gerald and Phoebe were clearly at their own houses enjoying Christmas Eve with their own families. So who the heck… "Arnold, someone's coming up here," she announced, looking at him with a touch of concern. 'Oh boy, ANY yuletide burglar is gonna have to answer to old Betsey! And the Five Avengers should probably be a part of this too! This is my first Christmas with Arnold, NOTHING is allowed to ruin this!'

Arnold just stood up, though, and then reached out and took her hand. "I know. Come on, we've got company, dear."

Helga blushed softly, but stood up nonetheless, putting her record aside on the lounge chair. "A-Arnold, what is it, seriously?" she asked almost shyly as he led her closer to the ledge of the roof. It might have been silly, but the 'dear' thing always got to her. She felt like they were married when he called her that.

Arnold just shrugged, stopping them a few feet from the place where the fire escape met the roof. "Somebody else has a present for you. I hope you like it."

Helga just looked at the empty space of roof with much confusion.

Then…was that…Dino Spumoni? Yes, Dino Spumoni ascended Arnold's fire escape and came up onto his roof.

The old singer stood up and leaned against a pane of Arnold's skylight for a moment, panting a bit despite the cold as he remained there for a moment dressed in an overcoat, a warm green sweater, and tan pants with snow boots. "A-Arnold…for crying out loud, kid…you gotta get an escalator on that thing, you know what I'm saying? I'm getting too old for…these shenanigans, kid."

Arnold smiled, rubbing the back of his neck a touch sheepishly. "Sorry, Dino. But thanks for coming up that way so you could surprise her."

Dino let out one more puff of air and finally seemed to have caught his breath again. He straightened up and couldn't help smiling a little himself. "Eh, don't worry about it. I just gotta get back in shape." He held his stomach jokingly. "Gotta work in a few more laps around the gym."

Then another person came up onto the roof from the fire escape, this one with much more ease and grace and style than her predecessor. "Yeah, Dad, that and quit having Ziti al Forno and cheap Chianti and Cannolis every night for dinner." The young woman stood up and straightened her red snow parka, brushing some flakes from her shoulders. "I think I need to spend more time at home so that I can make sure you're eating right." She smirked and brushed her long, curly black hair behind her ears with one hand. Her other hand held a small satchel.

Dino just rolled his eyes with a smile and glanced at the young woman beside him. "Hey, I eat fine—ziti, chianti, cannoli, that's a good Italian meal, Nancy. Mediterranean diet."

Nancy Spumoni just sighed and rolled her eyes. "That settles it, I'm definitely spending more time at home. I don't care where my agent thinks I 'need' to go to promote the fashion line."

Helga had literally been all but plotzing watching this whole exchange: her jaw hung open and she gripped her record so hard her knuckles were white, and now she just, she just…

Nancy Spumoni turned to Helga G. Pataki. "Hi there, you two. Let me guess…you're Arnold," she glanced at Arnold, who smiled and nodded at her, then she looked back at Helga, "And you must be Helga G. Pataki. I hear you're a very big fan of mine. Well, it's a pleasure to meet you, Helga G. Pataki." And then Nancy Spumoni knelt down a little and held out her hand.

Helga just…just… "Arnold, Nancy Spumoni just said hi to me and she's holding out her freaking hand…" she mumbled quickly to the boy beside her, wide eyed the whole time she spoke.

Arnold chuckled a little. "Yeah, it's kind of a funny story. You see, I—"

"Arnold, shut up, Nancy Spumoni is seriously standing here on Christmas Eve, saying hi and holding out her hand to me, what should I do?!" Helga had yet to move or blink or breath at all.

Arnold did his best not to laugh at her stunned reaction. "Um…maybe you could shake her hand and say hi back."

Helga blinked at that reply and then scowled a tiny bit and elbowed Arnold. "Arnold. Do not get cheeky, this is NANCY freaking SPUMONI." Helga swallowed and cleared her throat and then pushed some of her hair behind her ears and finally held out her own hand and managed to grip Nancy Spumoni's (after only two or three failed attempts to do so). "Hi, I, yeah, I-I'm Helga G. Pataki…and you're Nancy Spumoni…Pleasure to meet you, heh…" Helga smiled, felt very flustered, and then went on, still kind of reeling, "I'm sorry I'm acting like such a spazz, I promise I'm normally much, much cooler than this." And then she sighed in delight and envy and added, "Ugh, I think your style is so boss." And Nancy really was dressed pretty awesomely—the red parka turned out to be red leather with several silver zipper pockets, underneath that she was wearing a pink cream colored sweater as well as a red leather knee-length skirt, black leggings, and of course an official pair of Nancy Spumoni snow boots—this year's edition! Helga couldn't help but feel a pang of jealousy. She would never be able to afford those snow boots on her own, and now she could never ask her parents for a pair—her mom had put so much effort into getting her a pair last year that she just didn't have the heart to tell Miriam she had given them away. Oh well, not the worst predicament she had ever found herself in of course, but still…Nancy Spumoni was so edgy, so independent, so fierce, so cool, so in charge and so tough yet feminine and unafraid to be nice and soft because she didn't care at all what other people thought of her. Helga normally did not care in the least about famous people…but she really liked the image of Nancy Spumoni.

Nancy Spumoni just smiled and gave a little bow. "Thank you, Helga. I like your style too." She looked to the top of Helga's head. "That ribbon is so classic. I like it. And the pink suits you well." She winked down at the ten-year-old girl.

Helga just grinned and then she sighed and put a hand to her forehead and leaned against Arnold a lot. "Oh boy this is the best Christmas EVER." She laughed warmly.

Arnold laughed too. "Yeah, that's sort of what I was going for." He turned back to Dino and Nancy. "Thank you so much for coming over. I really, really appreciate it."

Dino just smiled and waved him off. "Eh, it was the least I could do after all that stuff you went through with helping me fake my death. Besides, I wanted to meet this girlfriend of yours." Dino looked at Helga and then his eyes opened a little wider. "Oh I remember her, she goes to your school, right?"

Helga smiled and straightened up again, holding out her hand. "Hi, Spumoni, nice to officially meet you." They shook, and then Helga went on to explain with a grin, "Arnold and I kind of fell in love over your music. The whole thing was very mushy. Oh and thanks to both of you for signing your new record for me—I love it." Helga smiled brightly and appreciatively.

Dino smiled back. "Oh, you're welcome, Helga. And call me Dino."

Nancy nodded. "Of course, Helga, and we were happy to do it: anything for someone special to Arnold. After all, I know how good a friend Arnold's been to my dad—helping him with the fake death fiasco, always listening to his problems…making him be friends with Don again so that I can finally bring my fiancée around to family dinners without a spectacle." She looked at her father with a smirk.

Arnold and Helga both looked a touch confused now. Nancy glanced back at them, saw their clear uncertainty, and explained brightly, "Don Jr. is Don Reynolds son, and he and I have been dating on and off since college…which soon became secret dating after Dad and Don Sr. had their little falling out. And then the mood struck me over the summer and I said to myself, eh, what the heck, and proposed to Donny, and he was all for it. And thanks to you, Arnold, now we can actually plan the wedding without our father's comically threatening to disown us if we go through with getting hitched." She smiled warmly.

Helga just beamed a little at this information and glanced at her boyfriend. "See, Arnold, I told you—she is so cool." And then she laughed a little bit and whispered to him, "And I guess that 'proposal' bug was really going around this summer."

Arnold blushed a lot and rolled his eyes to the side. "Helga…"

Helga just laughed more and looked back to Nancy. "Anyway, congrats, Nancy, that's great. Getting married anywhere awesome?"

Nancy shrugged. "Eh, torn between a volcano rim, an Appalachian peak, and an underwater reception in a coral reef. I gave Donny the options, told him he could pick one but he hasn't decided yet. Those are the three he's got it narrowed down to though."

Helga nodded her approval. "Nice. Very nice." She glanced at Arnold. "Take some notes, Football Head. I want you all ready and set to go when I pick a wedding day for us." She nudged him, knowing he'd get all flustered but also knowing he'd quickly get over it and just smile and loosen up more if anything.

Indeed, Arnold blushed a lot but managed to laugh. "Whatever you say, Helga…" he mumbled softly, giving her the lightest little playful nudge back.

Dino and Nancy couldn't help but share a laugh at the sight of the two kids.

Then Dino blew into his hands to warm them up and addressed the kids once more. "Anyway, it's really getting nippy out here, so Nancy and I were thinking of crashing that Christmas party you got going on downstairs, Arnold, and stealing a mug of hot chocolate each before we headed home to celebrate our own Christmas Eve. Oh, right after we take care of that last thing of course." Dino smiled down at Arnold and winked.

Nancy beamed at the sudden reminder of their final task for the evening. "Oh, right!" She brought her satchel forward. "You know, you've really got some boyfriend Helga. Not only did he come to Dad and me for the album and the autograph and the visit here tonight but he did everything he could to get in touch with me in time to get these for you." Nancy Spumoni pulled out a decent sized present box with a ribbon on it. "Here you go, Helga. Merry Christmas."

Helga blinked in surprise at first. Then, of course, she smiled, reaching out and taking the present like a precious item. "Wow, um…thanks, Nancy." She grinned up at her brightly. "Merry Christmas to you too…A-And to you, Dino." She looked to the older Spumoni with a smile as well.

Dino smiled and nodded. "Merry Christmas to you too, Helga…and you too, Arnold." He gave Arnold a nod as well. Then he turned to Nancy. "Alright, come on, Nancy, seriously, I'm freezing…" He walked over to the roof ledge and started to descend the fire escape.

Nancy laughed and followed after him. "Coming, Dad." Then she glanced back at Helga and Arnold. "Have a good night, you two. And, hey, if it's on a day when you're free I hope you two'll come to the wedding. I'll send an invite here. Enjoy!" She gave them a little salute and then headed down the fire escape as well.

There were a few seconds of silence, and then Helga turned to Arnold. "Arnold, seriously, that…I…and you…oh come here you big lug!" Then she wrapped her free arm around him in a tight hug.

Arnold laughed and hugged her back. "You're welcome, Helga. I just thought all of that would be a really nice surprise for you." Then he pulled back and looked at her eagerly.

"It really was, Arnold. Thanks again." Helga smiled at him…and then noticed his eager look and raised part of her brow. "Um…yes, Arnold?"

He smiled more. "Aren't you going to open your present?"

Helga's grin picked up on one side and she laughed. "Arnold, I already told you, Christmas morning is really more my thing…"

"Please, Helga." He didn't say it playfully or casually…he said it very sincerely, very seriously. "It's important."

Helga blinked at his change in tone. "I…well…I guess if you really want me to, Arnold." 'Eh, why not?' After all, when had Helga ever turned down early presents, really, and especially from a celebrity?

Helga walked over to her lounge chair with a smile and started ripping off the wrapping paper. Arnold followed her and sat down on the lounge chair across from her as she final got the gift open.

Helga paused. She knew it was a shoebox. But she couldn't…

She opened the box.

Inside was an official pair of Nancy Spumoni Snow Boots…This year's latest design, and they were even the special edition version with the silver accents on the red and black, and Nancy Spumoni's signature stitched on the outside of the left boot in gold.

Helga didn't know what to say. She just sat there looking…confused and pensive.

Arnold watched her carefully. He wondered what she was thinking exactly.

Helga still didn't speak though, and so then Arnold prompted softly, "Do you like them, Helga? Nancy Spumoni snow boots…Nancy thought…and I thought…. Do you not like them for any reason?" His tone was very level and casual as he spoke.

"I…" Helga managed, and then she paused. "Um…no, it's not…. It's just…I…" Then she sighed softly and chose her words carefully as she went on… "I don't really think I deserve these, Arnold…" She placed the box with the shoes in it aside with her record and then sat fully back upon the lounge chair, legs pulled up a little, looking a little lost in thought. In her head… 'It's just a coincidence, I know that…but I…this is missing the whole point, isn't it?'

Arnold looked at her with more interest. He leaned closer to her. "Of course you do, Helga," he replied softly. "They're a present. It's Christmas. You deserve them more than anybody else."

"No, I really don't, Arnold," she couldn't help but respond firmly, her head snapping up.

Arnold didn't let the quick reaction catch him off guard though. He spoke back to her in the same firm tone. "And why not, Helga?"

Helga opened her mouth, then looked frustrated, and then she looked down. "Never mind, it's stupid."

"Why not, Helga, why wouldn't you deserve them?" Arnold prompted though, leaning even closer.

"None of your business, Arnold," she managed to say back, though she was clearly starting to seem backed into a corner.

"Helga…I…" Arnold let out a breath. Then he moved to sit beside her on her lounge chair. "You deserve them…. You know that. I…I know that…I know about…Helga, I…" He could barely say it, and he could see she was piecing it together as he spoke and stumbled over his words. "I know what you did last year…"

Her eyes went wide and seemed to almost shine with something near tears, though perhaps it was a trick of the starlight. "N-No, you…" she started.

He cut her off though, softly, explaining… "I overheard…at Mr. Bailey's office…what you said to him…I was coming to bring him his present and…"

Then Helga blinked and scowled, and then she grabbed his collar and yanked is head closer to hers. "Arnold Phillip Shortman, I have TOLD YOU how I feel about the eavesdropping! How could you do that?!"

Arnold blinked, eyes going wide. "H-Helga…" She hadn't grabbed him like this or looked this angry since long before her confession. Had he really upset her so very much? "I'm sorry, I—"

"No, you are not getting out of this! Crimeny, how hard is it to knock or to clear your throat or to just tap at the door and say 'hi'? Just do SOMETHING to let your presence be known so that two people having a private conversation realize the conversation's not so private anymore! What, is this some kind of payback for all the stalking I did to you over the years, hmm?" she shot back at him sarcastically.

She was starting to seem a little too hysterical. Arnold picked up on this. He tried to be soothing, calming, gentle, understanding…"Um…Helga, I really am sorry, but I really don't think it's a big deal. It was just an accident and I didn't want to interrupt you guys and…"

"No, we are talking more about this right now, even if it takes all night," Helga merely insisted hotly, cutting him off once more. "The spying is going to stop!"

Arnold blinked at her serious and demanding tone…but then he started to get what she might be trying to do right now. His eyes went a little half lidded n a dry way. He was starting to know her all too well. "Helga…"

"What?" she shot back with a scowl.

Arnold sighed. "Helga…I think you're making a big deal out of this to avoid talking about the Nancy Spumoni snow boots thing. Am I right?"

Helga blinked and then looked even more frustrated. "Oh…" she let his collar go with a little half push and then leaned back in her chair, looking away from him with a deeper scowl. "Shut up." It was so annoying when he was right—how he could always read through everything to her true intentions now?

Arnold just watched her with a soft look. Then he spoke to her softly. "You deserve the snow boots, Helga. You did a beautiful thing."

"Yeah, yeah, take a picture, it'll last longer…" she just mumbled, avoiding things further.

"Helga," Arnold was a bit sterner now, "I already know, so stop pretending about it, okay? Mr. Bailey told me everything he knew and I pieced together the rest. It's already done."

"But you weren't supposed to know!" Helga sat up again, scowling at him. "And I wasn't supposed to get snow boots. I gave up those snow boots knowing I'd never get another pair and knowing that what I did would be special to you and the only thing I had ever entirely done for no personal gain whatsoever. Now you know so that takes away the 'no personal gain' thing because you're clearly all impressed and in awe of me now, and now I've got the snow boots back and in spades which is like a reward or something. Arnold, this ruins everything!" She threw her arms up in the air.

"No, it doesn't!" Arnold assured, looking into her eyes. She had dropped her hands and he picked one of them up. "You gave up something important to you at the time thinking there really would be no way to get it back, and you did do it for completely selfless reasons—just because I know now that you did it and like that you did it doesn't change that fact. And just because you have the snow boots now doesn't change the fact that back then you sincerely thought you'd never own another pair again. Helga, please, I just wanted to thank you, not just for giving Mr. Hyunh his daughter back but for…for helping me believe in miracles some more." He smiled a little. "I know this optimism thing of mine looks like a cinch but I make it look easier than it is. Little boosts from time to time like Mr. Hyunh getting Mai back help a lot." He even laughed warmly a little.

Helga listened to it all. And, though she was still quite frustrated with him about this situation…she also knew that he was right in this point…that it was alright that someone had found out about her selfless deed and that she had someone been given back what she had given up in the first place a year ago. She knew, as Arnold was saying, that her intents and thoughts at the time were what was most important, and that whatever had managed to happen right now didn't negate the goodness of what she had done. So she thought for a moment and then sighed. Then she squeezed Arnold's hand and looked to his eyes. "Arnold…I know all of that…and I understand what you mean." Then she smiled softly. "And I do appreciate the present, my love, so much, it was all so very kind of you…Really, it…it was beautiful of you to actually…" Her eyes seemed teary again…then she added, her smile falling a little "But you have to promise me something, Arnold—I mean it. One thing."

Arnold, very seriously absorbed in her response and sudden request, nodded. "Yes, Helga. Anything…"

She looked into his eyes. "Do not tell Mr. Hyunh or Mai what I did. I don't want them to know."

Arnold looked a little hesitant for a moment.

Helga spoke so sincerely. "Please, Arnold. That would really ruin everything for me. Everyone would be acting so grateful toward me…I'd hate it, Arnold. Please, this just stays between me and you and away from the boarders, alright?"

Arnold listened to her plea, and then he understood and nodded. "Okay, Helga. If you want, I promise I won't tell Mai or Mr. Hyunh what you did."

"Thanks, Arnold…" She squeezed his hand a little again.

There was a moment of peaceful Christmas silence.

Then Helga smiled and let out a laugh, glancing at her beloved, "You know that to make up for you giving me this incredibly sentimental and heartfelt gift, I'm going to have to get you back in the only way I know how…" She leaned in closer. "Next year, you've gotta let me buy you a big, fancy, flashy gift, and you've got to accept it and you've got to like it whether it's some high-tech video game or some advanced electronic thing for your room or even a…a…a robot butler that does all of your chores for you and makes you root beer floats every night before bed. Alright?" Her grin picked up on one side.

Arnold blinked at first. "Helga, you don't have to…. I…" But then he blushed and smiled as she just moved closer and closer to him, eyes wide and lashes fluttering and soft hair gently dotted with snow…Who could resist? He laughed a little and nodded. "Oh, um…okay, Helga. If you want to."

Helga just giggled warmly at his touch of shyness and attraction and at how he had melted in response to her flirting.. "Very good answer, Football Head." She winked then gestured over to the skylight. "Now come on, let's get my snow boots and record stowed in your room and then get our butts to the end of that Christmas party downstairs. Dino's right—it's freezing out here!"

Helga got up and took Arnold's hand and then began to pull him up too, and Arnold just smile and followed along with her. She was so warm and sweet and he knew he had picked the perfect companion for himself with her, he just knew it.


It was a few days after Christmas and New Year's, and Mr. Bailey, now standing once again in the familiar hallway of the Federal Office of Information, got out his office keys and opened up his office door (he couldn't remember the last time he'd had to actually LOOK for his keys, but for the first time in forever he'd had two weeks off straight and they had been too glorious to care one hair about keys). He unlocked and opened the door…

And there in Mr. Bailey's chair sat Helga G. Pataki with her legs crossed, her arms crossed, and a look of preteen wrath upon her features.

Mr. Bailey blinked in surprise for a moment and then there was just silence between the two of them.

Helga spoke first.

"You blabbed all the details about our snow boots to the Football Head, didn't you, Mr. Bailey?" She gave him such a disappointed and infuriated look and shook her head with a 'tisk tisk' sound.

Oh boy…Mr. Bailey knew that look. That 'oh you are in such trouble' look. Helga would make an excellent wife one day. He swallowed and frowned and rubbed the back of his neck. "In my defense…" he put down his hat and coat and brief case, "After I found out he had been eavesdropping, I told Arnold doing that was a bad idea, and I told him that asking me for details about what you did was an even worse idea." He walked over to her. "Believe me, Helga, if he hadn't caught us talking like that and begged to know more and said it was for a really good reason, I wouldn't have told him anything. But he wanted to know, and…not just for himself, but for something for you it seemed like…" He frowned. "I didn't mean to ruin anything you were trying to do. I just wanted to help the kid out. It meant a lot to him."

Helga gave Mr. Bailey a stern look for just a moment longer.

Then she sighed and her face relaxed, her tone becoming much more understanding. "It's okay, I guess. I know you got put in an awkward spot with me leaving and him coming in after overhearing…" She looked at him a touch sheepishly. "Sorry for giving you the third degree at first…" She blushed a little and rolled her eyes to the side. "And, uh…sorry for breaking into your office and picking the lock with a paper clip. I like dramatic entrances." She shrugged, trying to grin a little at the joke.

Mr. Bailey couldn't help smiling a little. She really was kind of funny. No wonder Arnold liked her. "It's okay." He went behind his desk. "Could I have my chair back now though?"

Helga smiled a little more and got up, stepping aside. "All yours. And I hope you had a good, relaxing Christmas and New Year's, Mr. Bailey. Arnold told me about getting you some time off. And I agreed with him, you deserve it."

Mr. Bailey smiled more as he sat down in his familiar chair. "Yeah, it was really nice. I like my job but…the extra time just helped make things a little better. Even gave me some time to actually spend with the family."

Helga smiled. "Good, I'm glad."

Then there was an awkward silence.

Mr. Baily was expecting Helga to say goodbye…and Helga clearly had something else on her mind.

Helga really had had a favor to ask of Mr. Bailey, one she had been thinking of for a while. But she had wanted to let both of them get through the holidays first. And initially she had been going to wait until there was something definite about travel plans for what she was looking into. But after all the snow boot stuff and Arnold putting in such effort for her (and plus knowing Mr. Bailey would probably be in a good mood after two weeks off), Helga had decided she wanted to ask now. It was very important to her.

Mr. Bailey, meanwhile, was about to open his mouth and ask Helga if there was anything else she wanted, when she suddenly opened her own mouth, letting out a deep sigh beforehand and now looking very hesitant as she addressed him. "Mr. Bailey…I know you just got back from vacation and I know you did me a solid by trying, at least, to keep my secret from Arnold, and I know you probably have a lot of other work to get to but…um…I-I need a favor. I big time need a favor. Time's not an issue or anything, but the favor itself is really, really important." She looked up at him hopefully.

Mr. Bailey blinked, looking back at Helga. "What is it?" He could not look forward to another piece of freelance work to do alongside his actual job. And yet he knew these kids—Arnold and Helga. And they only asked something of another person when the favor was genuinely and sincerely and even life-threateningly important. He waited patiently for Helga to reply to him.

Helga swallowed and then softly but firmly began. "That Mai Hyunh girl we found was someone's lost daughter but…I need you to help me find someone's lost parents, if you can. Or at least a guy who knew his lost parents…Eduardo something…. Arnold's parents are lost, Mr. Bailey. They've been lost for ten years. He barely even remembers them… If you could find anything about them, anything at all…I'd get all the snow boots and donuts in the world for you." She smiled a little, shrugging, trying to lighten the mood, but it couldn't help but be sentimental and just a little sad. "I don't even know if anything'll turn up, I just wanted to take a crack at it. But I've got access to a journal, a map…Maybe you could just try? Please." She looked at him very seriously. "I'll pay you anything you want, it might take me a few installments, but whatever your price is, just name it."

Mr. Bailey paused a moment.

Then Mr. Bailey said very simply, "Helga…you just bring me a donut or two any time you come by and I'll try running your search on these parents and this Eduardo…okay?"

Helga blinked and then her whole face brightened up. "Oh…Oh thank you, Mr. Bailey! Heck, I'll drag Dolly over here personally to fry up donuts for you if you'll help me with this!" She practically beamed! And then her grin picked up a little on one side and she rolled her eyes and added with a grin, "Oh but really, really, really don't tell Arnold about any of this either, okay? It is very, very, very important that this conversation between us stays a secret." She held out a mitten-covered hand to him to shake on it.

Mr. Bailey smiled softly and reached out and shook her hand firmly. "You've got a deal, Helga. Consider it a binding contract."

The two of them parted for now after this encounter.

Mr. Bailey did help Helga, and Helga did bring him donuts here and there. He wasn't able to uncover much that wasn't known already, but a few choice pieces of evidence did help that following summer during a certain South American excursion…And on that excursion Helga was very grateful for any help she and her beloved could get.


Nights in the Jungle

Nights in the jungle of San Lorenzo turned out to be quite different from nights in the city, though a person lacking the experience of both locations might at first assume that night was just night wherever it was.

Nights in the city were full of coolness and a touch of static in the air, cars drifting by, the occasional siren, even a cat in the alley, and it was a quiet room sealed off from all those sounds, more or less…. A little space where one slept and dreamt in cotton sheets set among walls of mortar and brick and wood and glass. Separation, civilization and stability marked the nights in the city.

Nights in the jungle, however, were thick with a kind of damp heat and a permeating perfume of flowers and musk. And the sounds were of slow breathing and night animals and a bit of movement through the treetops. And despite your best efforts to hide amongst some canvas and some palm fronds and a little bit of hewn wood, you were never quite sealed off from it all—the whole atmosphere pervaded everywhere, making outside and inside two parts of the same night. You could gaze directly up into the sky above and never imagine how it could ever become day again.

No wonder Arnold slept under a skylight ceiling back home, having been born in a world such a this one, full of nature and life.

And no wonder, here and now, that Helga G. Pataki couldn't sleep at all.

It was this funny jungle night that was keeping her up at the moment…and of course some other things that were on her mind…. They all suddenly really were on this crazy trip out of the blue (and even assisted by her a little and the information she had gathered through her own efforts and Mr. Bailey's to put them on the right track in their search through this strange South American land): there had been chases and confusion and being lost and being found and a bad guy to defeat and a legend to complete…not to mention her beloved had found his long lost parents. So, of course, it was also very difficult to sleep at a time like this when Helga knew Arnold's mother and father were a mere room away, real and living and breathing, and her beloved was only a room away as well and probably wasn't sleeping much either all things considered. She couldn't imagine the thoughts going through his mind.

