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Omg, I do not even know what to say. It's done, it's finally done, I'm super tired, it's been years, and it's finally done lol.
Here is the epilogue for LTBH. I will now mark this story as complete under my ff account and then go have a stiff drink. I can't tell you guys how much work has gone into this fic over the years, and while I'm grateful for the experience I got that has helped me learn how to be a better writer, I'm am very grateful that this story is finally out of the way.
Thank you all for your reviews and readership. I appreciate your support so much. A lot has changed in my life since I started this story (and especially since I started TA), but I will always love writing and I plan to continue writing in some form for the rest of my life.
I will be posting the final chapter of Dinner and a Show as well within the next few weeks, and probably doing a quick wrap-up to Wedding Night. That'll just leave me with April 2nd to finish up (and my Danny Phantom story). I think this is my most subscribed to story, so please see the A/N at the end for an announcement for my plans after I finally finish wrapping up my current in progress works, which should hopefully be by sometime this summer.
LEARNING TO BE HELGA
Epilogue: Experience is the Best Teacher
Arnold flipped through another page in the scrapbook he had been looking through for some time now.
The first section had been filled with little memories and pictures from his and Helga's childhood together, mostly starting from around age nine or ten when they had first gotten very close. It began with a few scraps of paper left over from a poetry tutoring session in fourth grade between himself and Helga that had led to a new closeness between them (this was also a logical place to start since he had something to add to that particular part of the scrapbook). The next section had been filled with mementos from Arnold and Helga's turbulent adolescence—awkward moments, first times, great milestones; everything from a shot of the two of them with their mouths accidentally hooked together during a brief period when they had both had braces to pictures from their first formal dance to copies of their learner's permits for driving. Next had come a section about their 'off' years that was filled with memories and pictures of Arnold and Helga as individuals rather than as a couple, both incidents he had been recalling in his mind now and others: a shot of her dancing with Brainy at the prom (with Curly and Rhonda in the background wearing Prom King and Prom Queen crowns and looking tempestuous but happy), headlines from college newspapers and magazines about Helga's poetry awards, pressed and dried leaves Arnold had gotten from the jungles of San Lorenzo, a headline announcing his college baseball team's first win with Arnold as shortstop and the only player to hit a homerun straight out of the park: all things to make Arnold recall in detail the stories of their lives at the time. Then came a few snapshots of the rekindling of their relationship as adults—they had gotten much more into taking actual photographs to remember things by at that point, especially since for their six month wedding anniversary Arnold had gotten Helga a very nice camera.
Now, of course, Arnold was on a section full of wedding mementos and beyond.
Their wedding had been smaller than most people might have expected, but it was still a beautiful event just the same. Arnold still remembered how he and Helga had gone to eat cake, and of course he had fed her a piece delicately and then she had smirked and shoved his piece right into his face. There was a picture in here of that event—one of his favorites.
Then of course there were great memories of starting their life living together here. For instance, the time they'd tried making a chore wheel to separate the duties around the boarding house, which had lasted about two weeks before it had an 'unfortunate accident' with the garbage disposal and then Helga had pleaded for a different way of dividing everything up.
Then there was their first trip to San Lorenzo together, Helga covered in mosquito bites and yet smiling proudly every time one of the tribal girls saw her and Arnold together and gave a forlorn sigh. Arnold remembered being so embarrassed every time Helga would drag him over to a shrine with a football-shaped head and insist on taking a snapshot.
Then there was the first time they'd tried to host a holiday for their families in the boarding house—Thanksgiving—and after hours of careful preparation and ovens running and recipes consulted and wacky shenanigans in the kitchen, somehow they had ended up with only a single frozen pumpkin pie, a pan of burnt candied yams, a ton of charred ashes, and a bill for having to order take-out from Mickey's Dog Pound for a dozen personal sized barbecue chickens, two pounds of macaroni and cheese, two dozen biscuits, and a few buckets of mashed potatoes.
Oh and who could forget the time at the end of Helga's first pregnancy when Arnold had been off on a job interview at one of the city universities (he had started to think guest lecturing on subjects like his parents had done might be interesting to go along with his anthropological research at the zoo and aquarium), and Gerald had promised to stay with Helga that afternoon until he got home just to keep an eye on her and since none of his cafés in the city opened until the evening anyway. This task has seemed easy enough until Helga had gone into labor and Gerald had tried getting her in the car and driving her to the hospital, which hadn't worked out too well since the baby had decided on needing to be delivered right away. Arnold still wasn't sure how he was ever going to pay back Gerald for calling up Phoebe (a full-fledged doctor now, though a pediatrician and not an obstetrician) and having her talk him through the early part of the delivery before the paramedics had finally arrived on the scene, upon which Gerald had passed out cold in the street.
Arnold laughed to himself: so many good times from their childhood through to this moment, and all right here in his hands, like one long story of his and Helga's life together written in something beyond words. He flipped forward and back through the album in his hands a little now that he was almost at the end anyway. 'Beautiful.' He closed the book, looking at the pink cover embossed with bluish green letters that simply read 'Snapshots.' Perhaps it was a silly project for him to have, but Helga had her own way of recording memories using words and poetry, and so sentimental Arnold had wanted a way of recording memories too. And he cherished everything in his book, from the new piece he had just added now to the copy of his and Helga's marriage license to the copy of their daughter's birth certificate and beyond.