She knew the thoughts going through her mind though.

This whole jungle escapade, it wasn't some cute stunt like trying to find Wheezin' Ed's treasure on Elk Island, or some emotional journey like that time the two of them had temporarily sort of run away from home and learned the meaning of Thanksgiving together, heck this wasn't even some foolhardy yet do-gooder risky stunt to save their neighborhood. This was serious trip in a dangerous and even uncharted foreign land—people could get lost here, get hurt here, get sick here, be never heard from again here. And there was a very bad man specifically trying to hurt people here, trying to hurt her beloved's parents…and he probably wouldn't have minded a crack at hurting her beloved.

People could die.

Arnold…

Helga was so grateful Arnold's parents were alright, she was so grateful they had found them. But she wanted to leave and she wanted Arnold to leave with her. She wanted him safe and wouldn't have minded having been safe with him.

It scared her.

She couldn't sleep, all alone in this room that Arnold's parents had set up for her in their hut. Not when so much was at risk. Not when Arnold…oh Arnold…

She felt like crying a little. She had never felt like crying much, even in her darkest moments of trying to get Arnold to love her back…. Sometimes some things with her parents had…. But this was too much. If she could at least be near him…

Helga barely managed to doze off. She wasn't sleeping for long, though, when she gasped and sat up, tears in her eyes and barely able to breathe.

Such an awful dream about the jungle and Arnold and machetes and Arnold being the one to get lost this time and not coming back for years, forever, and never seeing their home again—

She got up. She had to. And she dashed out into the darkness of the main part of the hut and went to Arnold's room.


A little while later there was a light knock on the back of Arnold's parents bedroom door.

Naturally, Miles and Stella hadn't been able to sleep much either. Their son…. Maybe getting to go home…. But there was so much danger… Who could sleep?

So they heard the knock of course. They looked at each other curiously. Then both Miles and Stella got up and opened their door.

There stood their eleven-year-old son in blue pajamas and his little blue hat (they had almost wanted, upon first seeing him again, to point out how small the hat was, but he seemed to like it and it sort of did look good on him so they hadn't had the heart to interfere). Arnold was rubbing his arm and looking a little shy as he stood there in the dimness before them.

Miles smiled a little. Stella smiled too. She looked down at her son. "Oh, hi Arnold. Do you need something?"

Miles nodded. "Yeah, son. " He knelt down a little, rubbing the back of his neck. He had only known Arnold that first year, so he hadn't gotten the chance for much parenting practice and at this point he was kind of rusty to say the least. "Um…did you have a bad dream? Do you want a light to sleep with? O-Or maybe a nice glass of warm milk or a bedtime story? Do you need another blanket or want to sleep in our bed?"

Okay, Stella finally had to roll her eyes and elbow her husband lightly. "Miles, he's not a baby anymore." She looked down at Arnold understandingly (as Miles stood up, rubbing his side with a sheepish smile). "Maybe you're just a little lonely?" Stella addressed her son directly. "You could just spend some time in here sitting up with us if you want."

Arnold smiled kind of proudly but awkwardly but just happily all at the same time. This was a new feeling but a neat feeling, his parents worrying about him…even if they were kind of treating him like he as a little kid, even his mom a bit. He hadn't needed to sleep in an adult's room in a long time. "Um…" Oh boy, this would be awkward, wouldn't it? He rubbed his arm a little more. "Well…no, it's none of…" he cleared his throat, "I-I just wanted you to know that, um…well, Helga, she couldn't sleep and she had a bad dream, so she came to talk to me in my room for a little while. But she fell asleep now in there, but I don't want to wake her up again. So, um…she's going to sleep in my bed and I made myself a little bed on the floor in there. So we'll just spend the night in there together." He looked up at them and smiled a little. "It's okay, we've…sometimes when we're upset we kind of comfort each other." He swallowed. "We're…together. You know, um…together like…two people who care about each other a lot." He sighed and then mumbled, glancing to the side, "I promise we're not going to kiss or anything. This whole trip has just been a little overwhelming for her, and she wanted to spend some time near me." He finished and looked up at them hopefully. "I just wanted to check with you before I let her stay with me, though, since it's your house and since…you're my parents." Saying that last part made him smile—he just couldn't help it.

Miles and Stella just stood there…

Wow.

"Uh…" Miles started, his jaw kind of dropped. "I…well…I guess that's…. Stella?" He looked to Stella with an eyebrow raised.

Stella blinked. "Don't look at me!" she mumbled in a whisper, nudging him again. Then she turned back to Arnold, clearing her throat and smiling again. "Well, um…Arnold, I think that…I suppose that'll be alright…" She wasn't sure but there didn't really seem to be anything wrong with her son's plan of action. It was just strange that the last time she had seen him he had been a baby and she had been a young married woman, and now she was a bit of a seasoned married woman and he was old enough to be very interested in girls himself.

"Do you have honorable intentions for this girl, Arnold?" Miles suddenly asked with a curious grin.

Stella just sighed, bringing a hand to her forehead…trying not to grin herself a little.

Arnold blushed a little and looked down shyly. Then he managed a nod. "Yes. She's special to me."

Miles smiled more and Stella smiled too and shook her head. "Alright, Arnold." She knelt down and put a hand on her son's shoulder. "You let Helga have your bed. But let us at least give you a cot to sleep on in there. It's in the corner in the living room. Then we'll all have a nice breakfast together in the morning."

Arnold smiled. "Thanks, um…mom…mother…mommy…" He quirked his mouth to the side. "Sorry, I'm still not sure what to..."

"Just mom's fine, Arnold," Stella assured with an understanding nod. "Mom and Dad, or anything else that you feel more comfortable with."

Arnold smiled gratefully. "Okay. Goodnight, Mom…" He suddenly came forward and hugged her very tightly then pulled back and turned to Miles. "Goodnight, Dad…" He hugged him too. Then he pulled back and gave them a wave. "And thanks for understanding. Bye!"

Then he dashed off to get the cot and to go back to Helga.

As he left, Miles and Stella just shut their door and then looked at each other.

"You should have a talk with him, Miles." Stella's grin picked up on one side and she gave her husband a bit of a look.

Miles blinked. "Me!? I…oh come on, Stella." He rolled his eyes, blushing a little. "You're telling me I have to go right from changing diapers to that? I was supposed to have a good decade in between to just enjoy playing with my boy, going to ball games and circuses, buying his love with ice cream cones and new toys. Now this just isn't fair." He smirked at her a little and crossed his arms over his chest.

Stella just rolled her eyes, smirking right back at him. "Well, unfortunately, Miles, my love, what's done is done. The last time we saw him his biggest problem was needing new diapers. Now he's sleeping with a girl in his room and having to keep himself from kissing her. Somebody's got to talk to him, and it can't be me—I'm his mom!" She chuckled and tweaked Miles's nose. "Looks like you're it, buster."

"Ow!" Miles rubbed his nose. Then he gave a sheepish sigh and shrugged. "Can't I just pawn it off on my father. Please?" He looked at her playfully but pleadingly.

Stella just shook her head though. "No dice, Miles. As soon as we're home and settled, you talk to your son. Besides…" she moved closer to him, putting her arms around him, looking into his eyes, "we should be grateful for any bonding we can do with him….and that it didn't take until he had his own young son to worry about before we all found each other again…" Stella held very close to Miles. She was starting to cry a little now, quietly and softly…. She had been doing that from time to time ever since this whole crazy mess had begun…and even before of course.

Miles held Stella in return and gently stroked her hair, trying to keep a few tears back himself. "I know…I know, Stella, we'll be very grateful…. We are very grateful…. I know…"

"We get to have breakfast all together in the morning. Isn't that…wonderful?" she whispered softly, so happily, as she lay against his chest.

Miles nodded and smiled softly. "It's perfect, dear, just…perfect. Everything will be okay."

They held each other tenderly before going to bed themselves.

It seemed Arnold would soon get that photo for his 'My Family' picture frame that Helga had made him so long ago for their one-month anniversary. The one he had talked about with her to replace the old one of his parents that was currently in it: a photo of his parents and himself and Helga and his grandparents and Abner and just everyone.


Sleepovers

"Arnold, I just don't understand why you're angry. I mean, sheesh, Football Head, it's been two years and counting since we've been together now. Lighten. Up. Already. Please." Helga G. Pataki crossed her arms over her chest and rolled her eyes at Arnold as she sat beside him on his bed on this lovely Sunday morning like so many other sunny days together—she in her pink bow and pink jumper, he in his signature green sweater with the kilt-like shirttails…though they were both getting a touch taller these days. Just another day in paradise.

Arnold was looking back at Helga with a look that did not suggest any of the amusement or easygoing-ness she clearly felt he should be exhibiting. In fact, he spoke to her quite seriously. "I'm angry because I told you…" he blushed, looking down, "Now that we're starting middle school next month…my parents, a-and even my grandparents just kind of felt that our, um…sleepovers needed to really not happen anymore, at least unless they knew about one happening and we went and slept downstairs in the den. And I TOLD you that: we had a full, calm discussion about this two weeks ago for an hour, we got ice cream afterwards, I'm really pretty sure I was very clear, Helga." He looked at her with a touch of annoyance and finished. "But then last night we're up here listening to music, I fall asleep…and I wake up today with you next to me curled up on my bed."

"A-Arnold, I just…" Helga rolled her eyes to the side with a blush, arms behind her back, propping her up. "Th-the opportunity just seemed golden and, come on, we've been having little 'sleepovers' like these for two years. And we weren't even kissing that much or anything. Is it really SUCH a big deal? Besides, middle school doesn't technically start for two weeks, like you said—I think that let's us off the hook." She smiled brightly, hoping to win him over to her side of things. And seriously…fine, okay, she had technically agreed to no more private sleepovers if it was really going to make Arnold's family (not to mention her own family probably) a bit uncomfortable since the two of them were barely kids or even pre-teens anymore. But there had been this two-week window, this glorious two-week window as the summer after sixth grade had been winding down, and she had seen her opportunity and gone for it. What was wrong with that? Just one last innocent summertime sleepover, on top of the covers, in the daytime clothes, in Arnold's unlocked bedroom…. They had been dating for over two years, could anyone really blame them?

Arnold still gave her that 'serious' look though, and he let out a little sigh now, rubbing his temple. "Helga, we have to tell my parents. And my grandparents. That's the only way to make this better."

Helga went wide-eyed and blushed a lot. "Arnold, come on…" she mumbled nervously. She loved Arnold's family, she freely took gentle ribbing from them about their relationship, she even gave Arnold the occasional peck on the cheek or head or even quick kiss on the mouth in front of his family when the circumstance presented itself. But she didn't like having to talk about her weirdly obsessive compulsions regarding Arnold in front of his family. "Please, don't make me do that." She looked at him sincerely, frowning a little.

Arnold looked at her with sincerity and interest for just a moment. Then he bit his lip and opened his mouth.

Then there was a brisk knock at his door followed by the door opening slightly and Miles's head popping

"Arnold, you awake yet? Breakfast is getting cold, and they're starting to run out of all the good stuff down th—" Miles stopped mid sentence as he laid eyes on Helga and Arnold sitting on the edge of Arnold's bed together.

Now, Miles obviously understood what the situation looked like. But also Arnold pretty much never ever disobeyed either himself, Stella, or Phil or Gertie. Sure, sometimes he would run in five minutes after his curfew and apologize a lot, sometimes he would accidentally sleep in a little late on Saturday morning and get behind on his chores, sometimes he would stay up a bit after lights out on the phone with one of his friends or Helga. But he was a kid and growing up too, no one could expect him to be perfect.

But he had also definitely very gently and very explicitly told his son that Helga could not randomly stay overnight at the boarding house anymore, at least not up here in his room.

Yet that appeared to be the situation Miles had walked in on.

He just looked at his son with a slight frown, but willing to hear explanations. "Arnold…"

Arnold, looking embarrassed and even a touch ashamed, opened his mouth to speak.

But Helga stood up from the bed, walked to the middle of the room, and beat him to it. She stood there with her hands clasped in front of herself and spoke in her most level and sincere voice to Arnold's father. "Miles…Arnold told me last week that he and I couldn't have private sleepovers anymore now that we were going into junior high. He was very clear and very explicit and I told him I understood. Last night we were hanging out, though, and he fell asleep, and I decided to stay for one last sleepover since there's still two weeks left in summer break before we officially begin junior high. I know it was pushing things a lot, and I know it was wrong. And Arnold just finished letting me know that he feels the same way and that he's very upset with me. He also said we had to tell the truth about this. And I figure that's the least I could do since I'm the one who caused the problems. I'm sorry, really. Arnold did everything right, and once again I did everything sort of underhanded-ly. I didn't mean to make anybody uncomfortable. And I'm more than willing to accept any punishment you or the rest of the family want to give me. And I won't try to have any more private sleepovers up here or in my room with Arnold again at this point in our lives. You have my word." She let out a breath and looked up at him with a face that said she would bear anything from being yelled at to having her parents told about her actions to being banished from the house for a month, and all with poise and grace and contrition.

Miles just looked down at her with wide-eyed interest. He had been doing that ever since her speech had started.

And now the room was kind of just silent, and then he realized it was his turn to speak. "Oh! Um…I…" Oh dear—he really preferred to leave the punishing to Stella…Not to mention Helga G. Pataki threw him for a loop sometimes. She had been as astute as a thirty-year-old from the day he had met her—she made these observations sometimes about things that he didn't even realize until they were brought up to him, and she just seemed to know more about life always than any of Arnold's little friends and sometimes even more than Arnold himself (which was saying something because Miles found his son to be a very bright and intuitive kid). And now she had just delivered this dramatic, composed, honest speech taking full responsibility for her actions and stating her expectation and acceptance of any punishment that might come with it. "I…Arnold?" Miles glanced behind Helga at his son, just trying to get confirmation at first, he supposed, that this whole thing was the truth.

Arnold, blushing and looking at his girlfriend with interest, just stood up and sighed and nodded to his father. "Um…yes, that's what happened. But I shouldn't have had her up here so late anyway, I guess. I should have realized something might happen. I'm sorry." He rubbed his arm, looking down.

Helga just sighed and rolled her eyes. "Please ignore Arnold blaming himself for not being psychic. I'm the guilty party." She crossed her arms over her chest and gave Miles a dry look. "I may do things that are a little less than on the up and up sometimes, but when it's something bad or if I get caught I take responsibility for it." She looked up at him very sincerely.

Miles just looked from one kid to the other and back again. Then he sighed. "Arnold, just come down to breakfast, please. Helga…" he looked down at her…Honestly, he couldn't 'punish' her. He had been doing far worse at Arnold's age and had been feeling far less bad about it. And he trusted Arnold and Helga too, and if Helga said she was sorry and wouldn't do it again he knew she wouldn't. He gave her a small smile, "Go out by the fire escape. Come to the front door and knock and I'll let you in for breakfast with us."

Helga blinked, looking at him in confusion. "But Miles, I—"

Miles shook his head. "I'm not going to punish you. You did something, you got caught, you confessed and you said you were sorry and that you weren't going to do it again. And I believe you. And I don't think we have to announce it to anyone right now." He smiled more. "Just come have some breakfast with us." Then he blinked. "Oh and make sure your parents know where you are. They must be very worried." He frowned.

Helga bit her lip and rolled her eyes to the side in a touch of guilt. "Um…actually, I called up Phoebe on our walkie-talkies last night and had her cover for me, tell the folks I was staying at her place. Heh…" She shrugged sheepishly with a grin, then looked down in a touch of guilt again. "Sorry, I won't take advantage of that option anymore. Really."

Miles just sighed and tried very hard not to smile more. The girl was smart. She reminded him a lot of Stella actually. But still he had to try to be a parent right now, so he just nodded. "Alright. But at least call your parents after you come inside and let them know you're stopping by here for breakfast."

Helga looked up at him and nodded with an appreciative smile. "Okay. Thanks." She paused for a second. Then she dashed forward and hugged Miles quickly. Then she briskly went over to Arnold's bed and was out and onto the fire escape soon after.

Miles and Arnold just watched her go.

Arnold turned back to his father. "Dad…thanks for not being hard on her." He looked at his father very seriously. "She won't do it again, I promise. And neither will I."

Miles nodded. "It's okay, Arnold…" He put a hand on his son's shoulder. "I know you just like being together."

Arnold blushed a little bit but nodded. "Yeah. We do." He swallowed. "I-I promise we weren't kissing up here. Well…only just a couple of times. Most of the time we just listened to music and played Chinese checkers." He blushed more.

Miles let out a deep sigh, leading Arnold toward the door now. "I know, Arnold. Now come on, let's go let Helga in…"

They started to head down Arnold's attic stairs together.

"Um…Arnold, son?" Miles then began hesitantly all of a sudden. "Y-You know that the reason your mother and I don't want you and Helga sleeping over together in your room—o-or you in her room—isn't that we don't like Helga or don't trust something about the two of you…" He swallowed and looked down awkwardly. "It's just, you're both growing up now and your, um…your hormones are going to start kicking in and, well…you see, when a man and a woman…"

"Um…Dad?" Arnold interrupted quietly.

They had stopped in their walking by now, standing on the landing of the second floor.

"Y-Yes, Arnold?" asked Miles, red in the face and looking kind of nervous. He knew that right this moment on a brief walk downstairs probably wasn't the most ideal time to be talking to his son about this stuff, but, considering the situation, he figured he should at least start touching upon the subject, especially since he was letting himself get a little overdue with talking to him about—

Arnold swallowed. He was briefly flashing back to looking up the word 'tantric', of all things right now, an act which he had done some time during sixth grade. "Um…we learned a lot about that stuff in sixth grade last year. A-And, um…you know, anything I wasn't quite sure about…well, Helga's a really smart person and she kind of…well, I had to coax it out of her a bit because she felt embarrassed too, but she kind of filled in any of the blanks I wasn't sure about in a very kind of cut and dry way. So I think I know what you mean but…there are probably still a few blanks, so if you ever did want to talk about that, we could…" He let out a deep sigh and added, looking up at his father and biting his lip, "Could it be any other time though? Like any time when Helga's not even close to here and when the two of us have privacy maybe?" He shrugged, glancing away and rubbing his arm. "I get a bit shy about some things sometimes."

Now it was Arnold's turn to have Miles just look at him in wide-eyed confusion.

Arnold raised an eyebrow. "Dad?"

"I…" he sighed, "Wow." He scratched his head.

Arnold looked even more confused.

"Sorry," Miles went on, managing to smile, "It's just…you kids are a lot smarter than I remember being at your age. And a lot more together—I mean, I feel like if I left you and Helga alone to run this boarding house for a month, you'd not only keep the whole thing working but you'd have a fresh coat of paint put on the place, find some way to lower the power bill, and bring in two new paying tenants." He almost laughed a little, shaking his head, and then started walking down the hall with his son again. He put a hand on his shoulder. "Anyway, Arnold, sure, if that would make you more comfortable we can talk about anything you have questions about in private sometime."

Arnold had been a little confused by his father's first statement—he didn't feel nearly that mature or capable yet in his life. But the second thing his father said got through and he smiled appreciatively, though he still blushed a little. "Thanks, Dad."

Miles gave Arnold's hair a little playful ruffle as they headed down the stairs now. "You're welcome, son."

Just then the doorbell rang. They went to answer it and let Helga in together.


Deep Voice and Long Legs

Helga was aware that to some people the way she looked now in her life might seem very attractive and very promising. Honestly, though, 'growing up' had sort of bugged her a little so far, to put it bluntly.

For the most part she could deal with it—her body had been changing ever since she could remember so what were a few new changes thrown into the mix?

Yet, one thing that annoyed her particularly was that she couldn't pull off the pink jumper/white shirt look anymore.

She had always liked that outfit—comfortable, durable, signature, and it had weathered quite a few of the nearly psychotic stunts she had pulled as a kid well.

But sadly the jumper's day was over now.

Her legs had just gotten so…ridiculously long!

Helga sighed as she rested back on Arnold's bed, waiting for him to finally meet her up here after he finished collecting the rent so that they could go on their date to walk around the boardwalk and watch the sunset off the pier. Arnold had been off on a camping trip with his parents for two weeks so she had really, really been looking forward to this today. But meanwhile, as she waited, she stared at her legs, housed in pink cotton pants now, coupled with a red belt and a soft, white cotton shirt. Those legs just seemed to go on forever, and it annoyed her (though other people around her seemed to have some crazy notion that she looked quite nice and attractive like this). In fact, it annoyed her even more than aspects of her physical appearance had annoyed her when she and Arnold had been preteens. She had more self-confidence than she'd had at that age, of course, but it just…felt weird to be this tall now and to have so much of it be her legs, that was all. She was still beating out her beloved height-wise, despite his own little growth spurts, though all he had ended up changing about his style was getting rid of the green sweater permanently now. Big deal—she was the one who kept having to rethink her entire wardrobe. And every time Olga offered her old clothes, so much of it was skirts and dresses, and Helga kept trying to tell her that they were TOO SHORT, but Olga would just look at her funny and then say, 'Baby sister, you're missing the point!'

Well, whatever, she had settled on pants and an outfit that at least had her most signature colors in it. And she supposed her arms and even her hair had gotten longer to kind of match with her legs, so maybe all of this teenage stuff wasn't quite so bad. And at least she could still wear her pink bow in her hair.

She still felt like Arnold had it easier though.

It was then that Arnold came into the room.

She sat up on the bed with a bright smile. "Arnold, there you are! Come here, you hunky Football Head, I've missed you like crazy!" She got up and ran at him and wrapped him up in a big hug.

"Hmm…Mmm…Mmm hmm!" Arnold merely 'hmm'ed ' brightly, not saying anything more.

Helga blinked and pulled back to look at him with a confused smile. "Arnold, what's up?"

Arnold just smiled very sheepishly and blushed quite a bit, then he shrugged and slipped from her grasp to sit on his bed. He then proceeded to glance away 'casually.'

Helga sighed. She had grown much more patient with him over the years but he could still be so fussy sometimes. She had come to find it very cute though (okay, she had always found it cute, she just hadn't had a ton of patience when she had been younger). "Football Head, what? You Dad and Grandpa make another stupid bet with you or something? Let me guess, you're not allowed to talk for the whole day, and if you win they have to admit that you're the coolest dude around or give you their desserts for the week or something?" She laughed and walked over to him. "And speaking of desserts…" Then she put her hands on the bed on either side of where he was sitting and leaned in close with a smile. "If you insist on keeping yourself so tight lipped, how are you ever going to get any desserts from me, my love?" She knew he still couldn't resist her. In fact, his ability to resist her advances had actually gotten weaker as they had gotten older.

And indeed, Arnold blushed so brightly and looked so wide-eyed at her coming forward…. But then he turned away. "I…mmm…" he moaned, seeming rather torn about something.

Helga couldn't help but look at Arnold with a touch of concern now, her sudden rush of affections as she flirted with him overwhelming any annoyance she might have had with his silliness. The poetic Helga was back and she sat alongside him, her blue eyes wide. "Darling, are you ill? Oh Arnold, if something happened to your voice, you can just climb into bed and I'll nurse you back to health as best I can, my beloved. Remember how I did that once when we were children, and how you did the same for me…? Oh Arnold let me hold you, my sweet…" she cooed in that passionate tone she could still take on, would always be able to take on. She held to his arm alongside him.

Arnold couldn't help smiling and melting a little, despite the fact that he was so nervous about 'something'. Helga's affectionate states had only grown on him over their years together so far, and when she spoke to him like a poet whose heart would break if anything happened to him, it just…just…He sighed softly and nuzzled up against her too with a smile.

Just then Miles gave a quick knock on the door and walked in. "Hey, Arnold, I—ah, see, what did I tell you, I knew Helga would understand and not make fun of you. You two crazy kids, always together." He walked forward and ruffled Arnold's hair a little, still grinning away, still totally clueless that he was blowing Arnold's 'secret' right now. "Besides, it's perfectly normal for a boy your age to have his voice start to change. It won't crack like that for too long." He chuckled and leaned down near Helga with a sly grin and explained, "Good old Grandpa pranked him with a flashlight and an impressive shadow puppet and made him think a bear had stumbled into camp one night. Made Arnold let out such a scream! And it seems something about that scream set his voice to changing. I guess his vocal chords were just waiting for the chance." He laughed and started to head back to the door. "Now you both have fun on your date, and I'll tell your mom that everything's just peachy between the two of you, Arnold." He winked at his son and then exited the room.

There was silence for a moment.

Then Helga released Arnold's arm and looked at him. "Your voice is changing?"

Arnold blushed a lot and pouted and crossed his arms over his chest. He gave a little shrug.

Helga grinned a little. "Aw, Football Head, it's okay. Come on, I'm not gonna laugh…much. I bet it sounds adorable."

A still very frustrated looking Arnold looked to Helga and opened his mouth to say something but then stopped himself. This was so annoying…And how was he supposed to try and explain to her that he didn't want to be 'adorable' to her so much as…handsome, suave, attractive…He knew it really didn't matter. They still loved each other: that mattered. But still, why did he still have to end up shorter than her, why did his voice have to start sounding like a rusted training wheel while hers had merely deepened to a lovely, sonorous tone of the voice he had known ever since they were little kids…? And not to mention she was seriously growing into the prettiest girl in the class. Helga got all the breaks and Arnold just felt self-conscious. He just sighed again and shrugged in response to her.

Helga refused to quit though, and just leaned in closer to him, half grinning. "Come on, Arnold—what, you're not going to speak to me again until you're eighteen or something? Just talk. Maybe talking more will make it pass faster," she added with an encouraging smile.

Arnold sighed. He was going to have to talk to her eventually. He knew that. He glanced back at her, with a touch of a dry look he couldn't help. Then finally he spoke. "Fine, Helga. Whatever you SA-ay…" He blushed a lot and looked down. He sounded like an idiot, didn't he?

Helga blinked…then smiled…then it was so hard not to…. She let out a few laughs under her breath. "O-Oh, that's not so…so, um…bad…"

"It's AW-ful." Arnold looked at her desperately. "I sound RiDICUL-ous…Like my throat needs an oil c-AN…like Gerald right after his ton-SILS came out in fourth GRA-de." He pouted again.

"Y-Yeah, well, y-you know, it's…um…" Oh she was trying so hard not to laugh, she was trying so hard to be good, sitting there with a polite smile plastered on her face and her hands folded neatly in her lap.

Arnold just sighed and flung himself back on his bed. "Oh just laugh about it HE-lga, I know you WA-nt to."

"Y-You couldn't break into a chorus of Moonlight Bay for me right now first, could you? I could use a really really really good laugh today!" And now she couldn't help it and she was rolling on his bed, holding her sides and laughing heartily.

Arnold just rolled his eyes to the ceiling. "Thanks, HE-lga…" He cringed a little again.

Helga finished her laughter, wiping a tear or two from her eyes. Then she sighed and sat up a little. "Arnold…" She looked at him with a warm smile.

He refused to say anything to her, but merely gave her an untrusting glance that clearly said, 'Yes, what now?'

Helga smiled more. "It's a good thing no one here needs any voice to do this…" Then she got on top of him and kissed him passionately.

Arnold's eyes went wide, then that dreamy dazed look came to his eyes. Then he felt very good all over. Really, really, really good all over.

A few more very warm, very good, very daze-worthy moments passed, and then Helga finished kissing her beloved and pulled back, sitting up and panting lightly. She smiled at him with a dazed look herself. "Oh, and another thing. You're voice might sound a little funny, but quite frankly I think the whole thing is very hot, you hunky little Football Head." She snatched his collar and pulled him up so he was sitting up with her. "I like your growth spurts. And I can't wait to hear your new voice when it finishes coming." She winked at him.

Arnold blushed a lot and smiled. "Um…thanks, H…HEL-ga." He blushed a little extra and looked a little sheepish.

Helga giggled and released him, standing up. "Besides, Arnold, your voice has been changing ever since we were kids, it was just a lot more subtle back then. Mine changed too—it used to be a lot more high pitched and light when we were really little, especially before fourth grade." Then she smirked a little and raised part of her brow and added, "And, seriously, in fourth grade alone as that year went on you could have told me five different people were providing your voice one after the other over the course of the year and I would have bought that. But by the end of things you had that nice, deep yet boyish voice that I so adored. And so now it'll get a little lower—big deal, I bet it'll sound even better." She sighed and rolled her eyes and glanced down at herself. "At least you don't have these freaking annoying legs that suddenly sprouted up out of nowhere….Arnold? You who, Arnold?" She had looked back up at him, but he seemed oddly distracted, so she waved a hand in front of his face and snapped her fingers a few times.

That snapped him out of it. And indeed Arnold had sort of started getting distracted by those legs of hers now that she had brought them up again. He liked legs, and hers were very enjoyable to look at. "S-Sorry…" he mumbled, blushing and glancing away sheepishly. "I think they look AL-right, Helga…" he added supportively, but not wanting to go off on some loving description of her body. He felt funny about his voice even though she sort of liked it, she felt funny about how she was growing even though he really liked it. It was better that they just focus on supporting each other and putting four years of a relationship over everything else.

Helga just smiled a little and rolled her eyes with a touch of a blush. "Thanks, Arnold." She leaned forward and nudged him in the shoulder. "Flirt." She laughed and held out a hand to pull him up. "So, still want to go on a date? We don't have to talk much if it makes you really uncomfortable. And if you'd rather not be around other people whom you might have to talk to, we could skip the boardwalk and pier and just catch a movie or something. Play 'tiger' and 'kitten' in the back of the theatre." She looked at him with a touch of playfulness.

Arnold blushed a little and took her hand and pulled himself up. "Um…the pier's fine HE-lga, but…maybe afterwards we could come back here and watch a movie in the den and…other STU-ff." He grimaced a little but kept smiling.

Helga giggled. He could still get so shy about being intimate in potentially public places (she had abandoned such shyness LONG ago)…But on the bright side when she indulged him by letting them spend time together somewhere private, she always got quite a fair bit of extra intimacy out of the deal. Her beloved's sensual side was more enthusiastic and creative than he would ever let on to anybody but her. "Sounds good to me, Football Head," she assured with a wink.

"Okay…" Arnold nodded. And then the two of them climbed onto his bed to head to the fire escape. They could still fit out the window and down that thing, though space was indeed becoming a bit tight for them these days.

"Oh, um…Helga," Arnold started as they made it out to the fire escape landing, "I KN-ow you wanted to GO to the opening of Agatha Caulfield's new bo-OK store on Satur-DAY but my parents are giving a lecture at the univer-SITY they work at, and they'd really like me to come and help them. Is it okay if we just stop by an-OTHER day?"

Arnold looked at her with hesitation covered by an innocent smile.

"Arnold…" Helga couldn't help but pause and frown a little. She had really been looking forward to the bookstore… They were going to have some specials and some signings, a sign-up sheet for poetry contests, even a new line of leather bound journals for her to peruse and possibly buy from…and she had wanted to go with Arnold because he sort of knew this Agatha Caulfield chick, but at the very least she didn't want to just go alone, which she was now going to have to do if she wanted to go because Arnold's sudden polite ditching of her was on such short notice. And it was already annoying enough that he had been gone these whole last two weeks on a camping trip, effectively ending any plans they could have made for this particular spring break in their lives.

But then Helga, as she had taught herself to do over the last few years, took a deep breath and tried to understand and let it go. After all, her beloved needed to spend as much time with his parents as possible. She had decided that the minute they had all gotten back from the jungle all those years ago. Arnold deserved that. So while she was not enthusiastic about it, she did smile a little at her beloved and manage to say calmly and supportively enough, "S-Sure thing, Football Head. Have fun. I'll just see if I can rope Lila or Olga into doing it with me." She knew Olga would be working and that Lila would be volunteering somewhere. But she felt like if she said instead that she would just go alone it would seem like she was trying to make him feel guilty, and she didn't want to do that. Then she added, trying to lighten the mood as she went over to the fire escape ladder and started climbing down, "I'd ask Phoebe but since she and tall hair boy are joined at the hip all the time like some kind of old married couple, I figure she's already got plans."

Arnold laughed as he started to descend the ladder after her. "Yeah, they're ALW-ays together now…talking to each other and holding hands. It's SWE-et." Helga got to the second landing and headed down toward the sidewalk, and Arnold dropped to the second landing now too.

"Yeah, I know what you mean." Helga's feet finally hit pavement and she dusted herself off and in a couple of seconds Arnold joined her on ground level. She smiled at him, taking his hand, trying to put her mild frustration behind her and just enjoy the afternoon they had together now. "Alright, off we go!" She started walking down the sidewalk, but Arnold stopped her.

Helga blinked and looked back at him.

He looked at her with a soft appreciative smile. "Thanks for understanding about breaking our date, HEL-ga. I appreciate it." And then he grinned ear to ear and gave her one of those warm hugs he had always given her throughout their lives.

Helga's eyes went wide and then she melted. "Oh Arnold…sure…" she sighed softly, a small swoon actually escaping her.

Arnold laughed and pulled back to kiss her on the cheek. Then he took her hand. "Now, LE-t's go."

She giggled and shook her head at his cuteness. "Whatever you say, my Football Head with the cute cracking voice."

Arnold just blushed and rolled his eyes and grinned and led them onward.

And with that the two of them went off on their date.


The Beginning of an End

"What are you saying, Arnold?" It left Helga in the numbest, coldest little voice as she reclined against the side of the Sunset Arms, trying to look casual, though inside her blood was racing. She hugged her pink sweater around her body more, settled herself inside of her jeans. She had just driven over here for the first time with her new license to take Arnold on a surprise date…and Arnold had just said something to her very…well…She just didn't like where it was going. Period.

She watched him, just reclining against the building himself. He had brought back the green sweater at this point in their lives, but he wore it over the plaid shirt with both of them tucked into his jeans and the sleeves rolled up so that the cuffs showed some plaid, as did his collar.

He was frowning and having some trouble looking at her. "Well…I want to go with them, I think…for a while."

"So…let me get this straight." A touch of that seething Helga G. Pataki anger came back to Helga's face. She rarely got angry like that with much frequency anymore—all of that 'hot under the collar' stuff had been partially from being a very emotional kid with a ton of energy. She saved her anger for special moments now, let it strike with control and precision when she wanted it to. Right now qualified as a special moment in her opinion. She went on. "Fifteen freaking years ago your parents flew off into the sunset to play hero for a tribe of people no one else had ever even seen. They disappeared and left you an orphan for almost a decade. Then five years ago we go and find them, I risk my butt for you multiple times…. And now for some psychotically altruistic escapade of letting people communicate with these 'mysterious Green Eyed people' the two of them want to fly back to that place that took them away from you for half your childhood…and you want to fly off and disappear for however long in the jungle with them? Is that about it, Arnold? Is that every piece of stupidity coming out of your mouth right now? Is that every bit of the unbelievably insane and selfish and awful logic you're pathetically attempting to sell to me as reasonable?" On a side note, Helga was MUCH more threatening now when she was angry than she had ever been as a child.

Arnold knew that tone of hers and he knew to respect it…not to mention he couldn't blame her. Still, she was being a little insulting…just a little. He frowned at her. "It's not psychotic and it's not insane, and we're not going to disappear forever. And it's not selfish, Helga."

"Running off from all of your cares and your responsibilities and your home and your friends—that's not selfish?" Helga snapped back, starting to get a touch uncontrollably passionate. "Going off and playing jungle adventure and leaving us all alone—that's not selfish?" She glared at him but was trying not to at the same time. No need to bring attention to her eyes. She might cry. Arnold knew he could do that to her, and he was doing it to her and…. Why?!

Arnold scowled just a little at Helga, getting a touch passionate himself now. "No, it's not! What's selfish is just staying here in a comfortable little life in a comfortable little city and doing nothing!" He tried to reason with her a bit again. "Helga, these people, they're finally ready to make contact with the outside world—they want to meet the other people living near their jungles, they want to experience modern medicine and technology and communication, and they want to share their wisdom and experience with the world in return, but they only trust my parents to speak for them…My parents and me. We can help so many people, Helga, why wouldn't we do that? They're the reason my parents met, Helga, they're the reason they stayed alive, and they're the reason we found my parents. I can't just ignore them, Helga, and I won't." He finished with a look of determination—Helga wasn't the only one who could fight for her convictions.

"And what about your friends, huh?" Helga retorted, however, still never willing to back down from a fight. And she was beginning to gesticulate now. "What about your wacky but lovable extended family? What about school, what about driving, what about prom, what about part time jobs we all hate and complain about, what about life here, Arnold? Doesn't that mean anything to you?" She looked him in the eye, her mouth trembling in a frown, eyes flashing.

"Of course it does, Helga!" Arnold looked at her so sincerely, holding up his arms. "I love it here, I love my life, I love all the people I've grown up with. But this is something that has to be done and can't wait, and I…I need to be a part of it, Helga!" He looked at her desperately.

She just glared back at him in sadness for a moment. Then… "Why?" left her angrily but softly.

Arnold looked into her eyes. He moved forward and took her hand. "Because my parents need to be a part of it and I…" He closed his eyes and lowered his voice. "Th-they can't go and leave me behind again. I'm not…I won't be able to be okay with that. I can't handle that, Helga." His eyes opened a little and he looked down. He felt like he was about to cry and that made him feel so silly. He was sixteen years old, and…he had been trying to impress Helga G. Pataki since the fourth grade, yet she could always get the most sensitive and intimate things out of him and he always felt so vulnerable but…she was Helga…she was almost part of himself. He couldn't help being intimate and tender and vulnerable with her even if he had wanted to.

And Helga, right now, hated that she understood the point he had just made. And yet she knew…she knew and understood all too well. She had always had a great capacity for empathy. She moved closer to him, gently resting their foreheads against each other. She lowered her eyes too. She whispered softly. "Then tell them that, Arnold…Explain to them…try to work something out, something that can work for everyone."

"But what if I ruin what they're trying to do, and—" he started in a whisper back to her in worry.

Helga cupped his cheek in her hand, quieting him for the moment. "Shh…Have you learned nothing from our time together, Arnold? Be a little selfish…" she smiled a little. "Everyone deserves to be a little selfish sometimes…"

Arnold actually smiled a little in return. He looked up a bit more. "We haven't decided anything officially yet. I just…thought I should mention it. I didn't want to spring it on you if I ended up going."

Helga swallowed, tried to smile to lighten the mood—one of her specialties. "Yeah, well, we all know how much I hate surprises." She looked away a little. "Listen, if you've got a lot to think about, maybe I should—"

"No, no…" Arnold put an arm around her now, catching her eyes level with his own. They were about the same height now. It made things easier. "Stay. Please. Did you want to drive somewhere?"

Helga smiled. She melted against him a little. She rested her hands on his chest, and it made her blush, it always made her blush, and she liked it. "No. Can we just go sit somewhere quietly, Arnold? Please." He was going to go. She knew he was going to go. And she was so angry and enraged and frustrated and hopeless…but right now at least she could pretend that he wouldn't do that to her. And, who knew, maybe it would really take a while to sort things out—enough time for them to finish high school at least—and then it would be time to apply for colleges and even if Arnold took some time off first to go down to San Lorenzo she could find a way to visit him, maybe even spend some time there herself during vacations.

And yet still, in the pit of her stomach, Helga didn't like this at all.

"Oh. Okay, Helga. I'd like that too," Arnold replied back to her suggestion for their date with a warm, understanding smile. "Come on, let's just go for a walk." He took her hand in his, lacing their fingers.

Helga nodded. "Okay, Arnold." She squeezed his hand and separated from him and started to walk close side-by-side with him down the street.


Inside of the boarding house, Miles and Stella had been watching most of this interaction, even though they hadn't been able to hear the words.

And they watched the kids walking off together now.

Stella frowned. "That didn't go well."

Miles looked at her curiously and yet with an optimistic smile. "Well, at least they left smiling. That's a good sign, right?"

Stella just shook her head though and glanced at him. "No, it's not. She's keeping it inside but she's angry. And she has every right to be. This isn't over between them."

Miles swallowed and glanced out the living room window again, catching a final sight of the two kids as they rounded the corner. "We could tell him he can't come," he suggested softly.

Stella bit her lip. But she shook her head. "No, I don't think we can. We owe him the right of a choice this time. And also he's not a little boy anymore, Miles, he's…almost a man. I really don't think we can do that."

Miles frowned but nodded. He knew that was true. "We've…had a complicated life, haven't we, Stella?" He half smiled and glanced at her. "If I hadn't been so clumsy and tripped down that hillside right into your camp nearly twenty years ago, you could have avoided all this mess. Married a…I don't know, a butcher or a pharmacist or a claims adjustor or something." He shrugged sheepishly.

"Like I'd ever want to be that bored, Miles." Stella merely replied with a smile, and then she hugged him from the side. "It's been complicated but that's the only life I could ever want. All of this. And I know somehow it'll be okay." She looked up at him hopefully.

Miles gave her a tender hug back, smiling warmly. "I know it too. We'll always end up all together again."

They continued to embrace until they were interrupted by the entrance of a third party.

"Oh hi, you kids! Sorry to interrupt, thought you were Arnold and Helga, and you know how I love giving those two kids the business, heh, heh!" Phil suddenly popped up from the basement now with a grin, looking at his son and daughter-in-law happily. "Still, it's cute to catch you two at it too. Reminds me of when you first moved in here with young Arnold and you were newlyweds. Oh, the next time you two act all worrisome about catching the boy kissing Helga in one of the rooms, I should tell him all about how affectionate you two were together all those years ago, and even earlier when Miles first brought you to visit, Stella! Heh heh!" He laughed more, then let out a sigh and wiped a tear from his eye. "Anywho, if you're hungry, Grandma's put on quite a feast at the community table, you two. And it's edible this time. And there'll be plenty to eat since our strapping and growing young man of the house is off with Helga probably until dinner if not dark. Come on in for lunch when you're ready." He gestured toward the dining room and then departed, smiling all the while.

Miles and Stella just watched him go for a moment.

Stella spoke first. "Miles…maybe we shouldn't…Telling him and your mother about our plans is just going to break my heart," she said softly, swallowing.

Miles held her more closely and sighed. "They'll understand, Stella. They've always understood." He lowered his voice to a whisper and added, "I 'm scared about it too though."

They were quiet for a moment.

Then Stella glanced up at Miles. "Tonight after dinner?"

Miles looked down at her and nodded. "Tonight after dinner, we'll sit down with them.

The two of them nodded to each other. And then they let out deep sighs and went into lunch, even though neither of them was terribly hungry. But these meals and their memories were special to them, and they didn't want to lose one precious moment.


Separation

"Arnold, whatever the bad thing is, will you just spill it already?" asked Helga G. Pataki in a dry voice, pulling her black winter parka a little more snugly around her body as she and Arnold sat on the edge of the (now frozen) fountain between the two French restaurants, Chez Pierre and Chez Paris, in the midst of a light snow during this week after New Year's.

Helga knew Arnold was hiding something, she just knew it. First he had gotten her for Christmas an entire set of custom made leather bound writers journals in various rosy shades from that bookstore she liked so much, plus some really expensive and fancy pens that even had their own cases, plus a freaking bottle of perfume that Phoebe had helped him pick out and the label of which he had covered over with his own handmade label that said the scent was 'Arnold and Helga.' And if all of that wasn't enough to make her almost sickeningly suspicious that Arnold was dripping with guilt, the day after Christmas he had come over to her house and offered to shovel her walk and help her take down all of the Christmas decorations, no reciprocation or any kind of reward or payment required—Arnold was helpful but nobody was that helpful. Then New Year's Eve he had managed to throw a big bash on his rooftop with all of their friends and featuring all of Helga's favorite music and food, and he had given her a kiss at midnight that had practically made her want to beg him for another one of those little 'sleepovers' like they had used to have when they were younger…only a little different.

And tonight, for no apparent reason, he had invited her to Chez Paris, paid for a full delicious meal featuring everything from appetizers to dessert, and now, the meal over, he had been trying to explain to her that he had plans tomorrow for them to go revisit all of their favorite childhood haunts together: the elementary school, the FTi building, Gerald Field…

Helga wasn't stupid. She glanced at him (since he had been silent for quite a few moments now after her request that he just spill the bad news already). "Well, Arnold?" she prompted impatiently but levelly.

Arnold looked back at her with a lot of hesitation. Clearly he was thinking of whether he should come clean or pretend that nothing was wrong and that she was being silly. And yet, if he had a secret and if Helga G. Pataki already knew it, then she already knew it and nothing was going to change that.

Might as well come completely clean then.

Arnold just looked down and looked guilty. "I'm sorry," he said softly.

Helga sighed, leaning back a bit on the edge of the fountain with a slight scowl. "Arnold, you know I hate when you do this—when you try to do a ton of nice things for me to avoid whatever's wrong instead of just freaking talking to me about it because…I don't know, you want to 'spare my feelings' or you're afraid of what I might do or something." She rolled her eyes. "But that ALWAYS MAKES ME EVEN MADDER, ARNOLD." She glared at him a little.

Arnold sighed and gave her a look bearing a touch of annoyance as well. "Well, you don't make it easy, you know. Half the time I'm never quite sure how you're going to react to things I have to tell you. You're a very emotional person, Helga."

Helga frowned at him, crossing her arms over her chest. "Oh yes, I know it'd be easier if I didn't have a brain in my head or an original feeling of my own and just nodded and smiled and said 'Gosh that's nice!' or 'Golly, that's a shame!' with a big grin or fake frown every time you said anything to me, but since we're both existing in reality and not in some parallel fantasy universe of yours, humor me and just tell me what's up, Football Head!" she demanded finally.

Arnold, however, was not done yet distracting the two of them with fighting, and so he crossed his arms over his chest and countered back to her, "You know that is not what I mean. You know I don't mean that you shouldn't have an original opinion or reaction of your own. You see, this is what I'm talking about—or what I try to talk to you about sometimes but you always just brush past it or make a joke. You're calm but then it's like you're waiting to fly off the handle about things, and I just wish you'd calmly hear me out before you get yourself worked up. Sometimes you make really big deals about things that…that are going to be fine, really." Something a touch more sincere and serious came to his features. "It really is going to be fine. I promise you." He reached out and put a hand on her arm.

Helga shifted away a little, though she still let him touch her. She looked so frustrated then, and her blue eyes glistened, and she felt like she was ready to start shaking. A small laugh escaped her and she just shook her head and sighed. "For crying out loud, this better not be about what I think it's about—it better be something stupid like some bimbo cheerleader kissed you in the heat of the moment after baseball team practice or like you just found out you need to have a tonsillectomy or some equally minor and ridiculous surgery on prom night or like you've gotten some cockamamie notion in your head to finally marry me but at only freaking 16, or like you killed my goldfish or totaled my car or lost some prized childhood possession of mine—something stupid, Arnold! Give me SOMETHING manageable!" She really tried to keep her voice level, but she couldn't help herself. Why did he have to…and why did he have to have this awful effect on her, why…why did she have to fear she couldn't live without him? It was the only sincere weakness she felt like she had in her whole life. Why did it have to be this way?

Arnold cringed a lot and look annoyed but sad but guilty but…he just…. The truth, he always had to tell the truth. He had done his best to prepare her ever since a few months ago and now it was finally time to deliver the news. "We…I'm leaving our high school. My parents are going to home school me for the last couple of years until I'm 18. We're flying to South America—to San Lorenzo—in the spring. They wanted to go in February, after Valentine's Day, for the sake of us, but I asked them…I begged them to wait until May because at least we'd have our last—I-I mean our 7th anniversary before I…" He looked down, his hand finding hers and squeezing it. "I just wanted you to have a really good holiday season, Helga, and I wanted you to be happy before I told you. That's why I've been doing all this stuff for you over the past week. I'm sorry."

She just looked at him…. The frustration was… Her features were so soft now and she couldn't help it. "Our 'last' anniversary…. And just what's that supposed to—"

"Helga, I didn't mean that," Arnold quickly interjected, eyes wide in worry, "I just meant our last one before…I go…before it might be hard for us to celebrate many more together again." He frowned. "I really am sorry, Helga. I really don't want to hurt you, Helga." He knew it sounded lame in a way, that maybe it didn't help anything. But what else could he say?

Helga let out a sigh. "Arnold…" the tenderness came to her voice that Arnold knew so well, "I understand that you and your parents need time together, and I've always tried to support and respect that." She frowned and looked down. "Maybe I haven't always been perfect at it…" She glanced back up at him, "But…Arnold, just two more years, just stay here two more years…please." She swallowed, squeezing his hand in both of her own. "I was already mentally preparing for college, for us maybe having to be separated for a bit. I could handle that. But don't leave me here alone like this, Arnold…alone for however long whatever it is you have to do for yourself and those people is going to take. Don't." She looked into his eyes.

Arnold looked so deeply back into her eyes. How much he wanted to make her happy…how much he cared about her. But…

Instead he said these words to her, softly and sincerely and with the understanding that it might hurt her to hear them. "No, Helga. It's…it's not fair of you to ask me to stay just for you. I want to do this, I need to do this." He had been planning this answer for a while now.

Helga didn't make a sound. She just looked at him. And she shook her head and then she just… "Oh!" she screamed, some tears falling as she stood up from the fountain, fists clenched at her sides. "And you're not selfish at all, right? You're just so perfect, Arnold, so selfless, such a hero!" she countered back, looking at him. "It doesn't matter what happens to anyone here, including me—this is just a pit stop for you to go off and save the world!"

Arnold stood up now too, scowling at her a little bit. "You know that is not true, you know how much I love—"

"Oh, here we go, your laundry list of everything you appreciate and why you appreciate it!" Helga rolled her eyes, hands on her hips. "Why don't you just cut the crap and stop acting like the world's such a joy to you and admit that there are plenty of things here that you'll be happy to say good riddance to!? Do you 'love' the smog, Arnold? Do you 'love' the occasional muggings on the street? Do you 'love' that the only way to see the stars at night here is to hijack a radio station to coerce people into unplugging themselves for five minutes just so you can catch a glimmer of the nighttime sky? Do you 'love' being an average kid in an average neighborhood in an average school here when meanwhile there's a tribe of people in the mystical land of San Lorenzo who worship you as a demi-god and whom you can save in daring adventures? Do you 'love' the fact that you pretty much know what you're going to do day after day after day when meanwhile you know that you're one of the handful of people in the world who has an option to get out of that way of living? You've gotta hate all of those things, Arnold—I know I do, and I'm stuck with them. Someone who's actually got a way out must just despise them." She couldn't help it—she was logically arguing him into saying he wanted to go. She just freaking wanted him to cut the goody-two-shoes, sympathetic, wishy-washy crap and just say it already!

So many questions and Arnold just stood there, mouth agape, trying to speak, barely knowing where to start. Then… "F-Fine…it's not perfect here," he stuttered out in frustration. "I like my life but maybe…I don't know, I just feel like there's something more I could do, something more I could see, and I do have the option and I want to go." He moved closer to her, his own eyes glistening now too. Why could Helga G. Pataki always make him almost cry no matter what his age? "But I love you, Helga G. Pataki. I do really love you." He looked at her like he would fight to the death asserting that truth.

"And you think I'm just going to wait for you like always. Your poor little heroine always waiting for you to get it together!" Helga glanced away sadly. Then she let out a deep sigh. "Thanks for the dinner, Arnold. Goodnight." She bundled up her coat and left, because if she did that, somehow the argument wasn't over, somehow what was going to come to pass wasn't quite settled yet. It was dumb, but she was just too tired, and it least this way she had the illusion of hope.

"Helga, I—"

Helga stopped and held her hand up, sticking it back behind her in Arnold's direction. "Just let me go for now, Arnold! It's better that way. Goodbye!" Then she did go off.