"Hey, Arnold? Arnold! Where are you? Your daughter's getting ready to play her latest musical masterpiece on the piano!" came a familiar firm yet fair female voice from the living room to the den where Arnold currently sat reminiscing.
"Mother!" Katie whined in her softer but still quite stubborn tone. "It's not even done yet, sheesh."
"Katie, you're nine-years-old. I'm begging you, please call me anything but 'Mother'—I'll even take 'Helga', for Pete's sake."
Little Katie was heard to sigh deeply. "Nana Miriam says I can call you anything I want, so I picked 'Mother.' I don't think it's fair to make me change it. That would be very confusing for a child my age anyway," she asserted simply.
"Okay, okay," Helga sighed in mock defeat, and then added in amusement, "but just explain to me why I get called 'Mother' but your Father gets called 'Daddy'?"
Katie just laughed warmly. "Because he just looks like a 'Daddy.' And because I like how much it makes him smile. I can't help it if it bugs you for no reason every time I do it," she added 'innocently.'
Helga laughed now too, unable to help it. "Oh, you are completely my daughter."
"Mother, stop hugging me! You squeeze harder than Aunt Olga sometimes!" Katie cried out, though she was clearly trying not to laugh at the same time.
Helga just laughed more. "No, no, the only one who can save you is your 'Daddy,' so he'd better get his butt in here already and quit slacking off!" Her voice grew a little louder at the end of saying this as a way of getting Arnold's attention wherever he might be right now in the house.
"Here I am!" Arnold announced, now stepping into the living room with the scrapbook under his arm. He stood there in blue jeans and a sea green polo shirt. His cap was of course gone these days—he had let Katie wear it when she had been a baby and now it was tucked away as yet another treasured memento of their lives. He smiled at his two girls. "And it sounds like I'm missing a lot." He went over to them both and hugged Helga (who was still hugging Katie as she sat on the piano bench) from behind. "Helga, dear," he cooed playfully, "let our daughter go or I'm not going to let you go."
"Is that supposed to be some kind of incentive?" Helga asked with a wry grin, glancing over her shoulder at her husband. She was wearing a pink cotton dress with a high collar and no sleeves that fell below her knees, as well as a dark grey long cardigan and white shoes. The pink bow had been passed down to Katie, who until recently had worn it from time to time, and now Helga just used the occasional pink clip to pull back her still long blond hair. "Because if you holding me close is an incentive, then it's weak sauce, Arnold, weak sauce. I'm fine just staying like this forever." She hugged her slightly squirming daughter more closely and cuddled into his grasp more deeply.
Arnold just laughed warmly and then started to kiss Helga's cheek and the side of her neck.
Helga gasped and giggled a little at his actions. "A-Arnold…Arnold stop it…o-oh all right, I'll let her go! And take it easy—that tickles!" With a final laugh Helga finally released her daughter and then turned around to give Arnold a nudge. "Very devious, 'Daddy'." She leaned up just slightly (Arnold had barely managed to become taller than her, but Helga had turned out to be a rather tall woman anyway) and kissed him on the cheek. "And what have you been up to that we couldn't find you?" She sighed. "And please, for the sake of my sanity, tell me you weren't trying to fix a piece of furniture or a sink or—I shudder to think it—the backyard fence? We've gone over this, darling—unless it has wires and runs mostly on electricity, please leave it to a repairman or me." She smiled warmly.
Arnold sighed, blushing a little at the suggestion. "Helga, I'm not that bad at fixing non-electric things."
She just smirked a little. "Is that why every time someone flushes the toilet in the basement bathroom, a random sink up here turns on for five seconds and then shuts off?"
Arnold laughed and rolled his eyes. "Didn't you call me here to listen to a concert?" He smirked at her playfully.
Helga just laughed and then pulled Arnold over to the couch with her to have a seat. She glanced over her shoulder at her daughter. "Katie, will you please play just a little bit for me and your 'Daddy'? Please?"
Katie sighed but nodded diplomatically. "Okay." She was a little girl of average height with strawberry blond hair that fell in waves and that she never put up anymore, and she had the big blue eyes of her Mother and the soft little rounded nose of her Father. She liked to wear a pale blue dress with a white cardigan, white shoes, and a little white knit cap upon her head. She turned to face the piano again. "But I can only play for a few more minutes. I told you it's still not done writing this song yet, and Aunt Olga says it's better to get a full draft of a song done before starting to play it regularly. Um…" Eleanor glanced over her shoulder at her parents once more and added hesitantly, "Speaking of Aunt Olga, also said that I'm getting good enough on the piano now that maybe she could get me into a really good music camp over the summer…in Bennington…for six weeks."
Helga and Arnold's eyes went a little wide. They looked at each other. Then Helga looked back at Katie. "Okay, Katie. We'll consider it, we promise. Now will you please play for your 'Mother'?" Helga smiled, sitting forward a little more in her place upon the couch
Katie brightened up at the possible permission to indeed attend her music camp. "Okay then!" Then she turned to the keys, adjusted a few pieces of sheet music in front of her and finally started to play.
The song was simple and slow, but very sweet and pretty.
While she played, Helga glanced beside her at Arnold. He still had the scrapbook tucked in along his side. "Oh, do you finally have that scrapbook all up to date yet? Can I see it!" she whispered to him, raising an eyebrow and giving him a curious smile.
Arnold smiled warmly back at her but shook his head. "Later. I just added one more thing and I want to wait until the paste dries on it. After breakfast, I was cleaning out some old boxes in the basement of our stuff from when we were kids, and I found a couple of poems folded up—the poem you wrote about me just before you started tutoring me in poetry in fourth grade and right after you confessed to me, and the one I wrote about you after that…remember?" He smiled more and patted the cover of the scrapbook. "I had the perfect place for them both at the start of the book. But then finding them just made me want to take a trip down memory lane. I'd almost forgotten so much of what happened between us back than. It's so strange to think that we went through all of that starting when we were only ten-years-old." He shook his head in amazement.
Helga nodded, understanding perfectly his surprise. "We matured faster than most people. "Or at least I did, and then I just dragged you along for the ride." She laughed a little. "I still can't believe you kept poems from back then." She shook her had. "They were so sappy, the ones I wrote when I was little."
"I just thought they were cute," Arnold assured in a whisper right by her ear.
"Excuse me!" Katie called out now from the piano with a deep sigh, ceasing her playing for a moment. "I'm trying to play—can you please talk later, Mother and Daddy?" She glanced over her shoulder, clearly trying to be diplomatic and calm even though she was indeed annoyed now.
'Mother' and 'Daddy' held up their hands. "Yes, of course, we're sorry," Helga assured her daughter. "Keep playing, Katie, please."
Arnold nodded. "Yes, we're very sorry. Please keep playing."
Katie eyed them both closely and then turned back to the keys. "Okay then." Then she resumed her playing again, and this time Arnold and Helga kept their mouths shut and just listened to its sweetness.
"Is this the one she's been working on in secret?" Arnold did ask Helga in a very, very light whisper a few more minutes into the song, unable to help himself.
Helga nodded to him, keeping her voice equally quiet. "Yeah. I hear her humming the notes to herself at night in bed sometimes, and when I peek in at the attic door I see her under the covers with a flashlight writing away while Agatha snoozes at the foot of her bed." Agatha was a little spotted piglet given to Katie two years ago by her Uncle Arnie and Aunt Lila and named after Katie's favorite children's book author (Agatha Caulfield). "She's got an ear for that piano—she's definitely Olga's niece." Helga tried not to laugh.
Arnold smiled more. "It's just so nice to listen to. Maybe we really should send her to that music summer camp this year. Olga would take good care of her when she's there. And Katie loves seeing Lisa." The girls were only a few years apart and close as sisters even though they were only cousins and didn't live in the same city.
Helga blinked at Arnold's suggestion. "You're actually considering letting your 'precious baby girl' " she made air quotes around the words, "go all the way off to the big city? You still look worried every time she leaves in the morning to walk to school. Wow, you really must be impressed by her talent." She smirked a little.
Arnold smiled sheepishly and shrugged. "What can I say—I have a weakness for the wants of talented women." He put the scrapbook on an end table for now and crept an arm around Helga's waist.
Helga giggled and leaned against him a little, and the two of them resumed listening quietly.
Katie's playing went on for a little longer until it finally didn't end so much as just trailed off into a few soft final notes suggesting incompletion. The little girl sighed and turned to her parents, pushing some of her strawberry blond curls behind one of her ears. "See, I told you it's not finished yet." She was blushing slightly. "Can I go now? Brighty's gonna be here any minute, and we have to leave right away to catch the movie on time." She pouted a little, looking to both of her parents.
Helga eyed her a bit with a grin. "Did you practice your scales like Aunt Olga told you to do every day?"
Katie sighed deeply and rolled her eyes. "Yes, I practiced them. Writing music is more fun, but I practiced them." She looked back to her Mother, unable to help smiling a little in pride. To Katie, her Mother was the smartest and most clever woman she knew (not that she would ever tell her that), so she liked the chance to beat her to the punch about certain things.
Helga just smirked a bit herself, standing up and crossing her arms over her chest. "Yeah, I figured. Better question: did put away the dishes and sweep off the stoop? Remember, extra chores are still in effect for today."
Katie's smile fell and she pouted again, standing up from the piano bench and crossing her own arms over her chest. "Can't I please do them when I get back? Besides, today's the last day of extra chores." She looked down, grumbling a little. "It's not even like I did anything that bad to get punished."
Helga leaned down and gave her a bit of a dry look. "On the one evening your father and I finally decided to leave you home without a babysitter for a few hours, you dug a small racecar pit right in the middle of the backyard—and straight through my tulip bed, I might add—then you cleaned out the entire junk drawer in the kitchen—again—not to mention part of your Father's tool box to build a bunch of miniature go-kart models."
Katie shrugged, looking up to her Mother and speaking in a tone that suggested what she had done was the only logical and correct course of action given her situation at the time. "All of my friends couldn't agree on what kind of go-kart we should build to race in the city competition, and the city competition is really important this year because the winning neighborhood gets their picture in the paper and a chance to have the Mayor make a special visit and award them an honorary certificate for community pride."