Arnold didn't go after her. He knew when she told him like that not to follow her that it really was better if he gave her some space.

And indeed, Helga had always had a temper and she had always recognized that she had a temper, so she needed some time to calm down a little now—she didn't want to continue this argument and blow up at him just because she felt like she couldn't control herself at this particular moment. Her telling him instead to just leave her alone for a while meant she wanted to talk to him seriously and that she was going to. She just…needed to be let go of for now.


Arnold was surprised not to hear from Helga that night…or the next day…By the next day's night when he still hadn't heard from her, though, Arnold was planning to at least call her the next morning.

But then that evening he heard the sound of a few pebbles being lightly tossed against the panels of his skylight ceiling.

Arnold climbed up to the skylight panel that opened onto the old fire escape.

Helga was down there in the alley alongside his house.

She looked up at him, shivering with her parka wrapped around herself. "Let me in. Please," she whispered, and then she headed around to the fence leading to the backyard. She couldn't use the fire escape anymore and he couldn't either. Neither one of them had been able to safely climb that old rickety thing in years. Nowadays they met in private by Helga sneaking through the back into the kitchen.

Arnold went downstairs into the hallway and the foyer and finally the kitchen, and the moment he opened the door Helga dashed in and shut it tightly behind her. "A-Arnold, h-hot chocolate, p-please. I ran all the way here and it's freezing out there." She sat down at the kitchen table, letting the hood of her parka fall, revealing her blonde hair flecked with snow as she rubbed her still mitten-covered hands together for warmth.

Arnold nodded and went to prepare the hot chocolate right away.

Pretty soon the two of them were sitting there with steaming mugs as Helga drank and thawed out.

After she seemed settled enough, Arnold looked at her with a touch of concern and finally spoke to her. "Are you feeling better, Helga?"

Helga nodded. "Yeah. Thanks, I really needed that." She blushed a little and added, "Sorry, I didn't mean to come so late. And I'm sorry I ran off like that the other day." She apologized a lot more these days rather than sweeping things under the rug. She was trying to brush off that habit of avoiding things as her parents had always done.

Arnold just nodded. She really didn't need to apologize. But she also didn't like when he told her that. He settled on just an understanding nod usually, as he was doing now. "I'm sorry too. I didn't mean to upset you…. I didn't want to tell you like that. I love you and I wanted to wait until a few more days had passed and then sit down with you and discuss it together. But it felt like you already knew, and I couldn't help myself, and I guess we both just got…carried away."

Helga nodded. They were quiet together for a moment. Then Helga seemed angry. Then she seemed sad. Then she spoke softly back to him. "I know. I love you too, Arnold." She was almost like a child again for a moment. It made Arnold remember. She went on, looking up at him. "I'm sorry, I…" then she did start to cry a little and she flung herself at him in a hug. "I know you're not doing this to hurt…me…us…all of us. If you need to go, Arnold, then you need to go." It was said kind of hollowly, but only because it was so hard for her to say…. But she knew it was right. It sucked but it was right…which was the usual way of things, so that made her know even more that it was right.

Arnold was surprised at first, but then he held her and gently stroked through her hair. She had always liked when he had touched her hair, ever since they had been little. "I promise this'll be fine, Helga. I'll…I'll write to you every day—some of the letters might not get to you because the postal system in San Lorenzo is a bit limited, but I'll still write, and I'll make copies too, that way later you can see all the letters if some of them get lost. And we'll visit, of course, every now and again when we can. And with school, well…" He sighed, having to think about that one for a moment.

Helga suggested something for him though, pulling back a little to look up at him with a sad but serious face and tone. "Honestly, Arnold, with school, I always thought…maybe we could try going our own separate ways…different schools, I mean, but close enough to visit…I-I mean, that was back when I thought we'd be together for another couple of years here, but…" This situation was complicated, which was part of why Helga had been letting herself get so frustrated. She couldn't help but wonder sometimes what a little time apart might be like for herself and Arnold, but…she hated having him ripped away from her sooner than expected, and so far away, and for such an uncertain amount of time. School was a planned thing, college followed a pattern, and the occasional train ride between counties or states and even a flight between coasts wouldn't have been a huge inconvenience. However, a transcontinental jet flight followed by a sea plane followed by a caravan followed by a hike to a place most people could never quite find anyway…and all of this coming on so suddenly…and all of it having to last for an undetermined period of time…and her maybe being too busy with school and Arnold maybe being too busy with his own studies and adventures for either of them to make the effort too much or even at all… That was quite a different situation entirely. "I don't know…" Now she just wanted to be with him again…but he was so frustrating and sometimes she just wanted to be apart…. But what if they…. But what if she never….

"Oh…" Arnold said softly, pulling back to look down at her. She had never told him about this idea. "I…if that's how you feel…" For a moment he looked at her, trying to determine if she was just subtly trying to 'get back at him' for leaving…but he could see she wasn't. So… He released her. He went back to his cocoa. "You want some time apart too…." He felt bad for saying it, but now that he knew she felt the same what did it matter? It was the truth, and the truth was always the best thing.

Helga blushed and looked like she felt bad too. She hesitated. "Yes." Then she looked up at him. "But not forever, not for who knows how long. I just…I'll miss you so much but…I don't know either…" She looked at him like she was betraying him. "I'm sorry, Arnold…" she whispered softly.

He looked back at her like he was betraying her too. "I'm sorry too, Helga…"

"We really have been together an awfully long time, haven't we?" Helga said softly. He had been her first memory…. It was like from the beginning of her life Arnold had been there every single day. Every. Single. Day. What if she couldn't make it without him every single…. It was starting to get to be too much, she didn't know. But she felt like somewhere along the way, by growing up even more together, they had grown too much together, and Helga couldn't stand the idea that he was literally some vital part of her now, that taking him away would be like taking an organ away without which she would slowly perish. That wasn't love, not the way she had learned to understand it. That was...there was something wrong there. And she was too old and too smart for the 'woe is me' 'perishing' stuff. Besides, maybe she just didn't want to dash off and get married as soon as school was out of the way in a few years. Maybe she wanted to do some traveling of her own, climb a corporate ladder, write brilliant novels, spread her wings a little. Her plans with Arnold had seemed so blissful as a child but now she started seeing the reality of them as she had gotten older…and she thought of Miriam a lot when she thought of those plans…Miriam, married young, depressed by her life, first one baby and then another to care for, working and bills and no time with Bob, Bob changing, trapped for decades and it taking decades to go from just making the best of it to actually enjoying herself. It sort of made Helga shiver a little. Olga hadn't married. Olga was a little selfish but she flitted around from place to place doing some teaching (and even a little acting, strangely enough…?), living her own life, enjoying herself. Maybe Helga would visit and travel with Olga a bit? Maybe Helga wouldn't even dream of getting married until she was thirty or thirty-five even? But was it fair of her to keep Arnold bound in an intense relationship for potentially another fifteen years until she was ready for a marital commitment!? And even if it was fair, honestly, the idea of just working and working and working to keep it up and keep it together with him was draining to her. She was starting to get tired. She just wished she could have a rest sometimes.

"Yes. An awfully long time," replied Arnold softly, meanwhile, to her comment. Despite the romantic and sentimental aspects of the whole blissful situation, it was very hard to fall in love as a child and just be with someone indefinitely, forever, all the time after that. Sometimes he saw their friends still dating, still exploring—he sort of missed those days a little. The last time he'd had them he had been nine years old, and so much of childhood turned into a blur of memories later on, it seemed. And he started to worry sometimes that his time with Helga clouded his perspective. And…what if he did want to do other things? What if he didn't want to just finish school here and finish school somewhere else and come back here and marry her and have a baby and live in the boarding house? Having a whole life planned out had seemed almost charming as a child. But it sort of frightened him now. He just needed some time to breathe, to think, to get away from here. He remembered that dream he'd had as a child, before loving Helga, about being married to Helga, living in a house, working grueling forty hour weeks, diapers and screaming kids and no way out…. Not that he thought for even a second that Helga wouldn't help him like she hadn't helped him in that dream, but the idea of that being his life, set in stone, while all of their friends seemed to be planning and dreaming…It was almost unbearable. He wanted some freedom and he wanted to give her freedom too. He wanted them to, well…to sort of go back to being friends and to work on that before they became anything more than the young lovers they were now. They had never really worked on the friendship thing: they had just gone from passive aggressively at each other's throats to totally in love. The transition had been so steep, he was surprised he hadn't reconsidered it back when he had been a child. But he wanted to reconsider it now before it was too late. And most importantly he didn't want either of them to regret their time together, in the past, the present, or the future.

"Maybe we need…a break…" they both sort of mumbled together.

They blinked, especially at how eerily in sync that statement had been (and also at how frequently they could be that eerily in tune these days).

They looked down like guilty children.

"A…break…" Helga repeated softly.

"Yeah…a break…" Arnold echoed.

"O-Okay…" Then Helga blushed so much, and something tumbled out of her. "Would you want to see other girls?"

Arnold blushed a lot too. Then he looked like he was thinking. Then he looked confused. "I don't think so. But…it's been so long, I don't think I really know. But I don't…" He looked into her eyes and that decided it for him. "No…" he finished in a whisper.

Despite that the answer was probably something she wanted to hear, Helga's lip still trembled, tears still started to dot her mittens now laying beside her hands on the table. "Okay…" was all she could say.

He moved closer to her. "Would you want to see other boys?" He thought he should ask to be polite…and also he really didn't know what she might say.

Helga just blinked, which made more tears fall, and then that frustrated her so she wiped some away and glared at him at little, "What do you think?!" Then she looked down. Then she shook her head and shrugged her shoulders and shook her head. "I don't…. No. I don't think I would."

"If that ever changed for either of us, just promise me we'd talk about it. Alright, Helga?" He moved closer and entwined his hand with hers.

'Why would he even say…?' "Yes, okay," she said as calmly and diplomatically as possible.

They were quiet again.

"So we'd just…be on a break then?" she asked, glancing toward him.

Arnold looked down and then nodded. "I think that's what it would be. Just a little…break." He didn't like this either but it was happening, wasn't it? Maybe it had to happen…though he wished he knew why.

"Heh, do you want your ring back?" Helga asked with a very forced chuckle and in a very shaky easy-going tone.

That question made Arnold pause. He remembered 'the ring', of course, even though Helga really hadn't brought it up much since elementary school. But he knew she still had it, cherished it probably. It made him so sad to hear her ask that question.

He moved them close, eye to eye, face to face. "Never, unless you ever want to give it back. Even then I wouldn't want you to give it back…because you and…we…" He was starting to get teary and she was too, and then they just kissed.

They kissed in a new way they had found somehow, sometimes, only in their most quiet moments, like something else was going to happen between them, like they were lost in each other.

It took a little while but eventually they tapered off, pulled back, flushed red and barely able to breathe.

Then Helga took a deep breath. "Be good, my beloved…and safe…" She gently touched his cheek, speaking to him in her poetic coo (it was one of the last times he would hear her speak in that tone to him for a very a very long while). "Think of me. I'll miss you, my darling. You're a good person, and the most noble man ever born." She took another breath, speaking more normally but quietly. "I'll try to write too. I really will." She looked like she might cry again, but she was keeping herself together.

Arnold savored those sweet words of poetry from her. "I'll miss you too." He touched her hand. "Don't forget that…you're smart and talented and creative and that you have a good heart and that you're beautiful and that no one should ever try to change you because…you're something special, Helga G. Pataki, and I don't want you to ever lose that."

She smiled, even though her eyes still glistened. She hugged him. "Thank you, Arnold. I love you, Arnold."

He hugged her back. "I love you too, Helga."

Soon she needed to go. It really was late. But it was cold and dark so Arnold offered to drive her. His grandfather had given him a set of spare keys to the Packard months ago.

They pulled up to her stoop eventually.

"Goodnight, Helga," Arnold said as he saw her hand go to the door handle of the Packard.

Helga glanced at him with a small smile. "Goodnight, Arnold." She hesitated though. "So…you won't go for close to four months. Are we still…together until then?"

Arnold had to agree with what she must be thinking—this was kind of strange predicament. He looked at her. "I'd like to be. We could just spend time together, reminiscing, making some new memories. Besides, I don't want to have to start missing you already." He looked into her eyes and smiled a little too. "Is that alright, Helga?"

Helga nodded, smiling a little more. "Yeah, that's…that'll be good. Alright then…" She opened the door and got out, but leaned in once more and added with more warmth, "Farewell, though parting is such sweet sorrow, I could say goodnight til it be morrow…"

Arnold's gaze melted a little to match Helga's, though a slight frown couldn't help but come to his features at her chosen quotation. Romeo and Juliet. "Did you have to pick such a sad play, Helga?" he asked softly, unable to help himself.

The smallest pout came to Helga's lips. Then she smiled softly again. "It's not a sad play, Arnold. " She looked into his eyes. "It just has a sad ending. Let's make a sweeter one, my love." Then she kissed his cheek, and then she moved back and out of his car, standing up and shutting the door. She waved to him. "Goodbye, Arnold."

Arnold watched her, the window rolled down a little. He waved to her too. "Goodbye, Helga."

She gave him a small nod and then turned and went up her stoop and inside of her house, closing the door softly behind her.

It was snowing again now.

Arnold started to drive home.

And even though things seemed settled and they had both agreed and it didn't seem like all of this would be a bad thing…and it was maybe even a thing they needed as a couple, as people…he cried as he drove home.

He cried for a little while inside of his house, sitting in the kitchen, thinking he should reheat the hot chocolate but just not having it in himself to do it.

Gertie, of all people, found him eventually. She hugged him and heated up the hot chocolate for him and didn't ask too many questions. She had a feeling about what it was about anyway. She comforted him a great deal, especially with one final gesture she made before they turned the lights up and headed to bed. He was very grateful to her for finding him, he would be very grateful to her forever.

Arnold and his parents left a few months later.

It really was hard to write.


Gods and Pigs and Old Friends

Arnold was seventeen years old, and he was very eagerly waiting at a small 'bus' stop marked only by a rusted tin sign on an old pole bearing a faint image of a cart with wheels. The sign sat by the side of a large, dirt road running along the edge of a thinner section of tropical jungle.

It was fall in San Lorenzo, which meant two things—the weather was actually quite nice and bearable with no excruciating heat or torrential afternoon rains…and also it was spring in the northern hemisphere. And spring meant spring break.

It had taken plenty of convincing on Arnold's part—plenty of begging and of promising tropical drinks and beautiful sights and hidden waterfall gorges and jungle oases—but he had finally convinced his best friend, Gerald Martin Johansson, to spend his high school spring break down in San Lorenzo with Arnold.

And here Arnold sat, waiting for the 'bus' to bring Gerald along. 'Bus' in this context, of course, didn't actually mean a bus like a city bus. It was more like a sort of a hay cart that people often caught rides on to get to this point, though in Arnold's defense that was the only way to get to the remote part of San Lorenzo where he and his parents currently lived. First a person had to take a plane from a city in the United States down to an airport in a major city in a neighboring South American country. From there, a person took a small biplane to the capital city of San Lorenzo. Then there was a two mile walk to the river dock and from there a person bought passage on the local barge down river. Finally, a person waited at the little stop near the down river dock, and sooner or later a farmer or trader with a wagon usually full of hay or vegetables or even livestock would come along and allow you to hitch a ride down here, to the public village nearest where the Green Eyes lived. Of course, Gerald would probably not be too happy about any of that…or especially about the mile long walk he and Arnold would have to take to reach Arnold's parent's hut in the jungle, but Arnold figured that overall Gerald really would be glad to see him. A year had passed since Arnold had left the city, it would be nice to reconnect, hear about how the gang was…everyone.

Arnold's thoughts came back to the present moment at the sound of a large wooden cart slowly coming up the road. He smiled and stood up from the worn bench he had been reclining on, trying to catch a glimpse of his best friend.

Gerald was pretty obvious to spot. He was the only person on the hay cart clinging to one of the cart posts for dear life, swinging a modern looking duffel bag and trying to hold his nose and swat away mosquitos at the same time. Arnold knew he was going to have to show him a really, really good time for going through all of this for him.

Finally, the cart pulled up and Arnold raced to the back of it where the passengers usually got off. "Gerald!" He waved his hand excitedly.

Gerald Martin Johansson finally alighted onto the road leading to the small town of Afuera de Los Verdes ('outside of the green ones'—a name chosen by Arnold's parents' good friend, Eduardo, for the small town they had built near the location of the Green Eyes secret village). He was covered in dust and sweat and clearly exhausted, and he just looked at his best friend ever since childhood. The first words out of his mouth were something like this: "There are dozens of South American countries with hundreds of miles of sunny coastline and complete with luxurious hotels and air conditioned taxis to take you to whichever fabulous daytime or nightlife location you want to go, but you have to live practically in the middle of the rainforest almost at the equator and surrounded by mosquitos the size of those carrier pigeons you used to raise." He sighed and shook his head. "Arnold, I have said it so many times but I'll say it again…. You are a—"

"A bold kid?" Arnold supplied with a little smile.

Gerald blinked and grinned. "Only in the sense that you're out of your mind. Though I don't think the 'kid' part applies anymore." Then he laughed and stepped forward and held out his hand in their special way. Arnold's hand came forward and they did their special handshake, and then Arnold laughed and they leaned in and gave each other a warm pat on the back. "Good to see you, man."

Arnold nodded. "I'm really happy you came, Gerald. Thanks for making the trip."

Gerald pulled back with a grin. "Yeah, well, I'm expecting the best tropical paradise you can provide from you considering that trip and also the fact that my parents paying for it officially counts as my birthday present, Christmas present, and my graduation present next year." He laughed.

Arnold laughed too. "I promise—there aren't any vacation resorts and no ocean, but you'll have a good time. And a much more relaxing time than when we were here as kids. No bandits, no mystical items, no near death experiences…Just sun and lagoons and great food and a few big tribe feasts with bonfires and dancing." He started to walk forward and gestured for Gerald to follow him down a path through a thin group of trees.

Gerald laughed a little at the joke as he moved his duffel bag over his shoulder and started to follow alongside Arnold. Then he asked with a half smile (though it lacked something of eagerness), "Any cute girls?"

Arnold almost stopped walking at the question, though he managed to keep going on. But he did give Gerald a sort of uncertain smile. "Well…yeah, actually, but…um…" He didn't know how to phrase it.

Gerald let out a small sigh. He spoke with a touch of numbness, though not devastation, and something of the half smile remained. "Phoebe got into Toudai—erm, sorry," the Japanese snuck out of him from time to time, "Tokyo University. I told her she should go if it would make her happy. And I know it would. But she knew we'd be apart for a very long time. So, um…we decided to follow in your footsteps and take a break." Gerald shrugged, still not really looking at his best friend. "Just trying to spread my wings a little, enjoy the freedom." Then he made his smile a little more convincing and gave Arnold a nudge. "Come on, man, we're a couple of young, swinging bachelors on an exotic vacation and with tons of catching up to do. Let's find a waterfall and a bunch of bananas to share and put a couple of straws in a couple of fresh coconuts and have a blast!" He started to head on more quickly through the woods. "Last one there's a rotten—whoa!" Gerald had tripped over a root, causing himself and his duffel bag to fall, upon which he instantly made a very panicked and deliberate (and just barely successful) attempt to catch the bag before it crashed into the ground at all costs!

"Gerald, you okay?" Arnold ran over to help him up. He noticed his friend's panic about the bag. He raised an eyebrow and smiled a little. "Uh, what's in there?"

Gerald sighed and stood up, dusting himself off. "A surprise." He smiled, and then unzipped the duffel bag and pulled out a laptop. "Computer access. Bamn."

Arnold just smiled and shook his head. "Gerald, okay, maybe there's an outlet hooked up to a generator somewhere around here that you could plug that thing into, but there isn't internet access for a hundred miles around."

Gerald just smiled back and shook his head. "Wrong, Arnold. Laptop has built in Wi-Fi. And we are having a guys reunion tonight courtesy of this."

Arnold blinked. "Really?" He looked at the computer in surprise. "Gerald, that must have cost you a ton of money, you didn't have to do that just for—"

"I-I didn't…" Gerald cut him off with a mumble, putting the computer back in his bag and closing it up. He looked at Arnold with a touch of gentle hesitation. "Helga sort of hooked me up—through the beeper emporium. She said it was to thank me for being so supportive of Phoebe." Then he added, quite frankly because it was the truth and he wanted Arnold to know, "I'm pretty sure that wasn't her only reason for helping me though."

Gerald watched Arnold carefully. His best friend responded to Helga's name with sort of a grimace of his lip and the lightest blush that faded quickly. He then swallowed and smiled slightly and looked to his friend again. "Oh. That was nice of her." Then he turned away and rubbed the back of his neck. "Um…come on, my parents are expecting us…" He started to walk on again.

Gerald followed after him. He chose his questions carefully. "Helga didn't say anything about you…I guess you two just keep up in private, huh?"

Arnold's face was a confusion of emotion that he was trying to keep looking like nothing was wrong. He let out a breath. "We never needed to talk much to be close."

Sometimes it was like he could hear her voice in the faint rush of sounds of the jungle at night…

Arnold hesitated, looking at Gerald out of the corner of his eye. "Is she…doing well, then?"

Gerald gave a small nod of understanding. "Well, you know…Helga's always Helga. Pretty much the same friends, pretty much looks the same… She started a campaign to get Curly and Rhonda elected prom king and queen despite their love/hate on-again-off-again relationship, she really got the beeper emporium expanded for her Dad—but she told him flat out she has no interest in inheriting that thing. She does a lot of writing, I think. I mean, usually if we want to make plans to do something, she only says no if she has to write. And she's the editor of the high school Literary Magazine now, not just a contributor." He smiled a little.

Arnold was looking at Gerald a little more now. He couldn't help himself. He wanted to know.

Gerald noticed this and went on. "She still hates my hair, even though it is a little bit shorter now." He touched the top of his hair. "And a lot of time she tells me I'm not nearly as fun as you and then elbows me in the gut, and it still hurts just like when we were kids. She, uh…let's see—oh, she threatened to sue the school unless they either let girls join the wrestling team or gave them a girls wrestling team along with the boys one: she walked in with a blazer and an attaché case and a tape recorder playing the 'People's Court' theme in her pocket and everything. Scared the heck out of the administration, and they completely gave in. Oh and I think she told Phoebe she wanted to maybe take a year off before college and live in France as a starving artist, just for fun."

Arnold thought all of that sounded funny and brave and beautiful. He wondered enough about one more thing, though, to manage to ask Gerald about it specifically. "Um…is she making any new friends?" He rubbed the side of his arm as he led them down a new jungle path, the forest getting thicker here.

"I don't know, I guess she meets new people working with the Literary Magazine and by working at the Emporium…Um…" 'Oh.' Gerald got it now. New 'friends' didn't mean new friends. "Oh. Well…no one seriously, that I can see. She still spends a lot of time with Brainy, but I don't think…heh…" Gerald swallowed and shrugged. "She does get offers though…" Perhaps he shouldn't have said that…but Arnold did seem to want to know. He couldn't blame him, after all he'd want to know if Phoebe…

Gerald shook off the idea.

Meanwhile, Arnold blushed and didn't look the best right now. "Oh…"

Gerald suppressed his own moping for the moment and moved closer, doing his best to reassure his friend. "Phoebe says she tells them all that she only 'courts' men, not boys, so it would never work between her and any of them. And Phoebe says that if they still try anything funny Helga threatens to drag them out into the center of the football field at half time during a game and let everyone see them getting beaten up by a girl. Phoebe says that usually takes care of things."

Arnold tried to smile a little. "Thanks. It's…It's okay either way. We said that we could be with other people if we wanted to…"

Gerald frowned a little, looking sad for his friend. "You don't get to talk to her much, do you?"

Arnold frowned, and a little light dimmed in his eyes for a moment. "No. I think it might hurt her too much… Maybe it would hurt me too."

Gerald nodded. "I understand." Then he added softly. "Phoebe's going to live with her grandparents while she's in Japan. They, um…she mentioned once that they'd really like her to move there permanently, settle down, end up reconnecting with her roots entirely, meeting someone from there…. I told her to just do whatever made her happy, about everything. And to focus on her studies and not on me." He swallowed. "I love her."

Arnold smiled a little. He understood. He also understood that Gerald needed someone to cheer him up right now just as Arnold needed to not let himself get bogged down during this visit with depressing questions about Helga. "Interesting…. It took me just over six years to realize I loved Helga, and it took you six years to realize you loved Phoebe." He smiled more at his best friend, giving him one of his famous all-knowing looks.

Gerald couldn't help but crack a smile again. He rolled his eyes to the side. "Oh…shut up." He nudged Arnold in the side, and Arnold winced and they both laughed.

"You happy here, man?" Gerald asked then, looking to Arnold fully again as they started to enter a clearing before the next thick batch of trees surrounding the road.

Arnold considered the question and nodded. "Yeah." He looked around a bit at the branches and sky and birds overhead and then looked at Gerald again. "I like the environment and the people, and I like getting to help everyone. I like taking canoes down river and seeing all the stars at night and reading by firelight and eating things I never thought I'd eat. And I like to be with my parents." He frowned a little. "I still miss you guys and the boarding house and my grandparents…and everyone. But…this is where I have to be. I'm happy, Gerald, really." He smiled warmly.

Gerald smiled back. "Good. I'm glad, man."

They talked about this and that, and sometimes just walked in silence during the rest of the mile long walk. Then finally they came to the clearing surrounding the village and then the huts and shops of the village itself. Gerald glanced around with interest as they entered the center of town. He looked at Arnold, stretching upward with a yawn. "Alright, just point me to a king size bamboo bed preferably in a room with an air conditioner and let me take a nap, and then we'll party the night away."

Arnold just laughed. "Sorry, Gerald," he looked at him with a sympathetic smile, "only the basics here. Pretty much everyone sleeps in hammocks, but I think we do have a spare cot if you'd like. And maybe a battery powered desk fan if I can find it."