Helga just sighed deeply, giving her daughter a dry look. "But you already know the Mayor practically personally, Katie. And she already comes over here a few times a year because I'm on the city council and also because I went to school with Mayor Wellington-Lloyd and her husband Ambassador Gamelthorpe."
Katie just shook her head though. "No, no, you don't understand—it's a good morale boost to the whole neighborhood actually winning a chance to have the Mayor make a special visit here and to have her give us a special award. Besides, it would remind us kids that we can make big things happen too. Believe me, my friends can get so sappy and doubtful and wrapped up in themselves—they need this. You have no idea what I'm working with." She looked at her Mother a bit dryly in return.
A little half smile couldn't help but curl up at Helga's lip. She nodded. "Okay, all right, I concede you have a point there. But carry on with telling more about how the rest of your little go-kart stunt was the right thing to do."
Katie nodded firmly. "Yes, it was the right thing to do actually. The only way to get my friends to stop fighting over what design to use and to get us to work as a team was by building all the different model ideas in miniature—that's why I had to take stuff from the junk drawer again and from Daddy's tools—and having them race. And Agatha and I fixed your flowers later…mostly." A touch of a sheepish smile came to her face.
Helga sighed again, continuing. "Then you used the clothesline and the rope swing out back to set up a pulley system so that Brighty could hoist you over the track to take pictures of the race…using my favorite camera that your Father gave me after we got married…and that I had specifically asked you not to touch." He gaze became a little sterner—a bit of her more fiery and disciplinary side had really come out about this point back when Katie had first gotten caught—but her smile couldn't help but grow a little more on one side nonetheless.
"Haven't you ever heard of a photo finish, Mother?" Katie merely asked, rolling her eyes to the side. "Besides, letting Brighty hoist me up there was safe—I designed the pulley, and Daddy always says I'm good with mechanical things."
Helga almost smirked a little as she went on, putting her hands on her hips, "Then after the first race was over you started pitting individual model cars against each other and taking bets from your friends about which one would win."
"I-I was just gathering money to get us started with a fund for building the real go-kart later on," Katie explained with a little innocent grin.
Helga raised an eyebrow and leaned down a little again, "And the tip jar you put next to your keyboard when you were playing music for the cars to race by…?"
Katie sighed, looking down and digging her foot into the floor. "Okay, that might have been just for me. Girl's gotta make a living." She shrugged.
Arnold got up stepped forward now, smiling warmly and diplomatically as ever (and really just trying not to laugh a little). "Anyway, the point is, Katie, that you have extra chores to finish still for today, but you can do them after the movie with Brighty…as long as you've done your homework already." He made sure to add firmly.
Katie's eyes brightened. "Oh, I have! Homework's easy anyway!" She came forward and gave him a big hug. "Thanks, Daddy!" Then she pulled back and cleared her throat, looking at Helga. "Mother, thank you too," she said with a nod, reaching out her hand and taking Helga's to give it a firm shake.
Helga just sighed deeply and rolled her eyes with a smile. "Katie, can I just ask when this phase of trying to annoy me by kissing up to your 'Daddy' is going to end?"
Katie just feigned innocence, hands staunchly on her hips. "I don't know what you're talking about, Mother."
Just then the doorbell rang.
Katie blinked and jumped a little. "I'll get it!" she quickly announced, instantly starting for the hallway. "It's probably Brighty."
Helga moved out of the room first though. "It's all right, I can get it. I asked Brighty's Dad to stop by anyway whenever Brighty came over. If you're good, he might take you both for ice cream after the movies." Helga smiled over her shoulder at her daughter.
Katie looked quite preoccupied at the moment, though, as she stood in the doorway between the foyer and the living room. She took a step forward and waved her Mother off. "Yeah, yeah, sure, Mother." Then she let out a breath and seemed to try and calm down a little as she followed her Mother down the hall to get the door.
Helga watched her with interest as they headed to the front boarding house entrance. Then she looked forward and opened up the door.
Helga smiled at the sight of Brainy on her stoop with his nine-year-old son. "Ah, hello 'Brian.' " He still preferred that she call him 'Brian' whenever they were around other people, especially the kids. "How the heck are you?" He looked so much like how he had looked in college except now he wore creased dark pants and a cotton dress shirt and a bowtie and jacket—not an atypical outfit for someone who ran the city planetarium and gave regular lectures there. It had been an interesting career shift, but Brainy seemed quite content there, thinking and observing and researching and teaching others. The planetarium had barely been in functioning order when they had been kids—now it was one of the most popular educational recreational sites in the city for young people. And after moving back here and finally marrying Siobhan almost a decade ago, Brainy had been ready for a change of pace from his college study of politics and uncertainty about medical school.
Brainy smiled back at Helga. "Oh, I'm fine, Helga—a bit tired though." He yawned and looked down at his son with an amused smile. "Brighton here was apparently making phone calls at 2 AM this morning."
Beside him a young boy with pale blond hair that had a slight tight curl to it and green eyes framed by silver glasses and who was dressed in light jeans and a white shirt and a pale green sweater vest sighed and said quietly, "Dad, call me Brighty, please."
Brainy sighed and corrected himself with a warm smile. "Yes, of course, Brighty. I'm sorry." It was hard for him to get used to—his son only ever requested to be called 'Brighty' when around his best little friend Katie. It made Brainy wonder sometimes.