Gerald just sighed with a grin and shook his head. "I knew I was hoping for too much. Oh well," he looked at Arnold, "A hammock sounds great." His look became serious all of a sudden. "But tell me you've got mosquito netting. Please."

Arnold nodded and laughed. "That we do. Come on." He led Gerald over to one of the huts, which was a small one right beside a larger residence: Arnold's little 'apartment' right next door to his parents' 'house.'


Arnold had a request of his best friend later that evening. "Would you mind if we only stayed at the tribe feast tonight for a little while?" He blushed and looked away with a touch of embarrassment. "Sometimes they can be a little much for me because…you know, since…to the Green Eyes I'm sort of a…"

"A God?" Gerald supplied, smirking a tiny bit and crossing his arms over his chest, recalling that little detail from their adventure here back when they had been kids.

Arnold blushed more and sighed. "Yes. That."

Gerald just rolled his eyes. "Arnold, seriously, any other person on the planet would jump into that 'god' role all the way, and you act like it's some kind of embarrassing baby picture from your past."

"Gerald…" Arnold stepped away, looking out of the window of his hut at the evening starting to sweep over the jungle. "All that happened was I cried once when I was a baby and a volcano happened to stop erupting. It's not that big of a—"

"Yeah, you control all nature with your mystical powers, and it's not that big of a deal." He laughed a little, unable to help it, as he came over to look out of the window with Arnold. "Ow!" And now he was wincing and rubbing his side.

Arnold had nudged him, giving him a dry look but a smile nonetheless. "Gerald, come on…"

"Oh 'come on' yourself, man." Gerald smiled warmly at him. "The Green Eyes can't bother you that much about it, especially if you let them know that you don't want to be 'worshipped' like that."

Arnold shrugged, looking shy again. "Well, it's not really the tribe in general's attitude about it. It's, um…you see…"

"Hey, fellas!" Miles suddenly popped his head into the room. He and Stella and Arnold frequently popped over between each other's huts to get things or to give information or just to talk. They liked being a close family. "You getting ready for the shindig tonight? I think it'll be a doozy. It's harvest time and the month of the Panther Moon in the Green Eyes culture, so this should be a good one. Your mom and I might even stop by later. Maybe we'll see you two there?" He glanced back and forth between the two boys.

Arnold shrugged, turning to his father. "Maybe, but we were only going to stop by for a little while now, and then later Gerald set up his computer so that we could have sort of a video reunion with some of my friends back home."

Miles blinked and then brightened up a lot. "Arnold, I think that is a wonderful idea." He turned to Gerald. "Thank you for doing that, Gerald." Miles looked back at Arnold. "Did you want to set things up in here for that? Your mom and I could take care of it while you two are gone for now."

Arnold smiled appreciatively but shook his head. "That's okay, Dad. I was thinking Gerald and I could have a little campout under the stars in the clearing by the lagoon. They don't get too many nights like we have out here in the city, you know. So I thought it'd be nice to sleep out there, maybe even have a cookout for dinner."

Miles nodded, looking a touch nostalgic and understanding Arnold's point entirely. "I think that's a great idea." Miles was happy to be here and he was happy to have his son with himself and Stella, but he did feel bad that Arnold had had to leave behind so much at home. It was great seeing him connect with his best friend again. He wished it could happen more often…even if it meant Arnold might move back 'home' at some point not too far away. "Alright, well, I'll see you guys later then." He gave them a wave. "Have fun tonight!"

"Miles, tell them I left some fried yucca and black beans with mole sauce and some capybara burgers in the fridge for them for dinner! Oh and some xocolatl cookies!" Stella's voice rang out warmly from the other room.

Miles laughed and gestured over his shoulder with his chin. "What your mother said. Oh but, um…" he lowered his voice to a whisper, "leave a few cookies for me, please, Arnold—your mom never gets the oven working to make them except on special occasions and she said I couldn't have any until you boys got at them first."

Arnold laughed a little and nodded. "Okay, Dad, we will. I promise."

"Thanks, son." Miles gave Arnold a wink and then left the two boys alone again.

Arnold turned to Gerald with a smile. "Well, let's go. It's easier to find your way to the Green Eyes before it gets dark."

Gerald was just silent though, and looking at Arnold with a kind of funny face though.

Arnold raised an eyebrow at him. "What?"

"Capybara?" Gerald looked even more confused and overwhelmed. "Isn't that…those big amphibious rodents that live here that Helga said she hated and never wanted to see ever again when we were here when we were little?"

Arnold nodded. "Yeah, that's them."

"And…" Gerald went on, "You have 'burgers' of them.'"

Arnold understood now and smiled and rolled his eyes. "Oh, it's not so bad. Tastes like something between chicken and souvlaki actually. Besides, what cows there are around here people need for milk. And the only other source of meat around here you're probably use would be pigs, but those are sacred so…" he shrugged and finished simply, "Capybara."

Gerald feigned nausea. "I'm a vegetarian for the time that I'm here."

Arnold laughed. "It's okay, Gerald—I got my hands on some frozen hotdogs for the cookout tonight for us." The two started heading over to the door.

"And I'm back to eating meat like there's no tomorrow!" Gerald grinned and the two boys shared a life. "Hey, speaking of pigs," Gerald suddenly asked with as they headed outside, "where's Abner?"

Arnold blinked at the question and smiled. "Oh, he actually lives more in the Green Eye village now than out here with us. He sort of found a nice girl pig that lived there, and he is getting a little old, so the two of them kind of settled down and started raising a litter of piglets. They're too young to be away from their mother yet though, so the Green Eyes are taking care of all of them until they're bigger, and then people there will adopt the piglets and Abner and Ana can come stay here nice and cozy with us."

Gerald just looked at his best friend with a smile of wonder. "I love that you've got this whole 'family unit, raising children, retirement thing' set up for the sacred pigs. And I love that you named Abner's wife." He laughed warmly.

Arnold smiled and shrugged. "You learn to appreciate pigs here very easily. Besides, she looks like an Ana, and she seemed to like the name."

Gerald just sighed and shook his head with a grin as they headed down a new path through the jungle. "You're going native, man, you're going native."


After the feast, Gerald understood exactly what it was that made Arnold so uncomfortable about attending them for much time. The villagers, of course, showed Arnold deep respect, though they weren't insisting on basically building shrines to him and bowing at his feet as they had during their adventure here back when they were kids.

But now 'Arnold the God' had a new issue.

Apparently this year he had entered the traditional 'marriageable age' for the tribe.

And apparently, according to every girl of the Green Eyes between the ages of sixteen and about twenty-one, he was the most eligible and desired bachelor in the whole jungle.

Gerald had just watched in amazement (truly, because what seventeen-year-old, technically-unattached guy in his right mind wouldn't at least relax and enjoy himself even if he didn't act on the romantic offers being presented to him by beautiful girls with big green eyes): Arnold had girls plead to dance with him, girls hang garlands over his neck, girls giggle in groups and look at him adoringly, girls offer to feed him from their own hands, girls wanting him to sing tribal songs or play tribal games or even to just sit with them. (Girls doing things, in short, that, if Helga had seen them, would have kept the Green Eyes healers busy for a very, very, very long time trying to mend the wounds of the tribe's female population that Old Betsey and the Five Avengers probably would have inflicted without hesitation.)

And Arnold would just politely refuse all of the favors offered by these young ladies with a smile of embarrassment but considerate appreciation. But Gerald could tell that, in fact, all of this attention made Arnold terribly uncomfortable…terribly torn inside...even sad. But what could Arnold say? These girls all just wanted to be nice and show him their affection. He would just have to wait it out, it seemed.

Gerald hadn't even had the heart to tease Arnold about all of this 'marriageable god' stuff as it progressed during the feast. In fact, he had taken a great deal of pity on his friend, and eventually had yawned and smiled and remarked that it really was starting to get late so maybe they had better head out for their little video chat call soon

At the suggested excuse, Arnold had smiled with an appreciation far deeper than any he had shown so far to the Green Eyes girls. And then he had nodded and stoop up and bid the tribe and the girls a fond farewell before finally leaving the tribal celebration with his friend.

Now Arnold and Gerald were finally camping out under the stars by a lagoon, a bonfire and the moon their only sources of light (besides the glowing screen of the computer set up between them of course.)

Arnold had indeed managed to procure a packet of hot dogs from one of the local trade boats, though it had cost him a bit, but it was worth it for a good old fashioned cookout. He had gotten some beans too, courtesy of his mother's supply. He and Gerald cooked the hot dogs on a skewer and the beans in a skillet over the open flame of their campfire.

"Remember when we went camping with my Grandpa, Gerald, and all he had to eat for us was beans? So we ran over to Helga's RV and ate steak and eggs for breakfast?" Arnold asked with a nostalgic smile, moving some things around in the skillet.

Gerald nodded and laughed, finishing a bite of hot dog. "Yeah, but at least you held out a bit for the sake of your grandpa and your pride, considering how Helga G. Pataki treated you back then. Me, the second she said 'come over' I tossed my plate of beans away and ran."

They laughed some more.

"We should go camping the next time I come home. Maybe out to Hawk Mountain again?" Arnold asked, pulling another hot dog of a skewer to eat.

"Yeah, sure." Gerald nodded, taking a few new hot dogs for himself too. "You thinking of visiting any time soon?"

Arnold nodded. "Before college starts, yeah…I'd like to visit that summer. And then I was thinking of going to school somewhere not too far from home—Hillwood 'home'—anyway. Or at least I wanted to go somewhere less far away from their than this place." He glanced around at the jungle a little with a nostalgic yet slightly overwhelmed look. He couldn't see himself staying here forever like this now: he loved this place but he just couldn't.

Gerald looked at Arnold with interest. "Really? But I thought you said you were happy here."

Arnold smiled, looking back to his best friend. "I am, Gerald. But, I don't want to just spend the rest of my life here now. I want to go off somewhere to school and figure out what I want to be and do with myself. Maybe I want to try living in some other exotic places too. Europe or Asia or the Pacific Islands…. I want to explore." He smiled brightly at the idea.

Gerald looked intrigued. "That's really cool, man." He laughed a little. "Make sure to pop in on Helga in France and Phoebe in Japan when you do that. In the mean time, though, if you wanted to go to school somewhere closer to home…well, with Phoebe moving half way across the world just like you've already done, that'd be fine by me." He smiled hopefully and finished sincerely, "It'd be nice to get to see you more, Arnold."

Arnold nodded, understanding. "It'd be nice to get to see you and my grandparents and everyone else more too."

"Would your parents come?" Gerald asked with interest. He knew Arnold had a really deep attachment to them, all things considered

"No, I think they'll stay here." Arnold took some beans now that they were done. "They like it here, this really is where they want to spend the rest of their life, or at least the rest of this part of it. And…I think I'd be okay now with being separated from them again. And I can always visit of course." He smiled.

Gerald nodded. "Very cool." He got some beans himself and then set his plate aside. "So, shall we fire up the conference?"

Arnold nodded. "Sure! Let's do it." He put his plate down for the moment as well.

Gerald went at the computer keys, setting up the internet connection and opening the program to start the live video chat. It took a few minutes but then suddenly an image beamed to life—all the guys: Harold (looking bulky but kind of in shape now), Stinky (still tall and now with a small goatee), Sid (his hair had filled out a bit now), Eugene (still with that sparkling smile), even Curly (the same glasses, the same haircut, but something rather suave about him as well).

"Hey Arnold!" they all shouted at once, crowding around the computer camera on their end.

Arnold beamed. "Hi guys! I miss you. How are all of you?"

They all started to talk over each other and Arnold and Gerald just laughed. "One at a time, please," Arnold requested.

"Aw, we're great! I just made linebacker on the football team! And Patty's visiting from college next weekend—she's hoping she can get a job teaching preschool in the city when she's done there."

"I'm mellow as usual, Arnold. Thinking about going into veterinary school actually. Sidney III gave me the idea—I could specialize in frogs."

"I've done opened up a stand on the weekends at the farmer's market here, Arnold, and my vegetables have been sellin' really good. I'm gonna try to grow another prize winning pumpkin this year for the city fair too."

"Oh Arnold, everything's just fabulous! I'm in the running for a scholarship to the dance academy downtown here!"

"I'm just preparing to take over the world and free all the animals, as per usual. Oh and Rhonda is getting proposed to the second we get those high school diplomas. She wants it, oh yeah!"

"How are you Arnold?!" they all asked at once with smiles.

Arnold's grin went ear to ear—it rarely did that these days anymore. "O-Oh, well…I'm great, and happy, and things here are even better than you guys probably remember…." He started to talk more.

It was nice to be with friends and family. Sometimes that was what a person needed most in life.


Debates and Decisions and Doing the Right Thing

"Alright, let's see…Apartment…118 A. Yup, this is the one." A familiar young woman wearing black leggings and a long pink sweater and short pink boots moved aside some of her long blond hair behind one of her ears, put down her blue duffel bag, and gave a firm rap at the upscale looking apartment door. "Olga, I'm here, and I'm tired. The train ride was a bear. You'd better be taking me out to dinner ASAP, and then I just want to turn in early and sip white wine spritzers and watch a cheesy movie and go to sleep. I've gotta be at Bennington University's auditorium by eight AM to set things up with the leader of Bennington's team since I'm our school's team captain, so please open up and let me lie down!" Helga stretched and yawned. 'Ugh, why am I captain of that stupid club? I hate clubs…but I do love arguments. And I do like being in charge. I guess having to get there an hour before everyone else is worth it. Besides, this is the last year of it anyway.' She finished her stretch, and then crossed her arms over her chest, waiting for Olga to finish dashing across her wooden floors (Helga could hear her sister's heels clicking away at lightening speed already) and open the door.

The door flew open! "Baby sister!" Olga squealed and jumped out into the hall, giving Helga a big hug. "Oh, I'm so happy you're finally here! How was your trip? How are you enjoying school? Oh it's been too long since we've visited, Helga—you've grow up so much! Just look at you!" Olga pulled back a little to admire Helga and her smile grew and a tear came to her eye. "You're not my 'baby' sister anymore, are you, Helga?"

Helga spoke in a slightly sarcastic tone, though she smiled a little nonetheless. "Well, let's see, Olga—I'm a twenty-one-year old woman almost in possession of a college education, I've published dozens of poems in school literary journals, I've studied in Paris, I've got a rockin' body if I do say so myself, and I consume coffee drinks like it's nobody's business. Yeah, definitely don't seem to be a baby anymore."

Olga just laughed and gave Helga one more tight hug before picking up her bag and guiding her inside. "Oh, bab—Helga," Olga corrected, as she had always tried to do as much as she could ever since Helga had been about nine or ten, "You're always so funny. I really am happy you asked to stay with me during your debate team's contest against Bennington instead of staying in one of the dorms on the campus. I've been looking forward to it for weeks! It'll be so nice to show you around the city—I loved it here so much when I was going to college, and it's been so nice to move back and live here now." Olga put Helga's bag down on her sofa and gestured around the apartment with a smile. "So, what do you think of the place? Not bad for a 'starving actress', right?" She laughed, smirking just a tiny bit (which was rare for Olga, but she could do it nonetheless), and crossing her arms over her chest as she turned back to her baby sister.

Helga's grin picked up on one side as she glanced around the place. "You should send Bob pictures of this joint and write that same question underneath them. He was such a jerk, telling you you'd never be able to amount to anything if you quit teaching and went for the theatre." The place really was snazzy—white and peach tones, living room, kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, skylight…For a moment, the skylight made something pinch inside of Helga and she glanced away from it, but then she quickly regained her smile and satisfied demeanor as she turned back to her sister. "I'd say you've arrived in spades, Miss 'three leading roles in major stage productions this season alone.' I knew you just had to hone in on the part of acting that you'd be good at." Olga had wanted to be in movies first—Helga had known that was doomed to be a bust. Olga couldn't handle direction and multiple takes and cutting and reediting and everything shot out of order. Then she had wanted to be in musical theatre, but Helga knew that, while Olga could play piano, vocally she could barely lightly coo a jaunty tune. No, what Olga had needed was direct, in the moment drama—a place to express all of her dramatics and emotions and to act her part thoroughly from start to finish with a live audience to praise her. Live, traditional theatre—that had been Olga's calling. And now she had finally found it. "I'm proud of you, you great big perfect pain in the neck." Helga stepped closer and nudged her sister.

Olga smiled very appreciatively. "Thank you, baby sister…" she replied softly, It really did seem to mean the world to her that Helga had said something like that and approved of her. She trusted Helga's judgment, and, besides, Olga recalled how Helga had been the only member of their family even remotely supportive of her career change decision quite a few years ago. Bob had taken a very 'realist' approach to her decision, to say the least. Miriam had sort of seemed like she was trying to be nice but that she felt, quite frankly, that Olga was making a mistake and Miriam didn't want to see her ruin her life like that.

Helga, while being a bit tough on her—grilling her about why she wanted to do this and what exactly she wanted to do with this and what her plans were, both immediate and long term—had at least given her the benefit of the doubt. As long as Olga was willing to take this seriously, Helga was willing to support her. Helga knew her sister had a good head on her shoulders, besides which by that point Olga had been just shy of thirty years old. Olga could make her own decisions, and if Olga wasn't happy teaching anymore, then why not?

Actually, the only reason Olga had even told her parents about her plans in an 'asking permission' kind of way was that she had known that money would be quite tight at first, and so she had needed to ask to move back home for a bit.

Bob had been ready to say no way as a means of deterring Olga from this new life choice.

Miriam hadn't really been sure what to do.

Sixteen-year-old Helga had settled the issue though.

She had announced, point blank, that if Olga wasn't allowed to come back home to live for a bit, she would be moving out—she would get on a plane, go to San Lorenzo, marry Arnold, and be back for a visit with their first grandchild in a year or five, whenever felt convenient for her. Or…they could cut Olga a break, especially since she had always been so perfect for them, and then Helga would stay here and help out at the Beeper Emporium part time and finish high school and go to college and go marry Arnold at a better time, teen pregnancy being such a problem in our society today.

And then the way she had smirked at her parents—letting them know that she really would do it, and she really could pull it off.

Finally, they had agreed to let Olga stay for a year at least.

And of course her career had started off slowly as she found her way, but she had seemed happy, and that fact had let Helga know that this was right for her.

And now here Olga was, an established actress, and here Helga was, almost ready to graduate college—a writer, a debater, a traveler, a leader, ready to be anything and anyone she wanted to be.

"Don't mention it, Olga," Helga finally said softly back to her.

They had one of their little looking at each other and getting each other moments (see the end of Olga Comes Home), and then Helga sat down on the couch, propping up her feet on the coffee table. "Not exactly dressed for that fantastic dinner I'm expecting, are you, Olga?" He sister was wearing casual white cotton pants and a black sweater with a green scarf around her neck. "Come on, you know I can pack it away, and I am starving." Helga yawned again, unable to help it. "And exhausted. Man, I can't wait until graduation. I'm gonna sleep for two weeks."

"You've been working hard at school, Helga?" Olga sat down beside her sister with an interested smile.

A little smirk came to Helga's lips as she reclined back on the couch a bit and closed her eyes. "I'm making sure to get all A's just on principle to prove that it's not just you who can do it. Boy, are Bob and Miriam going to be ticked off when I tell them after this I might just bum around the world for a bit, doing whatever interests me, seeing the sights, writing poetry, of all things. Bob's going to love that especially." She opened her eyes and glanced at her sister again. "You know, he decided to hand pick me to inherit the Beeper Emporium despite the long talks we've had that I'm not doing that ever…even if I could run that place with one hand tied behind my back and blindfolded and without even trying. You know, I singlehandedly saved that place by upgrading Bob's focus to advanced cell phones and state of the art laptop computers. Then we just kept the beepers around using a 'retro' gimmick. Piece of cake." Helga crossed her arms over her chest and grinned in a touch of pride.

Olga laughed and rolled her eyes. "Oh baby sister, don't listen to Daddy even if you are the best one in the family at running the Beeper Emporium. You just do whatever makes you happy, traveling and getting A's and writing poems and all."

Helga nodded. "Yeah, I will, Olga. Besides, now that you and me are both out of the house, Miriam's gotten back into running things there a bit and she really likes it. Bob gets a little leery about having her on his turf sometimes and about her holding her own in business negotiations, but she's just as dominating as you and just as fiery as me combined when she wants to be. She'll make that place make bank, at least until she and Bob decide to retire." She winked at her sister.

Olga smiled brightly, happy to hear that helping run the family business was working out for their mother again. Being a housewife had never really seemed to work out well for 'mummy.' Of course, growing up, Olga had been a little too preoccupied with her own affairs and accomplishments to notice much, but she had noticed more in hindsight over the last few years (and Helga had helped point some things out to her too, she being a much more keen observer and absorber of human behavior). Their mother had clearly not been happy in some respects of her life, and it had taken its toll. They were just glad now to see things coming full circle now, to see her actually enjoying different activities and working and even being with their father. Miriam had had some issues with motherhood, that was all, and though this fact had taken some toll on Olga and Helga they couldn't resent her for it anymore in their lives. They were old enough to understand that the situation was more complicated just labeling Miriam a 'bad mother'—she had married young, she had had Olga young, she had had Helga out of nowhere, and to be stuck in the house day after day…Both girls knew such a life would have gotten to them too, and probably much more quickly and with barely better consequences than it had done with Miriam.

Everyone in the Pataki family was trying to move on from petty resentment and to grow up and forgive each other and be better to each other. It was just a slow process, but if anyone could make it work it was a clan of Patakis.

"I'm glad mummy's doing well, Helga," Olga commented meaningfully. "Mummy and Daddy. I'll try to visit them again soon. And absolutely after your graduation. I know you have a lot of dreams and big ideas, baby sister, but were you planning to live at home again for a little while after school was over at all?" she asked with interest.

Helga considered and shrugged. "I haven't decided yet. Maybe just for a little while, just to figure out what exactly to do next. But I don't think I'd want to stay there for too long. I mean, I wouldn't mind staying in Hillwood—I like the city, Olga. I really do. I'd like to live there as an adult. But I don't really wanna stay with Bob and Miriam longer than I'd have to. You know me—I like my own space, spreading my wings, moving forward, that kind of thing." She smiled.

Olga nodded. "I understand, Helga. I almost wouldn't mind going back there to live or for an extended visit myself. It's a lovely place in its own way. I'm sure you could find a nice apartment there after you find a job."

Helga sighed, her grin picking up on one side. "Ah, I almost forgot—the financial aspect. Hmm, maybe I really will end up bunking with Bob and Miriam a bit until I figure things out."

Olga's smile brightened and she suggested in a voice so full of hope it was practically ready to squeal, "O-Or, um…if you wouldn't mind just visiting Hillwood for now after graduation…you could come live here with me, baby sister…"

Helga blinked, her eyes going wide at the offer. "I…really…?"

Olga nodded eagerly. "Oh yes, Helga! I wish you would. Even if it's just for a little while or for the summer." Olga bit her lip, looking down sheepishly and playing with her hands. "I know that you and I can 'clash' a little when we live too closely together, like you've always said, but I would set up a room just for you and like I said it wouldn't be permanent, just an extended visit. And I have to work quite a few days a week so you'd have plenty of private time to yourself. I'd just really like to get to know you more, baby sister…as grownups." She frowned a little. "We got born so far apart, by the time I went to college you were barely starting school, and it took us so long to really like and respect each other, let alone to actually get along. I just thought it'd be nice to try living together as friends now. But only if you want to, bab—Helga." She looked up at Helga, patiently awaiting an answer.

Helga just remained looking back at her with wide eyes for a few seconds.

Then she smiled softly. "Aw, come here, you big lug." She lunged forward and hugged her sister tightly. "Of course I'll come stay with you for a little while, Olga." She pulled back and looked up at her sister. "I'd…I'd actually really love to do that. Thank you. I think it might even be fun, Olga." She smiled with enthusiasm. Genuine and sincere enthusiasm. She liked the idea of living with Olga now.

Olga just about burst and then squealed and caught her sister up in a great big hug before pulling back and clapping her hands together happily. "Oh Helga, I'm so glad! It'll be wonderful! Thank you! And like I said you'll have all the freedom you want and you can explore the whole town and if any of your little friends want to visit they're more than welcome."

"Thanks, Olga," Helga replied. Then she smiled a little more and added, "And don't worry, I'll make sure Lila's one of those friends. I know you two still love each other to death." She almost laughed a little. Lila as an older girl and as a younger woman still remained very compatible personality-wise with Olga. And though the two of them had lost touch, what with everyone going their separate ways and trying new things, the two of them still had the capacity to love to see each other.

Olga beamed a little. "Oh that would be wonderful, Helga! I've missed Lila and you two have always been so sweet together ever since you were little girls."

Helga rolled her eyes but couldn't help smiling more and even laughing a little. 'Sweet together' was one way to put it, she supposed. But, yeah, in the end she and Lila really had been good friends—friends in the way that your personalities clashed so much that somehow it just worked and you could get along even if at the same time you could almost tear your hair out about how ridiculously silly the other person seemed to you, you know? Lila had helped keep Helga optimistic (especially in the wake of a certain lack of an optimistic person in her life), and Helga had helped keep Lila a bit grounded and aware of the fact that nothing was perfect in life (which had helped Lila considerably as she had left the safety and comfort of P.S. 118 for their high school and then left their high school for college in the countryside.) The two girls kept in touch a little though they had rarely seen each other in the last few years. But Helga figured if she was going back home for a bit after graduation Lila might be too, so why not invite her to spend some time living life free and independent away from home as a couple of young women with the world and their futures at their feet?

Helga just sighed now and shook her head at the memories, still smiling. "Alright, alright, we've got plans, we're gonna live together, at least for a 'summer of exotic urban adventure' or something, everything's gonna be sunshine and rainbows and we'll invite Lila along and sing show tunes in the streets about how wonderful our time is together, sounds great." Then she crossed her arms over her chest after this sarcastic but amusing reply and added, still with a playful grin, "But if I'm gonna live here, you've gotta make sure I'm taken care of, 'big sister.' And right now you're baby sister is still tired and your baby sister is still starving—feed me, please…preferably something greasy and lots of it, okay?" She laughed…and then that laugh accidentally turned into a yawn. 'Ugh, I could just collapse on this couch right now, to be honest…' she thought to herself almost groggily.

Olga blinked and then laughed too. "Oh, right, right, I'm sorry, baby sister. I've just been so excited about asking you this that I almost forgot. But, I was wondering," she looked at Helga with a touch of concern, "you do seem rather tired baby sister. Maybe we could go out to eat tomorrow for breakfast, and instead tonight we could order in—maybe a couple of pizzas? And I've got a half-gallon of chocolate ice cream in the fridge. And we could change into our pajamas and watch some movies and catch up some more. What do you say?" She smiled hopefully at Helga.

Helga blinked and then brightened up considerably at the idea. "Wow, actually, that sounds fantastic after the travelling day I've had. You know, I think this 'temporarily living together' thing may actually work out really well." She gave her sister a bit of a look. "But nothing fancy, nothing super healthy, nothing free of anything it's clearly supposed to have—I want pizza: real, thick, cheesy, meat or other normal toppings covered pizza, and at least two or three of them. Oh and with extra garlic knots."

Olga nodded, hopping up from the couch in anticipation with a smile. "Of course, Helga! I'll order them right now!"

"Good, thanks, Olga," Helga called over the couch as she watched Olga trot away. "And hey can I take a shower before they get here? I really need to unwind a bit, I hate long rides like the one up here."

Olga nodded, already having the phone in her hand to call. "Sure, Helga. It's the first door down the hall on your right." She pointed in the proper direction.

Helga got up and brought her duffel bag with her as she headed that way. "Thanks, Olga. Be ready soon! Oh and order us some yahoo sodas if you don't have any!"

"Got it, Helga!" Olga called out just before Helga reached the door to the bathroom and headed inside.

Olga ordered the pizzas and garlic knots and sodas, and later the girls would catch up.


"Oh come on, I may have been the stubborn and rebellious kid overall, but nothing I did could have ticked off Bob and Miriam nearly as badly as the time you came home senior year of college and announced you were dropping out of school to 'get married and move to the big city' with a guy you'd only known three weeks. Oh, and then you added that he was an out of work actor so you'd have to support both of you, but 'isn't it romantic?'" Helga took another bite of pizza and laughed as she sat here now, cozy in her favorite pink silk pajamas and remembering how much of a cliché nightmare that whole engagement incident had sounded like when Olga had presented it to their parents nearly twelve years ago.

Olga just laughed and shook her head, opening up a fresh pizza box for the both of them. "Oh, I was so… Oh, Helga, that was so stupid of me! I was…well, I was the age you are right now. How could I have…" She sighed—how in the heck had any of that ever seemed like a good idea? But then again, a young person in love could convince themselves of many things, she supposed, lose their head a little, decide that something horrible sounding really wouldn't be horrible because somehow things were 'different' in your particular situation of it.

"Eh, you were too perfect up until that point—you were due for something totally off the wall." Helga shrugged, grabbing another slice and nestling back on the couch. "And at least you didn't go through with it." Helga looked down now and was fully prepared to change the subject to one of her own wacky escapades. She remembered how Doug's leaving had saddened Olga…and she also didn't want to get near the truth of the matter, of what she had done for her sister…

"You know…Doug turned out to be such a philanderer, Helga…" said Olga softly, a half smile and a kind of far away look in her eye as she just sat there, holding up a slice of pizza but not eating it.

Helga blinked, lowering her own slice. "What…?" she asked softly, raising part of her brow.

Olga gave a little shrug, smiling more and looking at her sister again. "I saw him once at a park not too far from Bennington College after I had my first teaching job here in this city after Alaska. It was…I guess three years after he'd left me. He was kissing some woman, and she looked so happy. At first, I thought that maybe she was just someone he had met on his trip, they had fallen in love…. That was fine, I was over him anyway. But…then this little girl came running up to them from the playground. Helga. She looked just like him, exactly like him. She was at least five…And she called him 'Daddy.'" Olga just let out a low sigh and leaned back and closed her eyes and shook her head. "I was so stupid—he was always on these phone calls and he'd hang up as soon as I got into the room, and I'd see bags for little expensive things from little expensive jewelry stores and even toy stores even though he said he had no money, and he'd tell me that they were just donations for the poor. The poor! And all the stuff he said about how after we got married sometimes he'd have to go off for a week or two at a time…volunteer missions to poor areas and outside of the country, minimal contact with home…" She smiled a little more. "To top it all off, he gave the woman a kiss and the child a hug and a pat on the head, and then they left…and as soon as they were gone he was looking around and he went over to a part of the park where the college girls usually hang out. I could just see him in the distance. He smoothed back his hair and slipped a wallet out of one of the girl's purses and then pretended to find it and return it like a good citizen or something. Then he winked and took her hand and kissed it—that was how he picked me up too…" Olga swallowed, putting down her pizza entirely now and opening her eyes again to look at her baby sister. "I'm so happy I didn't marry him, Helga. I don't know what happened to make him let me go, but I'm so happy I didn't marry him."

Helga looked at her sister with such a sympathetic frown. "Oh Olga…I'm…I'm happy you didn't marry him either." It was all she could think to say. Then she moved forward and hugged her sister because she knew how awful the idea could be of being with someone who didn't love you, who didn't truly, truly love you. Helga had imagined sometimes…over these last few years what it might be like to…with a guy besides…And even though, in a way, there was a temptation there, the idea of actually going through with it sickened her because no one would love her as Arnold had loved her, and she would never love anyone as she had loved Arnold.

She had expected Olga to cry or something, but Olga was a different person now, feeling a little too old for all of that. Besides, so much of it was in the past. "It's alright, baby sister." She patted Helga's back gently. "Things happen. You just have to deal with them and do your best. And look at us now…" she pulled back, smiling at her little sister, "I'm successful and happy and independent, and you're in college and thriving and a great young woman. Everything will turn out alright in the end."

Helga laughed a little, wiping a tear from her eye and pulling back too. "Always the optimist, aren't you, Miss Mary Sunshine?"

"It made up for you always being so grumpy, baby sister." Olga laughed too and gave her sister a little nudge in her shoulder.

"Oh shut up." Helga supposed she could have explained everything to Olga about the Doug LeSham thing, but she didn't think it was necessary. Olga had been spared a horrible mistake in her life, she had even seen the reality of that horrible mistake, and she was okay. All telling her about everything would have done was be like a way for Helga to show off, or to rub it in more. What was the point of that? Helga liked her secrets as long as they made things work out in the end. She was reminded briefly of Arnold finding out about the Nancy Spumoni snow boots thing—always a slight annoyance to her.

Olga smirked a little, sitting back a bit and going for her food again. "Besides, Helga, that whole near marriage of mine didn't drive Mommy and Daddy nearly as crazy as you announcing that you loved Arnold when you were only ten-years-old, bringing him around, giggling with him, explaining that you were going to marry him, sneaking off to be with him—even how you swore you'd run away and marry him and have a baby if they didn't let me live at home after I quit teaching. I don't think they knew what to do with you—you were even more of an unstoppable force than usual when it came to Arnold."

Helga smiled with a touch of pride. "I still am…and about a lot of other things besides Arnold too…" she said softly, and chomped another bite of pizza with gusto.

Olga smiled in interest, pulling up her legs and crossing them as she sat up on the couch a little more. "I know you don't like anyone asking about it but…are you two still together, Helga? I'm not sure I understand what happened with you…" She didn't mean to pry, but she did want to know what was going on in that small yet important part of her baby sister's life.

Helga sighed softly. She put her food aside. Then she swallowed and looked down. "Olga…we're just…uh…" But…maybe she didn't want to just sweep it under the rug again. Too much of that in her family always. Her sister was older and more mature now. Helga was older and more mature now.

And she felt like Olga would understand.

Helga spoke softly. "We're together…but we needed to be apart. A little. We couldn't just live for each other, Olga. When you're a kid or when your relationship's really young or when you just don't know any better yet, then you can do that. You can sacrifice and make everything about the two of you and have everything in your life…bent and refracted toward the other person. All of your happiness can be in the other person's happiness, and you can just be all for that, and everything can be easy in a way because the rules are all so simple." A far away look was in Helga's eyes as she organized her thoughts further. "Arnold and I could not love each other like that…at least, not forever. Our love has something more ancient about it…. That's a stupid way to put it, but that's all I can think of to describe it right now. We didn't want to ask all of that sacrifice of each other. We couldn't make each other just live for each other. Besides the fact that love like that would have completely clashed with our personalities, the whole thing would have killed our hearts and how we feel about one another." Helga looked at Olga very seriously, her eyes a little wide and lightly glistening with tears. "I love Arnold. But, Olga, I couldn't let that love make me die inside the moment he left for San Lorenzo, I couldn't let it make me spend the rest of my youth pining away desperately for him like I used to do when we were little, and I also couldn't let it make me sacrifice my friends and my family and my hobbies and my dreams and school and work and everything just for the chance to be with him as soon as possible and get married and live happily ever after. I didn't want the career of my life to be being Arnold's wife and the mother of a bunch of our children before I was even old enough or smart enough or sane enough to realize what I was doing. And I know Arnold, and he didn't want to grow up to just be my husband and the father of our children, tied only to our neighborhood and me for the rest of forever, too afraid along with me to ever be anything else. I had to let myself grow into my own person, Olga—my own freestanding person who loves Arnold but who won't die without him. And Arnold needed the same thing about me. And most importantly we just needed to finish growing up and realizing what life is and can be and to figure out the best way for each of us to live it before trying to harmonize those individual ways and being really together again. We're together…we just needed to be separated for a while. It's what's best for ourselves and what's best for each other." Helga let out a very deep sigh and closed her eyes. A lot of that had taken the energy of a fair amount of poetic passion out of her, and she really was too exhausted from her trip today to deal with it all much.

Olga let Helga have the silence she clearly needed for a few moments just to relax after letting out all of that.

"Do you feel better now, baby sister?" Olga finally asked softly with a touch of concern she couldn't help.

Helga let out one final deep sigh. "Yeah…but if we could move on to ice cream now, that would do the trick entirely, I think." She managed a smile and opened her eyes and looked at her sister again. "Sorry, I've been sorting all of that out in my head for a while. It was nice to let it out to someone. Hope it didn't sound too insane."

"Actually…" Olga looked proud and yet also confused, "I've never heard anyone speak about love with so much wisdom ever before, Helga. You understand things that I barely realize that I understand sort of…and you're right. It's different, finding someone to live for versus finding someone to live with…" Olga got up now and moved the pizza stuff aside and went to the kitchen to get the ice cream and bowls and spoons.

Helga nodded. "Yeah, that's sort of it." She blushed a little and added, "Thanks, Olga…" Then she swallowed and went on, "But also it's not even just about finding 'someone' to live with instead of live for. Arnold and I, we can't help being for each other. I could find another someone who's like him enough, I think, but it would never be him. He's the one I love, no matter how or where he is." She blushed a bit more and rolled her eyes. "I just wish it was time for us to be together again soon…but at the same time I don't, you know? What if he's changed a lot, what if he thinks I've changed too much, what if something's not there anymore for us, what if it's weird getting used to re-being with each other?" She practically turned pale a little and added, "What if he wants a wedding and a baby from me right away?" She shook her head. "We might not be on the same page anymore after all this time apart…" She glanced at her sister.

"Helga," Olga asked curiously from the kitchen as she finished getting things together, "you two couldn't be that separated—you must call each other or write or something…?"

Olga came back into the living room to find her sister looking down in a touch of shame. She placed down the ice cream and bowls and spoons and waited patiently for Helga's reply.

Helga bit her lip, then finally admitted, "I just couldn't, Olga. I just…couldn't. I just needed to be apart from him, I just needed some time alone, I just needed to not be doing everything about Arnold." She pulled up her knees, resting her head on them. "Sometimes I get things from him—little postcards and stuff, or small messages like 'Arnold says hi' through other people. But I just can't yet… I don't know what to say yet. I don't have the words…"

Olga listened carefully and nodded. "I understand, I think, Helga. But you don't have to say anything 'perfect' to him, you know. Just something if it feels right. But if you're not ready yet…. Helga, don't put so much pressure on yourself. You're young and you can do so much—just live your life as best you can." She looked down a little, still smiling though. "Don't waste most of the first few decades of it just trying to be perfect for everyone."

Helga blinked and looked at her sister. Then she wiped a tear from her eye and lowered her legs and hugged her from the side. "I don't think anything in your life was a waste, Olga. All of it made you who you are today…" She pulled back, smiling, and shrugged. "And, you know, you're…tolerable…most of the time."

The two sisters shared a laugh.

"Thanks, Helga." Olga wiped a tear from her eye.

"Yeah, yeah, yeah, take a picture, it'll last longer." Helga pulled back casually.

"You really loved the 90s, didn't you, Helga?" Olga asked with a smirk.

"Uh, doi—best decade ever!" Helga smirked right back at her.

They laughed some more and then started to scoop themselves some ice cream.

"Anyway, can we just watch an awful movie now and stop getting all mushy and serious and dramatic?" Helga asked in her usual both casual and sarcastic tone as she smiled and glanced through some of the potential flicks Olga had laid out for them.

Olga hesitated for a moment but then nodded. "Sure, baby sister. That's probably enough serious stuff for tonight anyway."

Olga did have one more thing she wanted to mention to her sister. She felt close to her and, despite Helga's youth, she felt her little sister would understand. But maybe all of this for tonight really was enough, and Helga really was tired. And, besides, Olga wouldn't have minded a night to try to put together the words right. Helga had always been the one good with words—for Olga, unless she thought about things very carefully, they tended to spill out in a big emotional mush, and then nothing made sense to anyone and she just looked silly.

So she would tell her the secret later.

They picked a cheesy romantic comedy and laughed about how stupid it made the girls be and how cocky it made the guys be and how predictable the plot was. Bad writing could be funny sometimes.

It was a good night.


Followed by a rough seven AM for Helga, who had still NEVER been a morning person.

"Ugh…" She tossed her messy blond hair out of her face and reached for her alarm and slammed down on the snooze button with her fist. "Mmm…" she groaned/mumbled to herself, "One more reason to get back together' together with Arnold—he's a morning person. Sleeping next to him, he'd make me get up and he'd make me be happy about it." She smiled and laughed a little at the thought. Not to mention how appealing the idea of waking up next to Arnold sounded. There were definitely a few milestones in their relationship that they had unfortunately not reached before their 'separation', and sometimes she regretted them a little.

"Baby sister! Are you ready for the day yet? I wanted to take you out to breakfast before your meeting at the school, remember?"

Yawning as the alarm went off again (and as these words from Olga in the kitchen nearby reverberated through her ears), Helga finally slammed the thing to the floor and sat up in the couch bed where she had crashed for the evening, stretching upward. "Alright, time to get this stupid early meeting before the debate over with…after an incredibly huge and greasy breakfast of course," she mumbled to herself. Then she called over her shoulder to her sister, "Be ready in a few minutes, Olga. Sheesh, you've only gotten more chipper with age."

Olga just laughed. "Oh and you never were a morning person, baby sister."

"You got that right." And on that note Helga got up and grabbed some clothes and went down the hall, emerged from the bathroom dressed and ready to greet the day soon enough, and then went with her sister out to a nice breakfast before heading over to Bennington to meet with the other debate team leader.


At eight AM, Helga G. Pataki walked into the main hall of Bennington College and up to the designated meeting place. There was a guy waiting there with his back to her: blue button up shirt, tan khaki pants, a little pasty but not a bad build. Helga tapped him on the shoulder with a smile, ready to greet him…and then, as the guy turned around, he turned out to be none other than Brainy, and that realization did a rare thing: it left Helga speechless.

"Brainy…? Brainy!"

Brainy blinked and blushed. Part of it was at being addressed by an unfamiliar yet quite attractive blond girl first thing in the morning. The other part of it was that no one had called him Brainy since high school, and it embarrassed him to think of. He tried to go by 'Brian' now, just for the sake of seeming professional at least. "Um…hello. Do I know…I…"

Realization sunk in as Helga G. Pataki socked him in the arm and laughed in that classic way she had of doing.

"Helga!" His eyes lit up and he smiled, taking off his glasses to clean them a bit and then looking back at her. "Helga G. Pataki!" It had been years now! Not since high school—oh certainly they had kept up a bit, the occasional birthday card and email, but he hadn't seen her in so long. She looked so different and yet just the same. But he should have known by that voice… He had always wanted to hear Helga's voice as an adult, had always imagined how it might take on that cool and sonorous quality her voice had sometimes gotten in her most sincere moments ever since they were children. He was right—that was just how she sounded now.

Helga jumped forward and hugged him with a smile. "About time you figured it out, you big geek! Sheesh, we were only friends since age nine and the only two people besides Phoebe who got roped into that advanced pre-college level English Literature class senior year, not to mention you were the only guy willing to dance with me at the stupid prom since Football Head was off saving the jungle and I'd terrified every other guy in school too much to even look at me the wrong way let alone put an arm around me and dip me to Dino Spumoni." She laughed and pulled back, giving him a look over. "Well, well, not bad, finally finished growing, voice doesn't sound like you're dying from nasal congestion, and I like the khakis/dress shirt look. Very classy." She glanced up at his glasses and sighed. "I do miss the tape on the glasses, though, from whenever I'd sock you, but otherwise you've grown up quite nicely, Brainy." Then she smirked a little and added, "So, what are you doing here? One final round of stalking me before we're officially way too grown up for you doing that not to be a felony?"

Brainy just smiled and blushed lightly and rolled his eyes. Nice adult voice but same old Helga G. Pataki. No amount of maturity would ever change that. "Actually, I'm the head of the debate team here and we have a match coming up in an hour, so I'm supposed to meet the other school's team leader here to go over the venue and reception. Someone named…" Brainy held up a clipboard that had been in his hand and flipped back a few pages. "Helga G…Oh." He looked up at her and smiled. "Oh it's you!"

Helga just rolled her eyes. "Ding, ding, we have a winner." Her eyes lit up and she smirked more and added. "This is great, you know. I'm gonna wipe the floor with you."

Brainy couldn't help smirking a little back at her. "Always overconfident, Helga, and that has always been your greatest downfall. You argue directly, but I've taught my team to argue subtlety. Your group won't know what hit them."

Helga grinned and looked at him with interest. "And just how are you supposed to argue when you need an inhaler every five minutes just to put together a sentence, huh?"

Brainy shrugged, grinning back to her. "Sinus surgery, first year of college." He took a deep inhale and let it out. "I could run a marathon uphill without even getting winded, Helga G. Pataki."

Helga blinked and smiled with interest. "Really? Well, congratulations, Brainy, it'll be nice to finally have the option for full conversations with you even if I will miss those times when we were younger when I got to do all the talking by default." Then she smirked eagerly, her arms crossed over her chest in defiance. "But all congratulation and childhood memories aside, you still don't stand a chance against me."

Brainy just smirked right back at her a little and replied simply, "I beg to differ. Prepare for the first time to be out-talked and out-argued by me, Helga G. Pataki. It is long overdue."

Helga leaned forward, her eyes brightening. "Oh yeah? Well then, Mr. Debate Club President, why don't you put your money where your formerly-wheezing mouth is? After the debate, captain of the losing team buys captain of the winning team a late lunch! Besides, it'll give us a chance to catch up. Come on, what do you say? Don't be a wet blanket." She held out her hand to shake on it.

Brainy didn't take much to get roped into a scheme, especially one as fun as this one. He took Helga's hand and shook it heartily. "It's a deal, Helga G. Pataki." They released from each other and then Brainy went back to his clipboard, his demeanor returning more to normal now. "Now, about those preparations which you're clearly stalling about." He rolled his eyes, shaking his head and checking a thing or two off on one of the papers.

Helga just scoffed and rolled her eyes as well, following him as they started to walk together toward the auditorium where the debate would be held in less than an hour. "Yeah, right, like I'd want to be delayed even a second in kicking your smug little butt. Come on, let's get this over with." She pushed open the auditorium door, gesturing forward and grinning. "Oh and just so you know, I'm thinking I'll want foot long hoagies and old fashioned root beers and chili fries and ice cream sundaes when this is over. If you're buying me lunch then you are BUYING ME LUNCH. Especially since these debates never let out until almost three, and especially after that macrobiotic breakfast of wheatgrass juice and bird food Olga made me eat this morning at one of those new age restaurants she likes so much." Helga laughed as Brainy walked past her into the auditorium and she followed him inside.

Brainy just smiled and nodded and continued examining the papers on his clipboard. "Mmm hmm, and after I win you can take us to my favorite Thai restaurant around here for coconut chicken and pad Thai and fresh tea and black sticky rice with mango." He glanced at her. "I play to win, Helga." He checked off something on the list emphatically.

Helga just smiled back at him. "Wouldn't have it any other way, Brainy, wouldn't have it any other way." She went to start looking the place over, maybe set up some chairs and fold out tables.

"Oh, but, um…Helga?" Brainy asked hesitantly, causing her to pause for a moment.

She turned around, raising part of her brow. "Yeah?"

Brainy blushed a little. "Can you call me 'Brian' when the teams get here? I kind of tried to leave the whole Brainy thing back behind in high school." He shrugged sheepishly.

Helga just giggled and waved him off. "Sure, Brainy, whatever you say." She gave him a serious nod and a wink, letting him know she really wouldn't say anything to embarrass him.

Brainy smiled thankfully. "Thanks, Helga."

"You're welcome, 'Brian.'" She laughed a little and shook her head and then went back to tending to whatever seemed to need doing.

Brainy was very interested in lunch later regardless of where they went or who was paying. He had been very curious about a lot of things about Helga G. Pataki ever since high school and even before. She had gotten so very tight lipped about her feelings and thoughts and life since Arnold had left, after all.


"Helga, you'd like a fork, I'm assuming, and not chopsticks, right?" Brainy couldn't help but grin a touch smugly as he asked the question while he and Helga were now sitting in that little Thai restaurant he had mentioned to her that morning. Guess whose side had won the debate?

"Hey," Helga smirked back at him, feigning some hurt pride but mostly just enjoying herself—it was nice to see a familiar face again, "I'll take chopsticks, thank you very much." She took the chopsticks from the waitress, who refilled their water and then gave them menus before departing. "Growing up having the occasional traditional Japanese dinner at Phoebe's house and then visiting Phoebe in Japan for two summers has had its advantages." Helga did a few neat little tricks with the sticks and then picked up a crunchy noodle , dipped it in some kind of sauce, popped it in her mouth and reclined back. "Not a bad joint, Brainy." She glanced around the restaurant before looking back to her eating companion. "And fair is fair—you're team won, even though it was only by this much." She pinched the ends of the chopsticks together to make a very small space between them.

Brainy sat back a little in his chair, picking up his own chopsticks. "Yes, but we still won." He smiled at her. "I really think you'll like this place, Helga. But if you really don't, then I'll take you for ice cream afterwards, okay? My treat," he offered graciously.

Helga smiled appreciatively but shook her head. "Nah. Thanks but I really will like this place, I think, and besides, like I said, fair is fair. And that coconut chicken you mentioned earlier did sound good." She opened the menu, starting to flip through with interest.

Brainy opened his as well, looking at a few new things.

The waitress came back soon and took their orders.

Then there was nothing left to do but talk.

"So, what have you been studying, Brainy?" Helga asked with interest, losing all the sarcasm and the playfulness, and slipping into a tone of mutual adult conversation.

Brainy smiled, happy for the chance to really talk now that the debate stuff was done. "Political science, biology…I was actually thinking of maybe going to medical school, becoming a doctor, specifically for asthma, things like that. I could work with kids like me." He smiled more. "I'd like to think about it a little more first, but I think it would make me happy."

Helga nodded, smiling more too. "That's great! Wow, a doctor…I always knew you had a lot of potential, Brainy. I think you'd make a great one."

"Thanks, Helga." Brainy sipped some water. "And what about you. I ran across a few of your poems and essays published in some of the more major college literary magazines. Are you still interested in writing or is it just a hobby and would you maybe like to do something else?"

Helga shrugged. "Actually, I've been studying political science a bit too. I wouldn't mind going into politics…" A soft look came to her eyes. "But really…I love the writing a lot, Brainy. And it's something I know I'll love for the rest of my life." She looked back up at him. "I'm an old softy at heart. You know that."

Brainy laughed a little. "Well, maybe you could combine the two things: study writing, go into teaching it, then maybe end up a leader on some of the country's educational boards, or maybe even the editor of your own literary magazine."

Helga nodded, her eyes lighting up a little. "Yeah, the thought has occurred to me about some kind of leadership writing roll. And good old Mr. Simmons did say once when we were kids that I might be a good teacher some day. And I do love magazines that aren't full of stereotypical girly crud. I think I could see either of those options working out." She laughed warmly.

"Say, whatever happened to Mr. Simmons anyway? Does he still live at the boarding house?" Brainy asked curiously.

Helga nodded. She kept up with Phil and Gertie after all from time to time. "Yeah, still there ever since he moved in right after Arnold and Miles and Stella left—I think he was kind of bummed about it at first, especially since he moved in there mostly because his marriage fell apart a little. But he stayed on and really started to enjoy it, met some new people, has a wonderful person in his life, last I heard. Good old Mr. Simmons…" He really had been such a wonderful teacher. Helga had kept up with him too.

Brainy smiled. "That's great. I'm glad. He really was a…well, a 'special' guy."

The two of them laughed warmly at the joke.

Then they were quiet for a moment together.

They felt kind of caught up so they were searching for something else to say now.

"Any other plans for after college…" Brainy started to ask softly, knowing the topic was a sensitive one (except for with Gerald, Phoebe, Lila and himself, and even then it only happened occasionally, Helga did not seem to like to talk about Arnold at all), "…or plans with Arnold?" he finished carefully.