For now, though, Brainy just smiled and look down at Brighty warmly. Then his attention was quickly turned to another young person in the room.
Katie had just cleared her throat and stepped forward, looking upward. "Mr. Brian—I'm sorry, Brighty was on the phone with me last night helping me with an English project for school. I'm the one who called him. If anything I'm the one who deserves to be punished." She bowed her head low.
Shy Brighty swallowed, rubbing one of his arms and speaking softly. "No, it's my fault too. I got carried away with talking to her."
"Katie," Helga raised an eyebrow at her daughter, "Why didn't you just come to me about help with an English project?"
Katie crossed her arms over her chest, raising her head. "Principle. Writing is a weakness of mine, and I intend to fix it all by myself as best I can," she asserted staunchly.
Helga looked at her curiously. "But if Brighty's helping you, then—"
"Brighty doesn't count," Katie explained simply. "He's my best friend. We help each other with everything. I just don't think it'd be fair to have my award winning poet and writer Mother help me with English compositions for school, do you?" She glanced up at her Mother, looking assured that this sound logic indeed could not be challenged.
Helga and Brainy just looked at their children and then looked at each other and sighed. Then they smiled a little.
Helga bent down to Katie's height. "Okay, Katie, listen. I know you and Brighty are best friends, and if you want to sneak in a little phone call before bed that's fine, but not that late even if it's for school. Understand?" Helga looked at her daughter seriously.
Katie just nodded, speaking sincerely. "Yes, Mother. I'm sorry."
Brainy knelt down by Brighty. "The same goes for you, Brighton—erm, Brighty. I don't mind if you're up a little past your bedtime since it's the weekend, but not that late even with your best friend, okay?"
Brighty nodded shyly. "Of course, Dad. I understand."
Helga straightened up and smiled, looking to Brighty. "Well, on the 'bright' side, Brighty, I think you must have helped her with her English because she finished her homework already today and had enough time to put some finishing touches on her latest musical piece to play a new composition for us just now." She smiled at her daughter. "Do you want to share it with him? You guys should still have a little time before the movies."
In a rare moment, Katie blushed and looked very shy herself. Then she shuffled one of her feet on the floor. "I don't think so. I-I'd rather just, um…practice my scales again. Come on, Brighty." Katie grabbed his arm and started pulling him toward the living room. "Just sit and listen, please—the sooner I finish doing something at the piano for you while she and your Dad talk, the sooner my Mother will let us go so that we can make the movie, okay?" She looked back to him in sincere and kind concern over what his answer would be.
Brighty just nodded, doing his best to keep up with her. "Sure, Katie. I'd like that a lot. It's really nice to hear you play anything, even just scales." He smiled.
Katie smiled back and laughed, then turned forward again. "Aw, Brighty, you're too much." She pulled him into the living room.
Helga and Brainy watched them go.
Helga's grin picked up a little on one side. "Your shy son and my passionate daughter are very attached. They almost seem like more than best friends sometimes."
Brainy shrugged, his own smile picking up on one side too. "Has Arnold realized that yet?"
Helga scoffed and rolled her eyes. "No, no, Football Head is as dense as ever. She's his baby—he'll probably faint once he realizes how much like me she really is." She turned back to Brainy. "And how are his big twin stepsisters doing? Erin and Eileen should almost be ready to start looking at colleges now, right, you old coot?" She nudged Brainy and laughed.
Brainy sighed and shook his head. "Don't remind me. The two of them are actually talking about seeing if they can move in with Siobhan's parents and go to school in Ireland. I don't know where the time's gone at all."
Helga sighed, clasping her hands in front of herself. "Yeah, I know what you mean. Time went much more slowly when we were kids, I have no idea how."
There was a moment of quiet between them. Then Helga sighed and spoke up again, much more seriously and straightforwardly this time. "Uh, Brainy, listen, I asked you to come by for a sec because I was hoping you could take the kids to get ice cream after the movie and just make sure they stay out a while. I have to tell Arnold something, and I'm still working on just how to put it—I'll need some privacy with him for a while." She blushed slightly and a small smile came to her lips.
Brainy smiled more, lowering his voice. "How far along are you?"
Helga gasped a little and blinked, looking up at him. "How did you—"
He just cut her off, smiling more. "I know you too well. Besides, you don't blush about just anything with Arnold anymore."
Helga smiled a little more and shrugged. "Two months," she admitted happily. "I wanted to wait until today to tell him. It's the anniversary of our first date when we were little. Kind of silly to celebrate, I guess—we were ten-years-old. But it's a date that's got sentimental value, you know?" She gave him a small, sheepish grin.
Brainy came forward and put a hand on Helga's shoulder. "I'll take the kids for ice cream and maybe to the planetarium for a bit afterwards. They won't be back until at least dinnertime."
Helga smiled so appreciatively. "Thanks, Brainy." She came forward and gave him a firm hug and then pulled back. Then she blinked at the faint sounds of piano playing (a song, not scales) coming from the living room. "Hmm, maybe my mistress of the ivories decided to indulge everyone with another little concert. Do you want to come and listen, Brainy?"
Brainy smiled but shook his head, starting to head toward the door. "I should get going. I have to drop off some things at work. Tell the kids to call me as soon as their movie's out, and I'll pick them up."
Helga nodded. "Okay. Bye, Brainy!" she called to him with a grin.
Brainy grinned too. "Bye, Helga." He gave her a little wave and then closed the door behind him and departed.
Helga now went down the hallway to find her daughter once more.
Sure enough, as soon as she popped her head into the living room, there Katie sat on the piano bench with Brighty shyly standing nearby her and Arnold sitting on the couch and watching the two kids with a smile, Agatha cuddled up next to him while he gently stroked her little ears. Katie was playing that same piece she had played before for her parents…only much more hesitantly and softly this time, like she wanted to get through it but like every note embarrassed her in some way.
Helga watched with interest.
Katie sighed as she quickly rushed herself to the few final notes toward the end that she had so far. "See, Brighty, it's really not even done, and it sounds kind of silly anyway, I guess." She looked down, her cheeks a little rosy.
"Oh, I don't know, Katie," Brighty replied shyly, "I think it sounds very beautiful. I can't wait to hear how it turns out."
Katie turned to Brighty with a smile. "Thanks."
They just sat there smiling at each other for a moment.
From the doorway, Helga started clapping slowly and softly with a little smile of her own.
Arnold laughed and started clapping more enthusiastically, standing up from the couch. "See, Katie, Brighty thinks it's coming along very nicely too. Now, I think the two of you better get going so you don't miss your movie."
"Finally!" Katie announced happily, standing up from the piano bench and letting out a grateful sigh. Agatha had dashed over to Katie as soon as Arnold had stood up, and now she ran around her mistress's legs a few times, cuddling her. Katie turned to Agatha with a smile and picked her up and gave her a quick hug. "Bye, Agatha!" Then she put her on the floor, gathered up her music and stored it in the bench's seat and then grabbed Brighty's arm. "Let's go, Brighty! I've been dying to see the new Cannibal Parents movie." She glanced at her Father with a smile. "Thanks, Daddy!" She walked herself and Brighty over to the door to the hallway, passing Helga as she went. "Mother, have a pleasant afternoon," she said simply with a small smile before dashing away.
Then the kids were down the hall and out the front door and gone.
Helga laughed a little to herself as she watched them go. "Your daughter has spunk, Arnold. And I do like her approach." She entered the living room and went over to the fireplace, preparing to light some logs. It was always a little chilly later in the day during springtime here. And, considering its age, the boarding house had never been able to help being a bit drafty. Besides, Helga liked the atmosphere a nice, cozy fire created for anniversary celebrations.
Arnold laughed to himself too as he went over to the piano lid to close it and dust off the top a bit. "Yeah, she's…well, spunky, like you said." He considered and then glanced at Helga with an eyebrow raised. "You like her approach to what, Helga?"
The fire lit, Helga stepped back and glanced at Arnold with a grin. Then she just sighed and shook her head. "Always adorably clueless. Don't ever change, my beloved Arnold, don't ever change."
Arnold sighed, smiling softly and walking over to her. He put his arms around her and pressed his forehead into hers, looking into her eyes. "Are you going to tell me what you're talking about or just make me guess?"
Helga's eyelids lowered a little and she smiled more, putting her arms around his shoulders. "Hmm, well, I do like keeping a little mystery between us…"
Arnold gave a low chuckle and then moved forward and gave some soft kisses to her cheek and the side of her neck. "You know, that movie Katie's seeing will probably take at least two hours…then another half an hour or so for ice cream…"
Helga closed her eyes and let out a slight sigh like a swoon. "Mmm, oh Arnold, I know exactly what you mean." She pulled back, holding his face in her hands and looking into his eyes. "But, um…not right now, okay? I don't know if you forgot or not…" Helga blushed—Arnold, sweetly enough, never forgot important dates in their relationship ever (which was more than she could say for herself on occasion), "But today's the anniversary of our first date. I wanted to do something special." She smiled hopefully up at him.
Arnold just chuckled warmly, looking down at her. "Of course I didn't forget. It's just, well…" he blushed as he always did at intimate moments, "Something special for us usually at some point ends up involving things we like to do in private." He gave a shy little shrug.
Helga just giggled. "Ah, I know, believe me, I know, but…" She sighed, removing herself from his arms, "I'd rather start with our usual tradition of just sitting by the fire with a bottle of wine and reminiscing. Besides, speaking of memorable moments, 'Mister Scrapbook', I have something I'd like to talk with you about." She slipped away from him, heading in the direction of the kitchen.
Arnold sighed but smiled in understanding and went over to the couch, setting up a few blankets and fluffing up the pillows for them. "All right, Helga. But I invited Gerald and Phoebe for dinner tonight as part of the celebration, so we don't have too much time all alone to ourselves this afternoon."
A second later, Helga came back into the living room with a bottle of wine and two glasses in one arm (and a yahoo soda in the other arm), frowning. "You invited them tonight? Arnold…" she sighed, going over to the table in front of the couch and setting up the drinks. "Tonight's really not a good night."
Arnold frowned, helping by uncorking the bottle of wine. "But they're our friends, Helga, of course they wanted to be here for our…what is it now…25th anniversary of dating? If you don't count the 'break' we took, of course, which I never do." He shrugged, smiling again.