Helga swallowed. She knew the question had been coming. She replied softly back. "Oh, um…still keeping my options open…a-about the plans for after college, heh. And, um…with Arnold, you know…I don't know…. We don't get to talk much anymore…" She was looking down, playing with her chopsticks. "I mean, maybe, if it's possible…I'd like to have some plans with him. He's still very special to me, Brainy." She looked up a little bit and finished. "I love him." A small laugh escaped her, an attempt to brush off the emotional moment.

Brainy nodded. He understood. "Well, maybe soon or after graduation you can talk to him. See where you're both at."

Helga smiled a little more and shook her head, trying not to show her nervousness. "Oh, I-I'm sure by now he's probably married the princess of the Green Eyed people or something and has a bunch of little demi-god football headed kids running around and—…"

Brainy had put his hand on Helga's on the table, silencing her right there. "Helga, you know none of that's true at all."

Helga looked into his eyes, uncertainty in hers. "It could be…" She shrugged a little and gave a quick laugh again, pulling away and trying to keep herself calm and lighthearted. Why had she been so weepy about all of this lately? Then again, she had a feeling she knew why. If there was one thing Bliss had taught her it was that suppression was never a good thing, and Helga had been suppressing some parts of her feelings for oh…huh, almost six years now. Funny how that was how long she had suppressed her feelings about Arnold before telling Bliss and then Arnold about them back when she had been a child. But she really didn't want to fall apart here in the middle of a restaurant now because the little things she had been suppressing were starting to come to a head in her life. She just wanted to talk to Brainy, just spend normal time with a friend.

Brainy half smiled and gave her a touch of a look. "But it's not, Helga" he replied to her joking suggestion that Arnold could actually be off being passionate with another woman, even begetting children. "In fact," he went on, "I'm guessing it's about as true as the idea he probably has in his head that you're Mayor of our home city by now and that you married his cousin from the country just because you knew it would tick him off the most."

Helga couldn't help it. She had to share a warm laugh with Brainy at that image.

"Ugh, you know, that creepy little guy moved into the boarding house too right after Simmons to help out with things temporarily after Arnold and his parents left," Helga remarked as the appetizers were put before them now. "I keep in touch with Phil and Gertie—they said he does help out, especially now that neither of them can get around too well, but they really still have issues with the phlegmy snort. Oh and Lila is over there every day dropping hints that she would make an excellent farmer's wife. I told her to let it go if he really keeps ignoring her, but she says they've made some progress. And it beats her waiting around for Stinky to get it together and make a move." She rolled her eyes. "That little miss perfect has such a thing for country bumpkins. It takes all kinds I guess, right?" Helga shrugged and laughed, finishing a spring roll.

Brainy took a spring roll as well. "Aw, but Lila and, er…what was his name? Arnie? Yes, Lila and Arnie or even Lila and Stinky sound sweet together. We should visit the old neighborhood after graduation for a bit. I've missed it ever since going away."

Helga nodded. Then she leaned a little closer and asked 'innocently' but with genuine interest, "So…you seeing anybody special? I heard our little Siobhan decided to come here the year after you did…"

Brainy looked down and smiled softly. "Actually, you remember that red head two seats to the left of me during the debate? With the green plaid skirt and green blouse and white cardigan and short hair…"

Helga blinked. "No way, really? You mean the one who interrupted you at one point to cut your argument off at the knees but then came up with an even better argument to clinch things for your side?"

Brainy sighed, looking a touch miffed but still smiling. "Yes, I vaguely recall…"

"Wow…" Indeed, the last time Helga had seen Siobhan she had been a little knock kneed, oversized green sweater, crooked flannel skirt, big glasses, hair all frizzy young girl. Apparently the last leg of puberty and a few years at college to grow into her own woman had changed her a bit. She smiled and reached over the table to elbow Brainy. "Alright, Brainy, you dog."

Brainy rolled his eyes and sighed much more deeply. "Helga, come one. We're not even…" He glanced away, "It's complicated."

Helga scoffed. "Yeah, I can see that. You always did like 'em a bit fiery, Brain boy." The entrees had come and Helga proceeded to cover her noodles with spicy oil.

Brainy just looked at her dryly, beginning to eat his chicken and pad Thai. "Very funny." He played with his food a bit. "It's just, you know…we're friends…with the sort of very obvious option of their being something more…I've never minded much, but I think it might be starting to bug her a little, which would explain the slight intellectually driven hostility she's been expressing toward me lately. But I'm not really sure what she wants from me…"

"Probably the same thing I've wanted from Arnold for a while, though I'm sure the details of her fantasy vary from mine—to each girl her own," Helga couldn't help but interject with a grin, taking a bite of her noodles.

"Helga!" Brainy blushed, looking at her with wide and shocked eyes.

Helga blinked. "What? Ohh, you thought I meant…Oh, crimeny, Brainy, I was talking about a proposal. Sheesh…." She grinned more and went back to her food. "Men really do think about it at least six times a minute, don't they?" she couldn't help but mumble under her breath.

"Shut up." Still blushing, but much more frustrated than actually angry, Brainy went back to his own food. "And that's not funny, Helga…" he added, though it sort of seemed like he was trying to hide a little twitch upward of the corner of his mouth.

Helga suppressed a few more giggles. "Yeah, uh huh, sure, whatever you say." She glanced up at him, speaking more sincerely. "But seriously, Brainy…if you like her and you're having some problems, even just as old friends, talk to her. You don't have to tie the knot or anything—she might just be sick of the back and forth. And as long as you still care about her…I mean, unless of course you two like the fighting or something?" She raised part of her brow.

Brainy sighed, sitting back a bit. "I do like…challenges." He swallowed. "But I don't think what's going on right now is something we both like, and I don't want her to be unhappy. We'll see…" He smiled. "You know, she's still the same person, just so much more…assertive, at least in debate club and at least about this particular topic of the two of us too. But in a way I'm glad for the change—she never spoke up for herself much in school and it always made me sad." He looked at Helga with a frown. "But we really never have been 'together' together… How am I even going to know if we'll be okay together? Or if she's still…or if I still love her like that…maybe…secretly…a little…for a time?" He looked down, blushing a little.

A sympathetic smile came to Helga's features. She understood. She even stopped eating for a moment. She took his hand and squeezed it gently. "Because you'll know. Just think about how you really feel, Brainy. How you would feel if she was gone…how you would feel if she stayed around. And if all else fails you can always kiss someone to figure out how you feel." She shrugged, blushing a little herself. "Kind of cliché and childish, I guess, but it always worked for me."

Brainy smiled warmly. "Thanks, Helga." Then he blushed a little again and added, giving her hand a squeeze back before taking his away to resume eating his food again, "I think Arnold would really like who you've become, Helga. You're very smart and strong and talented and attractive."

Helga beamed a touch. She swallowed and nearly stuttered as she replied, doing her best to focus on her own food again too, "U-Uh, r-right back at you, Bri—Brain…Brainy…"

There was a touch of something strange there then that neither could articulate nor make go away as they finished their meal.


Their late lunch sort of lingered over into the early part of the dinner hour. Then Brainy offered to walk Helga back to Olga's apartment building. Helga figured that was a good idea—she didn't visit Bennington much and she didn't want to get lost and this time of year it was already getting dark now. And cabs were always so expensive and such a hassle.

Once on the stoop of Olga's building they had sat down together and finished talking for a bit in the chill of the fall air, both of them full of good food and good memories.

As it got kind of late, Helga stood up and held out a hand to help Brainy up too. "Listen, Brainy…I just wanted to thank you."

"All I did was walk you back to Olga's apartment, Helga," he said humbly, though he knew she probably was referring to something more than that. He took her hand and pulled himself up so that he was standing too.

Helga shook her head. "No, doi, not just for that. I mean…thanks for talking with me and for eating with me and also for walking with me. I haven't gotten to do any of that with anyone I care about in a while and it felt nice." She crossed her arms over her chest and glanced to the side.

Brainy smiled a little and looked to the side too. "Well, in that case, thank you too, Helga. It's been a while since Siobhan and I went out and had fun together. Like I said, mostly we're sort of just strange friends right now and the last few times we did try to sit down she was just very quiet and we both kind of had a strange time, so…this was nice, going out and talking. Really." He looked up at her. "I wish you lived closer so that we could do it again sometime soon."

Helga swallowed . "Yeah, me too." She looked up at him. "And you'll try to see about the Siobhan thing, right? At least try to get things on good terms as friends if anything more's really not going to work out…but check and make sure that it really won't work out first…" she added encouragingly.

Brainy nodded. "I'll try. And try to talk to Arnold soon, Helga, or see him…I have a good feeling about that. And…even if you have doubts, it never hurts to check, like you said, right?" He smiled a little and shrugged a little, looking down at her.

Helga nodded slightly. "Yeah…never hurts to check…" She felt very funny about this. Then she just… "Brainy…?"

He nodded, almost having an idea but not really thinking she would actually…

"Don't hate me for this, okay?" She smiled a little, looking apologetic, and then she went forward and lightly put her lips to his.

Brainy's whole world stopped.

A part of him had wanted to kiss Helga G. Pataki since he had been three years old.

He barely knew what to do now that it was happening though.

Actually, he thought about it and he realized…he didn't want to do much of anything. Though it was nice to kiss her, he couldn't deny that at least.

Helga had her own feelings on the matter, initial ones and then changing ones as the moment progressed. It had just been such a long time, and maybe she was misremembering how…and maybe…

But she let her lips leave his and there was nothing but cold air between them.

"I-I'm sorry," she barely got out, trying to seem fine still and trying to smile. "I just needed to see, because it's been so long, and I wasn't…" She took a deep breath. She could keep it together, for just a little longer she could keep it together. She looked into his eyes, her own eyes glistening. "I'm sorry, Brainy, with all of my heart. Really, I am."

Brainy was coming out of it a bit now finally. He blinked. He blushed and looked quite awkward at first, of course. But then he took in her words and finally looked down at her tenderly and smiled. "I understand. I…maybe I wanted to too just to see… but…there was barely more than a fantasy there to begin with, Helga. I don't think…"

"There's nothing…I know," she finished for him. But she didn't seem disappointed. If anything she seemed relieved.

Brainy nodded. He seemed a touch relieved too, like something was finally settled. "Yeah, that. A-At least I know that I don't love you that way, even if I'm still not sure I love Siobhan that way. But we'll see what happens when I kiss her, if she'll let me—it's been a while after all…" He smiled softly, remembering. "It was always nice to kiss her, those few times I got to when we were kids and confused and everything was a little chaotic. She was always so quiet but always seemed so happy. And I felt happy too, I think."

Helga sighed softly, smiling too. All of that sounded good. She was happy for Brainy. "Goodnight, Brainy," she said softly. Then she lunged forward and gave him a big hug like she had done upon seeing him this morning. "And good luck." She pulled back and held out her hand and took his and shook it.

"The same to you, Helga," Brainy nodded, shaking her hand back.

Then they parted ways with a wave of the hand and a promise from Helga that she would always be here for Brainy, and a promise in return that Brainy would always be here for her if she needed it.

Helga went upstairs and into her sister's apartment.

There she found Olga, clearly waiting up but having dozed off now. Helga wasn't surprised—Olga's rehearsals usually lasted all day and could be quite draining. She smiled half way and covered her sister with a knit shawl that hung over the back of the couch. Then she was thirsty so she decided to get herself a glass of water and maybe head to bed early herself. She'd had a long day too.

Olga had always been a light sleeper though, and the feeling of the blanket being laid over her shoulders caused her eyes to flutter open. She yawned and then sat up. "Baby sister?" she mumbled.

Helga came out of the kitchen with her glass of water. "Here, Olga. Sorry, didn't mean to get back so late in the day. Late lunch with a friend, then we talked for a bit and walked around a little. I know you probably had a full day though—you get to bed and I'll turn in early too. We can spend the day together tomorrow before I have to head back to school."

Olga yawned but sat up with a smile. "Oh nonsense, baby sister, I might be tired but I do still want to hear about your day." Then she blushed a little and added, "And I also wanted to talk to you about something…"

Helga smiled and sat down on the couch beside her sister, putting her drink down on the coffee table. "Oh, the day was alright. We lost the debate, but it was still a good battle. A-And the captain of the other team was Brainy—you remember that guy with the glasses and the wheezing who I used to hang out with back home? So after everything was over we got some lunch and caught up for a bit." 'I can keep it together. Just keep it together, then maybe schedule a phone session with Bliss next week and let it all out. Yeah, sure, okay…' "So, yeah, that was good…"

"Oh. I'm glad." Olga smiled sincerely. She sensed her sister could have gone into more detail, but maybe she was just tired. It was understandable. Either way, Olga did want to talk to her about something. "I'm happy you enjoyed your day." She swallowed. "Baby sister…um…you know I trust your judgment and value your opinion very much, right?"

Helga was a little distracted with her own issues, but she could sense when Olga had something big and unusual on her mind. She glanced at her. "Yes, well, since I am the most astute person on the planet, I figured you might feel that way." She smiled jokingly a bit, but then looked at her sister a touch more seriously. "What's up, Olga?"

Olga shrugged, lowering the shawl from her shoulders. "Well…I'm established now and I'm happy and I have money and time…and I'm already thirty three, baby sis—Helga. So I…" she glanced up at her hesitantly, "Do you promise you won't laugh?"

Helga looked at her even more sincerely now. "Of course not, Olga. Really, what is it? Another career change?" It was all Helga could think of.

Olga shook her head. "Not quite." Then she took a breath and spoke as seriously to her sister as possible. "I was thinking of having a baby, Helga."

Helga's jaw dropped and the first thing to pop out of her mouth before she could stop it was, "With who?!"

"Nobody!" Olga blushed and looked down. "Just…me. I was thinking of having a baby just by myself. Or adopting…but I think I'd prefer having a baby and giving birth to it." She looked back at her sister. "Helga, this has been on my mind for a while. I always wanted to have children someday. But the time's passing so quickly. Do you think it's stupid, Helga?"

Helga blinked a few times. She could still keep it together. For her sister's sake, she absolutely could, at least for a bit longer. "N-No, Olga…I think it's beautiful. I think you'd be a wonderful mother, Olga, and…oh, I'd be an aunt. I think…I think that's one of the best ideas you've ever had actually, Olga." She smiled and took her sister's hand. "Anything you need, I'm here for you. Anything at all."

Olga just beamed so much that Helga thought she would burst. "Oh Helga!" Olga wrapped her up in a vice grip hug. "Thank you! I've really wanted to do this, I've really thought it through, and now I could support a child too! And then later in my career I could take a break from acting and maybe just teach acting classes and piano lessons so that I could be around more for the baby while it grows, and then I could go back to doing more theatre when the baby got a little older. I wanted you to be the first to know. I knew you'd be honest with me about whether it was a good idea or not. You know how I can get carried away with things and not think of the big picture sometimes. But I really tried hard to take a lot of time to consider this, and I think I might be a good mother too, and I'm so happy you think so! And you won't just be the baby's aunt, you'll be its godmother too!" She pulled back, smiling with tears in her eyes. "Isn't it wonderful, Helga? Hasn't life just worked out beautifully? I love you so much, Hel…Helga…" Olga's face fell at the sight of her sister's face. "Helga…what happened?"

Her baby sister was crying. Not sobbing, but tears were just streaming down her face and she had this look like she wanted to hold them back but just couldn't bear it anymore. She tried but just couldn't speak at first.

"Helga?" Olga was very worried right now, all the joy in her features being replaced with concern. "Please, what…"

"Oh Olga…" Helga flew at her sister and hugged her and let her tears fall against Olga's nightgown and the shawl as she cried quietly and spent a long while telling her everything…Everything about missing Arnold, even if they could only just be friends now in life or something, everything about her confusion with never knowing what to say to him, everything about feeling so frustrated never being quite sure where they stood, everything about feeling so ridiculous about kissing Brainy right now, everything about just feeling so ready to move on with everything in her life but feeling more and more over the last couple of years that something wasn't right anymore with what she and Arnold had done and knowing it needed to be changed and fixed permanently but being so unsure as to how to go about doing it. She was so happy in all the other parts of her life, but she had been avoiding this one for so long, and now she had to realize how sad she was about it all. It would be okay, she knew it would be okay, she just needed to talk to someone. She needed her big sister to help make it better.

After Olga helped her that night…comforted her, tended to her, talked with her til all hours of the morning just to help her feel better…Helga knew her big sister would be one of the best mother's in the world.

The next day, before leaving Bennington with the rest of her teammates, Helga dropped a single letter in a mailbox. It was the right time, it felt like the right thing to do. She knew Arnold would have approved, and she approved too. The letter was addressed to San Lorenzo. The message inside was brief but explained everything she felt and everything that had happened and everything that she wanted and it ended with, "I love you, Arnold. And I miss you. I want to see you soon. No matter what. Please."

Because Helga didn't keep up with Arnold and only rarely heard anything from Gerald, and because Phoebe and Gerald hadn't spoken much in a few years, Helga didn't know Arnold was actually living right in this country at the moment.

It was alright though. It might have made the letter take a little longer to get to him, but after receiving it in South America Arnold's parents had it forwarded to him in the States.

Arnold was preparing for graduation in a few months when he finally got it. And when he did, he cried but he also smiled ear to ear. Two things only Helga G. Pataki could ever really make him do—cry and smile ear to ear.

He couldn't deny that he'd had similar thoughts…similar doubts…similar desires and dilemmas. He didn't blame her. He was just happy to hear from her. He had actually been planning to write to her himself as soon as graduation had finished, just to see where they stood.

At first he just wrote back to her. He replied to her concerns, he told her about his own experiences. The more he wrote, the more right it felt. He told her he missed her too at the end of the day. But he didn't set up a meeting right away. He figured they needed to ease back into this. The 'jarring, sudden leap, heat of the moment' stuff had been fine when they were kids, but these things had to be handled delicately and with care now. Letters were fine to start, meetings could come later…and then more.


Home

As soon as Arnold and Helga had sent some letters back and forth, and as soon as Helga had realized Arnold was indeed back home, and quite permanently for the most part (he still wanted to make some trips, do some exploring, but he wanted his home to be here right now in his life), they started making plans to see each other, starting right after Arnold had moved back to the boarding house after graduation to help out his grandparents and take some time to figure out exactly what he wanted to do next in his life, and right after Helga had finished her summer with Olga and was ready to head back to Hillwood to look for a job and a new place to live. They had started slowly, just hellos and coffee…then meals and movies…then quiet evenings together…. The intimacy took a little while to come back in some respects, but when it did it just flowered. And though they couldn't be together every day necessarily between work and friends and other interests and some degree of commuting distance between them at points, they could at least be together for most days of the month. And they felt happier with each other than they ever had as teenagers…even happier than they ever had felt as children. Working things out as adults was doable, they just had to keep their priorities straight, keep their heads above the romantic waters.

When Phoebe finally decided to move back to the United States after several years of studying in Tokyo, she had sent Helga a letter asking her to meet her at the airport. She had also asked Helga to invite Arnold, and to tell Arnold that he could bring a 'friend' along if he wanted.

Helga knew the old code in an instant.

Helga, Arnold and Gerald were now all at the airport together. Well, not 'together' exactly. Arnold and Helga were sitting at a little café table together watching from a slight distance as Gerald waited alone by the terminal for Phoebe to disembark her plane, which had just arrived. He was trying very hard to look cool in his red dress shirt and black dress pants with a red rose in his hand.

"How bad is he panicking inside, 'Carrier Pigeon'?" asked Helga to Arnold, sipping from a steaming cup on a saucer that smelled of mocha and cinnamon while she looked in Gerald's direction, a little smile curling at one corner of her mouth.

Arnold sipped his green tea and let out a sigh, trying not to smile. "Bad…'Mighty Falcon.' I actually had to stay on the phone with him most of last night to convince him that running off and suddenly joining the Peace Corps or even spending a few years 'finding himself' in San Lorenzo was not the best option right now."

Helga laughed a little and nodded, putting her cup down. "Yeah, I figured he'd be freaking a little. After all, it's been a while since they talked." Helga turned to her beloved as she felt his hand gently come to rest atop hers. She let their fingers lace. "Phoebe's nervous too," she explained. "But she's being very close lipped. But then again always has been, a little. And I think she only got more reserved living in Japan so long. After all, she didn't just go to college there, she started medical school there too. It's been almost six years for them, Arnold."

Arnold nodded in understanding. Six years…was a very long time for anything. He smiled a little and added, "Gerald's mostly afraid she's going to walk off the plane with a sumo wrestler husband or some good looking CEO or some brilliant scientist who could buy and sell Gerald's poetry café back in Hillwood if he felt like it."

Helga actually snorted a little, she laughed so much. "Oh Arnold, please—Phoebe would definitely tell me if she'd gotten married."

Arnold had to nod in agreement. "Yeah, I think she would have told me too." Phoebe and he still shared some closeness, and Arnold was still one of the best people to go to for advice. If she had had something big to share in advance, Arnold knew she would have found a way to tell him, even just for the sake of indirectly softening the impact it might have on Gerald.

Helga took her hand from her beloved's grasp to sit back a little and stir her coffee. "I think Phoebe's just afraid she'll get off the plane and he won't be here or he'll be here but not really care that much—just another friend coming to greet her, you know?" Helga knew that worry well enough.

Arnold nodded, understanding too. No matter how in love you were, it never felt like there was a guarantee that the spark would always be there. But you could hope... "Is she really staying now?" he asked, taking another sip of his tea.

Helga nodded affirmatively. "That's what she told me. She loved school in Japan, but she wants to live here, so she'd rather finish up her medical training in this country and then—"

"Shh. There she is," Arnold said quietly, gesturing with his head over to the terminal.

Helga stopped and looked. People were getting off the plane. Then eventually a young woman with short black hair and glasses and a long powder blue coat left the plane with a purse in hand, and she was timidly glancing around.

"Arnold, if he runs, I'm gonna—" Helga could see Gerald already frozen in panic. Clearly he had laid eyes on Phoebe too.

"He won't run. I promise," Arnold assured her, taking her hand and squeezing it again. "Look."

Helga watched, and though Gerald didn't take a step forward, he didn't run.

Phoebe got closer to him, still looking around.

Then Gerald stumbled his way forward to her, actually accidentally bumping into her before finally getting himself together and seeming to say hi. They watched further as Phoebe shyly looked down and blushed and tried to say hi too. And Gerald finally remembered the rose and gave it to her, and Phoebe slipped it into the top of her purse and looked very happy. Then they started to talk a little.


"Phoebe, babe…welcome ho—um…" Gerald cleared his throat. His voice had deepened more since high school, his hair was cut a touch shorter, and he had even grown another inch or so. He hoped she would still like him. But anyway, he recalled his intended greeting. "Okaerinasai. Aitakatta. Phoebe wa genkii desuka? O-Oh…" Upon finishing delivering this amateur greeting rehearsed as best as he had been able to since he had never formally learned the language and hadn't had anyone to practice it with in quite a while, Gerald had to pause at the sight and feeling of Phoebe suddenly bringing up a single finger and gently laying it over his lips.

She blushed softly and smiled shyly, looking up into his eyes. "It was nice of you to keep up with the language, Gerald. But we can talk in English, if you wouldn't mind. I haven't gotten to speak it too regularly over the last few years. Besides, you can always express yourself so much more articulately in English, and I like hearing that." She removed her finger, holding her purse in her hands in front of herself. "But I do appreciate the effort, Gerald. Very much. And I'm glad you came." Then she swallowed and looked down shyly, trying not to blush. Phoebe had never been the most outgoing person romantically. In fact, she could have seen herself never really getting involved in a serious relationship or married…except for Gerald. Gerald and even the thought of Gerald had always been a comfort to her. Her heart still fluttered lightly for him. And her heart only felt at home with him. She had yet to find anybody who even came close even after living her life across two continents. And she really was so very glad he had come—even to just be friends with him, to just still know that he cared, was something she had been hoping for. And she had confirmation of that fact now. She felt very happy.

Gerald, blushing a little himself, smiled a little, looking very hopeful. She was still reserved as a person yet open when it came to him, and she could still make him smile. Arnold was his best friend but Phoebe was too, though in a different way. He felt very intimately connected with Phoebe. It was nice to feel that the connection still seemed to exist. They hadn't laid eyes on each other, had barely exchanged a few words save in the form of letters and postcards here and there in over half a decade, but they still liked each other, could still probably go get a cup of coffee right now at a table right next to their best friends and catch up and talk like they had never been apart, like they had just been waiting to get back together all this time. "Okay, babe. Sounds good to me. Besides, I'm not sure how long of a conversation we could have together in Japanese anyway since all I rehearsed was the greeting." He grinned sheepishly.

Phoebe giggled at the reply. "Gerald wa okashii desu," she laughed out warmly before moving closer beside him and looking at him with interest.

Gerald laughed a little too, moving closer as well. He started to walk and so did she. No girl had felt quite for him right since Phoebe. In fact, so often on dates (and this was part of why he usually didn't get repeat dates after a while) the girl would do something and it would be kind of neat but then Gerald would laugh and be reminded of something even more fun or interesting Phoebe had done or that he had imagined doing with Phoebe, and he was usually half way into the story before he realized the other girl he was with was not happy to be hearing amusing tales about his ex-girlfriend. He would then smile sheepishly and apologize…but it was the truth—he liked Phoebe best. He honestly would have married her right now if she had wanted. He didn't care so much how they became 'together' again, he just wanted to be together again. He always wanted her in his life.

"Um…so, babe, I…Oh, um—is it okay that I still call you babe?" he asked hesitantly before continuing with his intended question.

Phoebe smiled more and nodded. "Of course, Gerald. I don't mind at all." He could still make her feel so special just by calling her that cute little nickname. If any other man came out of the blue to her and called her babe, Phoebe was pretty sure she would have just looked away uncomfortably, and if he had persisted she was pretty sure she would have taken a page from Helga's book and threatened him within an inch of his life until he stopped. She could stand up for herself when necessary. But the way Gerald said it lacked any demeaning or lascivious quality. It was sentimental and special. "It's what you've always called me anyway." She shrugged humbly as they continued onward away from the terminal.