Helga sighed, her frown diminishing a little. "I know, I know, it's special…" She smiled. "Maybe it doesn't matter. And Phoebe does deserve as many nights of having someone else cook for her as possible. She only just got back from the hospital two weeks ago after delivering that baby of hers and Geraldo's, and I still can't believe how big she got when she was pregnant." Helga shook her head, grinning a little. "It's always the petite and quiet ones, you know?"
Arnold chuckled and nodded, eyes a little wide. "I know. I was sort of worried she was going to have triplets, and I think Gerald was pretty afraid of that too even if the baby did turn out to just be the one boy. I could barely tell when you were pregnant until over six months into it, and even then it wasn't easy." He smiled sheepishly.
Helga smiled a little more to herself and shrugged with the lightest blush. "That is true. You never can tell." She sighed, deciding to change the subject for a moment. "Anyway, if you invited them for dinner then they wouldn't be over until after the kids got back anyway, so I guess it's fine. All that matters is that we're alone right now." She gently touched the side of his face. "Take a seat with me, my beloved?"
A dreamy looking Arnold just nodded. "Of course, my darling Helga." He gestured down to the couch with his arm. "Ladies first."
Helga just sighed and rolled her eyes with a grin and sat down. She looked back up at him, crossing her arms over her chest. "Satisfied?"
Arnold smiled and then sat with her. "For now."
Helga chuckled warmly and then picked up the wine bottle. "Shall I start?" They had a tradition of pouring each other's glass of wine.
Arnold nodded and held up his glass. "Of course."
Helga nodded in return and poured a little bit of the red substance into the glass.
Then Arnold smiled and took the bottle from her, grinning a little in an interesting way. "And now my turn…"
"Up bup!" Helga stopped him, raising up her hand not currently holding up her glass. "No, thank you. No wine for me tonight. Here…" She picked up the yahoo soda and handed it to him, "Use this instead please."
Arnold looked at her with a warm and interested smile and gaze. "Oh…okay, if you insist." He put down the wine bottle and then unscrewed the cap from the soda bottle and filled Helga's wine glass with the familiar sugary bubbly substance. He then put down the bottle and held up his glass of wine. "Cheers."
Helga held up her glass of soda. "Cheers."
They clinked and then each drank a little. Then the two of them put down their drinks on the coffee table just to cuddle in the blanket and gaze at the fire.
Helga gazed up at Arnold after a few moments of silence. Her eye had caught something left upon the end table in here. "Thank you for making that scrapbook, Arnold. Do you think once you've got it all caught up we could look through it together? I'd like that." She rested against him a little.
Arnold nodded. "That's what I made it for—so that we could remember together, everything from getting together when we were kids right through now. We've been through a lot." He sighed, resting more against her too.
Helga nodded, sighing peacefully. "Yeah. Lots of ups and downs."
"Always more ups though." Arnold assured with a smile and a kiss to the top of her head.
Helga smiled more. "Absolutely."
"Helga?" Arnold asked curiously, "Is what you wanted to talk to me about something to do with running for the city council again this term? I know you really loved serving your last term and that you promised everyone you'd probably try to stay in office, but if you don't want to run for a second one I'm sure everyone would understand. They all support you and trust your judgment just as much as I do." He smiled. "Or did you have an idea for another poetry book you wanted to work on instead maybe? Or some more short stories? Or did you want to teach some more creative writing classes at the community center, or did you maybe want to expand the literary magazine a little?" Arnold smiled even more. "I still like the name for it—'Anonymous.'" He chuckled a bit. "I think it could really take off even more, and especially if you wanted to devote some extra time to it."
Helga chuckled at all these guesses at what she wanted to talk to him about, but shook her head to each one of them of course. "No, no…I need a little break from writing poetry books right now to build up more inspiration. And I think I might take a break from teaching writing classes, just for a few months. And I'm happy enough with the magazine as it is. It's popular on most of the college campuses in the northwest, after all, and that's the group of people I made it for; young people just starting out and not sure yet who they want to be as writers or if they'll even make it at all. They're the ones who need the encouragement, and I like giving them a potential place to publish for the first time. Besides, Gerald's little sister has been great about promoting it at Bennington ever since she started teaching there. Timberly's a good egg. And as for what you said about the City Council…" she smirked a little at him. "Yeah right, like I would just suddenly vacate my council position—I'll fight for that thing with my dying breath, Football Head!" She ruffled his hair a little and laughed.
Arnold just laughed as he tried to fix his hair. "Okay, okay…then what is it, Helga?" he smiled brightly. "I'm all ears."
Helga smiled shyly and shrugged. "Can't you guess?" She made sure to hold up her wine glass full of Yahoo soda a little higher.
Arnold just looked at the glass with a sort of curious innocence. Then he looked back at her and smiled a little. "Is the soda flat?"
Helga blinked. Then she just sighed deeply and put the glass down. She rubbed the bridge of her nose and closed her eyes. "No, Arnold. The soda is not flat," she said dryly.
"Oh. Is it that you want me to do the dishes including our glasses after we're done here?" he asked now with equally optimistic curiosity.
Another deep sigh left her, and Helga slumped back against the couch now. "No…"
"Did you want to make another toast about something?"
"Nope." Helga shook her head, almost frowning now.