Gerald smiled more. "Okay then, babe. Um…well…I'm not sure if you wanted to catch up or if you had plans but…would you like to get a bite to eat? We could talk for a little while, I could show you around the town—the parts of the city that have changed, the parts that have stayed the same…"

Phoebe's eyes lit up and she nodded. "I'd like that very much, Gerald. I don't have any plans for the evening. I would just like to make sure to get back to my parent's house before it's too late at night so that I can spend some time with them and not inconvenience them by making them wait up for me."

Gerald's eyes lit up a bit too. "Great! Sure, we'll get you home in plenty of time. Any particular place in the city that you wanted to catch some early dinner at?" he asked politely…though he had a hope regarding that topic.

Phoebe shrugged. "Oh, I don't know. Are there any new places that you would recommend? I'd like something more filling than ice cream from Slausens, and I've never developed a taste for French food like at Chez Pierre or Chez Paris ever since Helga made us eat eight courses of that cuisine one night." She laughed warmly at the memory.

So did Gerald. What a fiasco of a night. But then again what could you expect from letting four nine-year-olds go out to dinner on their own? "Well, in that case, if I could recommend a place…we could go to my restaurant." He blushed a little and glanced down and added, "I mean, i-it's not technically a 'restaurant' really, it's more of a nice upscale poetry café, but we have good food and great coffee and tea and live music and poets every night. I even put sushi on the menu after I ended up liking it so much after trying it with you when we were kids. And the place is called "Urban Legends"—kind of silly, I guess, but I thought it fit all things considered. So, um…now that I'm done blathering like a kid on his first date, what do you say, Phoebe?" He looked at her with a sheepish smile. That was another thing—he had never been able to help but be totally truthful with Phoebe about his feelings and thoughts, even if they were awkward. No hiding behind coolness for him when it came to her.

Phoebe grinned so sweetly. "I think your café sounds lovely, Gerald. I'd like to see it very much, and I like the name." She looked down, smiling more. "And first dates are nice."

"Ours was…" he said with a soft smile.

They walked a little farther, now heading in the direction of the baggage claim. Then Gerald glanced at her out of the corner of his eye. "How awkward would it be for me to ask if you're seeing anybody?"

Phoebe swallowed, glancing at him as well. "No more awkward than if I asked you. But I suppose it makes sense that we would want to catch up…see what's changed with each other just like seeing what's changed with home."

Gerald gave a small sigh. "Well, um…as for me…turns out all that ladies man stuff I used to joke about when we were growing up was just an act. I'm cool around people in general, horribly awkward around women…At least with you though I feel okay admitting how awkward I can be." He gave her a sheepish shrug.

Phoebe smiled a little bit more. "Oh, Gerald, you're not awkward. You're sweet…I've always liked that." Then she added with a light blush, "I'm still a bit shy and quiet in general. I did meet some very nice people though. But…nobody very special to me…. And even if I had, I just don't really want to live in Japan. It was nice to live there for a little while, nice to go to school and visit my relatives and to learn more about that part of my culture, but I never saw myself staying there forever. I'm very happy to be back here now." She glanced at Gerald and shrugged. "I'm sure Helga was very disappointed that I at least didn't go off on some brief but torrid romantic international fling with somebody in Tokyo, but that just isn't me, I guess. Always too sensible for her." Phoebe blinked and looked curious then. "Speaking of Helga, where is she? I thought she and Arnold would be here too. Um…Gerald?" Phoebe stopped walking and looked at Gerald in confusion.

It was because he had stopped walking now and had also slammed a palm into his forehead and let out a deep sigh. "Uh…The two of them are still sitting in that café in the terminal. Totally forgot about them. Wow, they're going to tease me about that for weeks." He looked to Phoebe with a sheepish half grin. "Also, do you mind if they come to dinner with us at the café? Arnold's…sort of got the keys to the car and is sort of our ride out of here." Gerald closed his eyes and shook his head at himself, almost laughing. 'Wow, completely forgot about my best friend and the chick he's been dating since we were in fourth grade after setting sights on Phoebe. I've still got it really, really bad for her, don't I?'

Phoebe just giggled, unable to help it. "Oh Gerald. Daijoubou desu. Don't worry, we'll go back and get them, it's alright." She started to turn back toward the terminal.

"Eh, you know what," Gerald opened his eyes and crossed his arms over his chest. "They'll come after us soon enough. Let's just get your luggage and everything ready. Besides, I wouldn't mind a few more minutes alone with you." He smiled hopefully.

Phoebe blushed. She turned back and nodded. "A-Alright, Gerald. I think that's very logical." She moved closer alongside him and they headed toward the baggage carousel together.

They waited quietly for the luggage to start appearing, then Phoebe said softly, "The flower was very nice of you. Thank you, Gerald."

"Hey, nothing's too good for the foxiest lady I know." He pointed at her and grinned and winked smoothly.

The two of them shared a warm laugh as they waited for Phoebe's bags and for their friends to join them.


As Gerald and Phoebe had disappeared, Arnold and Helga had just remained sitting at their café table, looking with confused glances to the last place they had seen the couple.

A few more seconds passed and then they turned their confused glances to each other. "Ditched or do you think they just totally forgot about us because they were too busy making googly eyes at each other?" Helga asked Arnold, trying not to laugh. Gerald and Phoebe had genuinely seemed completely wrapped up in each other and completely clueless about Arnold and Helga as they had departed the terminal together talking, leaving the two blondes behind.

Arnold couldn't help laughing warmly. "The second one, I'm guessing. I guess that's a good sign though, right?" He shrugged, looking optimistic.

Helga nodded, brushing back some of her hair. "I'd say so. I mean, I personally would have loved some dramatic romantic stuff where he might have swept her up in his arms and she would have yelled 'darling!' and they would have kissed passionately. But, whatever works." She finished the last sip of her coffee.

Arnold laughed and nodded, finishing the last sip of his green tea.

Helga let out a content sigh, reclining back a bit in her chair. "So…how long do you think it'll take for them to realize that we're still back here…and that you've got the keys to the car since you're our ride home?"

Arnold grinned a little and shrugged. "Probably not too much longer. But we should still probably get going and catch up to them anyway. Phoebe's got a lot of bags, I'm guessing, and she'll need more than one person to help carry them."

Helga smirked. "Great, you and hair boy can do that, I'll supervise and Phoebe can politely assist me. Sounds like a plan."

Arnold just sighed and rolled his eyes with a smile. "Whatever you say, Helga."

The two of them stood up and began to walk together out of the terminal and toward the baggage claim.

As they walked Helga smiled softly, holding Arnold's hand. "They've always been so sweet together. Nothing dramatic, just calm and peaceful and totally in love," Helga observed with a soft smile.

Arnold nodded, lacing their fingers a little. "Yeah. There's something very comforting about watching them together. It's nice." He glanced over at Helga. "Maybe we should let them go to dinner alone then?"

Helga just shook her head with a grin. "Nothing doing, I want to see my best friend. Besides, you know the two of them never get anything done together when they're left alone. They need incentive, example. They need us." She shrugged. "They can have alone-time dates later anyway. And besides, I'm starving."

Arnold smiled and nodded. "Yeah, that all makes sense. Besides, I'm kind of hungry too."

Helga nodded, squeezing his hand. "And besides, we can give them at least some alone time right now after we all get the bags while you and I go get the Packard for all of us. And then we can give them the back seat together while we're driving."

Arnold nodded again. "Okay, I think that sounds good, Helga."

As they walked, Arnold's smile lost a bit of its small brightness. And Helga notice.

Helga swallowed. Then she added softly to her beloved, "Thanks for bringing the Packard, Arnold, to fit all of us and Phoebe's stuff. I know you don't like to drive it too much now. That you want to keep it in as good of condition as possible…" She moved a little closer to him.

Arnold moved a little closer to her too, his smile very small, though he spoke sincerely. "I just wanted us all to be together today. Besides…I do like driving the Packard. It has good memories." He squeezed her hand a little.

Helga squeezed back. She gave him a soft kiss on the cheek and spoke in a very quiet, private voice to him. "Arnold, I miss them too. I loved Phil and Gertie like they were my own grandparents. I was closer to them than I ever was to my own grandparents…. And they raised you when we were children." She rested her head on his shoulder. "I wish you could have had more time, Arnold."

Arnold nodded, eyes downcast in thought. "Yeah... I wish we all could have had more time." Phil had beat the family curse until nine months ago—made it six years past 91 actually, same with Gertie. But nothing is forever. They had gone peacefully. They had left the car to Arnold, the boarding house to Miles and Stella.

The two of them just continued to walk together quietly.

When they came upon Gerald and Phoebe they smiled again and there were hugs and handshakes and jokes about Gerald and Phoebe leaving them behind. Then Arnold and Helga did give their friends some time alone while they went to get the car and came back to head to dinner. Arnold was still a little heavy hearted, but he was starting to feel a little better about things little by little. And it was wonderful to see Phoebe again and to see Gerald and Phoebe so happy. And it was wonderful to have Helga to talk to and share with when the sadness seemed overwhelming from time to time. She helped a lot. It was so good that they had all found each other again.

So Gerald had his poetry café and Phoebe was studying to become a doctor—neurology at first but now she was considering pediatrics. The idea of working with children made her happy. She would think about it.

Helga wrote poetry books and stories now, and ran her own small literary magazine in the city, partly courtesy of a start up loan from Olga. Olga's daughter was three now and named Lisa, and Helga thought she was a wonderful child and was glad to see that she got a lot of love. Arnold did anthropology research at the city zoo and aquarium. He had gotten the idea after Gertie had passed and he had been going through some old keepsakes and had found their ski masks from the Lock Jaw escapade. He could go off to other countries and do research one day too, or even for extended trips now. But it would be nice too to be around here and give some kind of cultural experience to the city kids just like he used to be.

Bob had sold the Beeper Emporium for a tidy sum and he and Miriam were enjoying retirement with plenty of visits to their granddaughter. Miles and Stella mostly worked giving guest lectures at local universities about obscure South American indigenous cultures, explaining, to an extent, the nature and history of the Green Eyes people and how now for the first time they were willing to communicate with outsiders and to allow their people to venture into the outside villages and world if they wanted to, giving them the chance to learn about helpful new technologies and medicines and inventions which would be used with discretion to help their people. And most of their downtime Miles and Stella spent in a lovely little retirement house on the south American coastline, with a very big, fat old pig and his 'wife' and all of his full grown piglets.

The world keeps on spinning.


Cleaning

"Okay, I took care of the basement—finally." Helga G. Pataki emerged from the depths of the boarding house basement and into the foyer holding a duster in one hand and a mop in the other. She had her hair covered up by a bandana and was wearing (quite dust covered) jeans and a faded pink cotton t-shirt. "Sheesh, Arnold," Helga looked through the doorway of the den at her beloved who was in the middle of dusting some knickknacks in there, " between having to clean the actual basement and then the boiler room and then the private bathroom down there, you owe be big time. Give me one of those Yahoo sodas." Before Arnold could say anything Helga went right over to the coffee table, picked up an ice cold Yahoo out of a cooler and plopped herself down on the couch beside him, wiping her brow. She opened the soda and took a long chug, practically finishing half of it before she plopped it down on the table and stretched a little. "And of course you pick right in the middle of summer to do something like this." Helga gazed at the air conditioner in the window doing its best to keep things cool but barely succeeding.

Arnold, almost done giving the den a thorough cleaning now, just smiled and walked over to Helga, sitting beside her on the couch and grabbing a soda himself. "I know. But this is the perfect time to get everything cleaned up. My parents are away in San Lorenzo and the Boarders don't need the windows closed to keep in the heat like they do in winter, just in case we have to air anything out, and they're all out today anyway. And besides…my parents just officially gave me this place." He smiled and looked around at the boarding house walls and ceilings like the building was the happiest place in the world. "I want it to look beautiful."

Helga smiled at his smile and held his hand. She sighed. "All right then…. Well, you've covered here and the foyer and the living room. I did the kitchen already and now the basement. I guess we've just got the hallways to do…then your old room…"

Arnold shook his head. "No, not my old room. I packed that place up and cleaned it and put down dust cloths before I left for college. I might air it out like I do every year, but it's fine otherwise. I might take a couple of things out of there that I want to use now, though."

Helga blinked, looking at him. "Aren't you going to live up there?" That room had always been so quintessentially Arnold. She was surprised he wouldn't just naturally go up there.

Arnold shrugged at the question. "I-I don't know." He rubbed the back of his neck. "It would feel weird, like being a little kid again. And the bed's too small now and the couch is too. If I was going to live in there I'd have to rip out half the furniture and fixtures. Besides, I'd like to be down here in case the boarders need me, and I can always still go up to the roof to relax if I feel like it."

"Oh." Helga nodded, understanding now. After all, she would never want to move back into her old bedroom at her parents' house, she recalled. And actually if it was a choice between Arnold not using that room and Arnold gutting it, she preferred if he kept it the way it was. "That makes sense." She glanced at him. "So then I guess we just have to clean the upstairs hallway and any boarder-free rooms, and then a good cleaning of whichever room you want to sleep in."

Arnold nodded. "Mmm hmm. I thought I might take the master bedroom for myself now. My grandparents' room. I was going to store their furniture and put some new stuff in there, maybe paint it sometime this week. What do you think?" He always asked her about little, maybe somewhat silly things he was planning to do. He just liked getting her opinion

Helga nodded with a smile. "I think that sounds nice, Arnold. I'll help you with that if you want. Maybe paint it a nice coral color." She grinned a little.

Arnold gave her a bit of a look but was still smiling. "I was thinking of a nice sea green, Helga."

"Yeah, well, we'll see what happens." She gave him a little nudge, drinking more soda. Then she glanced to the side. "So, um…how many free rooms does this place have anyway?"

Arnold considered and then counted on his fingers. "Well, there's that spare one we can never seem to fill, then Mr. Hyunh's old room since he's living with his daughter now, and Mr. Smith's old room. I don't think anyone else is going anywhere for a while—Ernie and Lola are happy here and Oscar and Suzie are happy just living here with their baby for now, and Mr. Simmons is thinking about getting married again but not for a while, and even if he did I think he'd still want to live here. So only three rooms for us to clean." He looked at her optimistically. "I don't think it should take us that long to do them. No one's going to live in them for a while probably so we can just do a vacuuming and a dusting, maybe air them out for the afternoon and take off the linens and then put dust cloths on everything. We'll be able to finish before the weekend's out. Thanks again for helping me." He leaned against her a little. "I couldn't do it without you." He smiled very happily and closed his eyes and cuddled into her.

"Y-You're welcome, Arnold." Helga almost swooned like she had ever since she was a girl, but kept it together. She swallowed and then asked shyly what was on her blushing mind. "So, um…three rooms then…. Do you think it would be weird if maybe…I rented one of those rooms?"

She felt her beloved stiffen for a moment. And then he sat up and looked at her curiously. "Rent?"

Helga shrugged. "Well, yeah. It's just, the boarding house is a bit of a distance from my apartment here now, and as long as we're in the same city it would be nice to live close. And I've always loved this place." She glanced at him hesitantly.

Arnold was thinking. And blushing a little too.

"Listen, Arnold, if you're not ready for—"

"No, no…" he assured her, coming out of his thought, "It's just that…" he looked at her, "If you did…I mean, you know, move in with me, Helga…you'd probably just end up living in my room." He blushed. No matter what they ever did together, however intimate they were, Arnold would still always be shy. He would always blush, always seem awkward if he felt he was being too forward, always show a lot of discretion in almost every situation, even if it was just the two of them…at least at first. It was just his way.

Helga blushed quite a bit herself and nodded at his observation. He made a good point. "Yeah, you're probably right."

There was silence an awkward silence during which Arnold was very quiet and Helga just sat there shuffling her feet a little, feeling unsure of what to say next.

Then Arnold said softly to her, "But if you wanted to…you could…live here…I would like that." He moved a little closer to her.

Helga's heart skipped a beat. "Even in your room?" she asked with a blush, unable to help the question.

"U-Unless you wanted your own room just to have, and then we could just let things develop from there…" Arnold was embarrassed but he was smiling a lot now. This idea was sort of making him very happy.

"That's a thought…" added Helga quietly. She glanced at him, waiting for a further response, but now Arnold seemed just dazed. She waited patiently for a few more seconds. Then she rolled her eyes and pushed him down on the couch and playfully pinned him like she used to do when they were children.

That definitely snapped Arnold out of the daydreams. "What? I, uh…oh, uh…sorry…What?" He looked so adorably confused.

"I was saying that me taking a room here to start with is a thought." Helga smiled, sitting back on her legs over him and releasing his arms a little. "Or…you could marry me?" She blushed rosy and smiled to herself.

Arnold blushed quite a bit too. "O-Oh…" He blinked several times, trying to sit up a little underneath her.

Helga sighed, glancing to the side and crossing her arms over her chest. "Well, that's an answer to a proposal, I guess. Not a definitive answer or even a coherent one, but an answer."

"W-Well, that wasn't really a definitive proposal…" left Arnold's mouth as he managed to regain himself a little. He smiled slightly though shyly.

Helga blinked and looked back at him with interest.

"Besides," he went on, looking up at her over him, "I thought I was supposed to propose the second time—the 'adult proposal' time. Didn't you make me promise to or something once?" He waited for her reply. He felt very, very, very, happy now.

Helga blinked a few times. Then she managed to smile and even laugh despite her blushing and fluster. "Eh, you took too long. Besides, you got a turn when we were children. Now it's my turn. And if you want something definitive, here it is, but I expect something definitive in return…" She leaned forward and down and looked into his eyes. "Will you freaking marry me already, Arnold Phillip Shortman? Seriously, I'm not getting any younger here—take a picture of me, it'll last longer."

Arnold Phillip Shortman smiled so much. "Oh…well, if you put it like that…" And then he smirked and managed to push up and pounce forward and make them both fall together down to the surface of the couch side by side. He caught his breath and smiled and said, holding her close, "I'll 'freaking marry you already', Helga G. Pataki." He stroked through her hair once. "I'd love to marry you, Helga. G. Pataki…" He leaned in and started to give her lips soft kisses and she started to kiss him back too. Arnold laughed, speaking between kisses. "Do you still have…the ring from…when we were ten…?"

Helga laughed and nodded, speaking between kisses too. "O-Oh, from when we got 'betrothed'? Yes…with my pink books…and little shrine decorations…and an old red and yellow plaid shirt...in a pink Nancy Spumoni shoe box underneath my bed…"

Arnold laughed. "That's cute…"

"Mmm hmm…" Helga nodded. She took a second to catch her breath. "You're still getting me an 'adult proposal' ring though now that we're gonna be engaged… Something real and nice…Nothing on the cheap…" She had started kissing him again.

Arnold just laughed and replied between kisses, "Hey, you're the one who proposed this time—shouldn't you get me a ring? Ow!"

Helga had nudged him in the rib, ending their kisses for a moment. Then she pulled him close with a little smirk. "I'll make you a deal—you get me a ring, I let you paint our room sea foam green and not coral pink. But I still get some pink decorations. What do you say?"

Arnold just smiled and shrugged. "I think that's fair, Helga." Then he blushed softly and added. "Um…for the ring…would you mind if…well…you remember that night back in high school before I left for San Lorenzo when it was cold and drank hot chocolate in my kitchen and agreed to be separated for little while and then I drove you home… Well, after that I came back here and my grandma stayed up with me for a bit and we talked. And then before we went to bed she gave me the engagement ring my grandpa gave her. She said it was for you someday….Her favorite granddaughter. So would you like that?"

Helga just looked at him with big, wide blue eyes. She didn't know what to say. Then her blue eyes shone with tears and she found her words again. "R-Really…her fav…I …Oh Arnold!" She smiled so happily and hugged him, but a bit too tightly because—"Whoa!" They fell on the floor together between the couch and the coffee table.

The two of them just blinked a few times in surprise and then laughed and laughed, warmly and happily together as they worked to sit up. Arnold turned to Helga. "This reminds me of when we did this by accident the night in your living room when I told you I was falling in love with you when we were ten-years-old."

Helga nodded, smiling more at the memory. "Yeah. Bit easier to unwedge ourselves off the floor then, though." Indeed, the two of them were a bit stuck. Bodies could change a lot over the course of fifteen years or so.

Finally they managed to move the coffee table and stand up again.

They dusted themselves off.

They were quiet and blushing for a moment.

Then Arnold looked at Helga with anticipation. "So, wh-when should we get married, do you think?" He felt kind of giddy. Oh, if anything told him this was so very much the right thing to do, it was the wonderful and purely optimistic feeling inside of him right now.

Helga almost giggled at how enthusiastic and hopeful he looked, like she had just made him the happiest guy in the world or something. "Oh…" Helga shrugged, considering, trying not to burst from giddiness herself, "I don't know. Could we wait til fall?" She fanned herself a little. "This heat is killing me, and besides I'd like a little bit of planning time and the chance for things to sink in with everyone. Plus it'd be nice to give all our old friends time to make plans to come back here—Rhonda and Curly would have to fly in from Milan, and Nadine and Sid would have to come in from the everglades and Phoebe would have to clear her schedule at the hospital that day and Gerald would have to close the café, Harold would have to get coverage at the butcher's shop, Patty would have to get a baby sitter for those four kids of theirs, and Lila would have to come in from the country and Arnie would have to come in from the farm, and I'd like to try getting in touch with Brainy and Siobhan again, and Stinky would have to get someone to cover for him at the farmer's market…" Helga had kept pretty good tabs on everyone—she always liked knowing about people. "Oh and Olga would have to take Lisa out of school for a little bit to visit. Not to mention we have to make sure my parents aren't off on some retirement trip and we'd have to have your parents fly up from San Lorenzo," she finished, already anticipating all the planning and organizing. If there was one thing Helga G. Pataki had always relished it was planning and organizing…and especially now considering the particular event she would be planning and organizing for.

Arnold nodded to all of her points and suggestions. "Okay, fall it is then." Then he swallowed and smiled more (if it was possible) and added, "Um…did you want to move in before then, though? I mean, as soon as the cleaning and the painting are done next week, this whole place'll be ready enough…"

Helga leaned close with a knowing smile. "I already have my bags packed and I already ended my lease. The second that green paint dries on the walls, I'm here bucko, and here to stay."

Arnold beamed. Then he sighed and looked at her with a half lidded gaze. "I wouldn't have it any other way, Helga G. Pataki."

"That's Helga G. Pataki-Shortman to you, Mr. Arnold P. Pataki- Shortman." She pointed at him with a grin. "We're still hyphenating, dear. Period. Or I just keep my name the way it is. Capiche?"

Arnold laughed and nodded. "Whatever you say, dear… Oh, excuse me, whatever you say, Helga G. Pataki-Shortman." He watched her smile proudly in response and then he leaned close with a bit of a flirtatious look that he always loved to use to throw her off a bit and asked, "Now, since it's been a long day with the heat and the cleaning and the almost getting married, would you like to get ice cream before we take off for the rest of the night, Helga? My treat." He held out his hand.

She blushed, of course, and leaned back with a touch of fluster, but then giggled and took his hand and nodded. "You know me too well, Football Head. Slausens or the Jollie Ollie man?"

Arnold shrugged. "Whichever one we reach first."

Helga nodded. "Sounds like a plan to me."

They headed toward the front door.

"I'll give you the ring once we get back," Arnold added softly, pushing open the door for her and squeezing her hand.

Helga beamed a little. "Th-Thanks, my beloved. Can't wait."

They both stepped out and Helga closed the door behind them. They were both very happy.

The house was left empty but clean and warm and inviting—the perfect place to start a life together.


Just a Thought

The night could be the best time for things besides sleeping.

Writing, thinking and talking tended to be better at night, for instance.

Helga, beside Arnold, chose talking as they laid together in the dimness and moonlight.

"Hey Arnold?"

"Mmm hmm?"

"What would you do if I said I was pregnant?"

Silence.

"Arnold?"

"Um…I'd…ask who the father was? Heh…Ow!"

"Oh shut up. And ha ha, very funny, Football Head."

"Um…is this some kind of way of telling me that you are going to have a baby? Because…I think I might faint, but I'm not sure yet, so if you could just let me know for sure either way I-I'd appreciate it.

"Hmm…no, no baby. Just curious about your response. Do you still want to have children together, Arnold?"

"Oh…well…yes. Um, not just right now if it could be helped but…yeah, I think so. Do you still want to have children?"

"Oh…Yeah, I think so. But 'just not right now' sounds good to me too. Actually, um, if we did that, I'd really prefer if we're very careful and try to make sure it's a planned, thought out thing. Um…Miriam didn't plan for Olga or for me at all really, and the idea of that always felt so unsettling to me. But Olga planned everything and she was really happy about having Lisa. I'd just like us both to have control of the situation as much as possible."

"I think that's a good idea, Helga. I think I'd prefer that too. A lot."

"Good. I'm glad. Well, we should probably get some sleep now. It's late. Goodnight, dear."

"Goodnight to you too, dear."

Curled up together in their bed, Arnold and Helga fell into a peaceful slumber after this good conversation.


A/N:

And thus, where I have taken almost two full stories and probably close to a million words to cover a period of time of about six weeks for Arnold and Helga, I now cover roughly sixteen years in 90,000 words XD Isn't writing fun that you can do something like that? Try picking up Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse sometimes, it does that but in spades lol.

So, yes, my last mega chapter. I hope you all enjoyed it and I hope it was worth the wait. I did my best to stay true to the characters but to develop them in my own way, and I just hope in the end I've given you all something that means something to you in a significant, good and helpful way. I'm not sure when the epilogue will be done but it will come eventually, I promise.

Please review if/when you all can, I know the content of this update was a lot to take in considering all it covered. Any feedback is always appreciated : ) It makes me very happy to hear your experiences of reading my work.

Next update: one more chapter of Dinner and a Show. It's gonna be fun, I promise ; )

Happy Reading!

~Azure129 aka Jenna