"Were you offering me some soda? Because, honestly, I still prefer that stuff to wine—even the wine my parents send us from San Lorenzo."
Helga scoffed and rolled her eyes. "Oh, yes, Arnold. I was being a good little wife and offering you some of my soda. And next I'll be bringing you slippers and a pipe."
"Oh, that's nice of you, Helga," Arnold replied brightly, reclining back on the couch with his hands behind his head. "Could you get me the remote too? There's a baseball game coming on before dinnertime, and your Dad's got a commercial airing during it anyway that I helped him with a little now that he's consulting for the Emporium in his spare time—I'd like to watch it."
Helga's eyes went wide and then she looked at him with a slight scowl.
Arnold was just sitting there, sipping his wine and smiling a little too over-confidently at her.
Her tone turned a little dark and frustrated. "You're not being funny, you know. I'm trying to have a tender, loving, beautiful moment here, and all you're doing is cracking wise for fun."
Arnold sighed, put down his wine glass, and leaned in closer to her, smirking. "And you lose all sense of humor about other people's jokes when you're pregnant, Helga. I think you pouted and scowled more when you were carrying Katie than you ever did when we were kids growing up." He did his best not to laugh.
"I…" Helga started loudly, gearing up on instinct for an argument. Then she paused and surprise overtook her face. "You…Who the heck told you I was pregnant?" She gave him a gentle push in the chest and then crossed her arms. "Did Brainy call you after he left here? Oh, I'll hunt him down and kill him if he did!" she fumed humorously. "I still can't believe he guessed about it."
Arnold did his best not to laugh at her. "You also get much more threatening when you're pregnant. It really gives me chills." He took one of her hands. "No, Brainy didn't tell me," he assured her. "I told you, your moods, um…become a bit intense when you're going to have a baby. When you were three months along with Katie you wrote some of the most beautiful love poems that I've ever read…when you were six months along with her and we had renovations done for a nursery and the guy tried to charge us twice the estimate and take twice as long as promised to do the job, you yelled at him so badly that he got everything done a week early, knocked off three hundred dollars, and begged for your mercy…then when you were eight months along you got so sad that the doctor didn't want you travelling and that you'd have to miss Lisa's first elementary school art show that you locked yourself in our room in the dark with only a few lit candles and started crying and reciting quotes from famous tragedies and lamenting all about how the baby was never going to come out of you and you had no idea what you were doing and you wished I could be the pregnant one for just five minutes." By now Arnold had an arm over her shoulders and he was gently stroking her hair and just smiling and smiling and smiling away so warmly and tenderly. "You are a truly fascinating and passionate woman, Helga G. Pataki-Shortman."
Helga was just blushing a lot at this point and looking down a bit sheepishly. "Erm…I…may vaguely recall those incidents. Heh…Pataki hormones. Either way, though, being pregnant's just a very emotional and spiritual experience for me." She leaned against him a little. "Have I already started getting a little more carried away than usual?"
Arnold shrugged a little. "Not much just yet. Though, um…" he blushed, "you have been a little extra passionate and enthusiastic lately in bed. That's another side effect for you, at least for the first six months or so." He glanced down, trying not to smile too much again.
Helga grinned a little at this information and had to nod. "Yeah, that's true. I don't know, being pregnant with one of our children has always been strangely arousing to me." She gently traced a finger down over his chest. "Knowing that my beloved and I have come together in the heat of the night, and that from our union he has sired a child and I bear that child…." She let out a heavy sigh and smirked just a little to herself, her eyes hazed as her fingers played with one of the buttons on his shirt. "Arnold, stop me or I'm liable to pounce you right down to this couch here and now and have my way with you."
A blushing but grinning Arnold just sighed softly and took up her hand, gently kissing the fingertips. "Shh…later…" he whispered, "There's always plenty of time, but how often do we get the house all to ourselves without Katie running around or a bunch of her friends running around or a bunch of the boarders running around? No Mr. Potts and Lola trying to teach their son how to smash things, no Mr. Simmons trying to plan another one of his awkward family gatherings here like he tries every year since his second wedding, no Mai stopping by with Mr. Hyunh for tea, no Susie and Oskar wanting to show everyone their son's latest 'straight A' report card from college, no Mary Bailey dashing in and out from her grad school classes…" Mary Bailey was Mr. Bailey's now grown daughter, whom Mr. Bailey had encouraged not to jump into some corporate future the second she hit twenty-two and had a college degree. She studied social work now, a field somewhat related to her Father's position at the federal office of information but with many more opportunities to help her fellow man, and had been happy to move into the boarding house and even babysit Katie at times for her Father's young friends, Arnold and Helga. "There's not a sound right now but our voices and the crackling fire—it's perfect." He let out a deep and content sigh.
Helga let out a deep sigh close to a swoon and nodded. "You're right, you're right. The place really is so very quiet and peaceful. I love it." She smiled softly to herself.
They sat silently for a while, just resting together and listening to the fire. The quiet moments in life were wonderful.
Eventually Helga spoke softly, smiling a little. "Do you really know me so well, my beloved, that you knew I was carrying our child only from a slight change in my mood and a few extra passionate nights?"
Arnold smiled. "I had suspicions. But when you brought out wine for me and a soda for you just now, then I knew. The last time we had an evening together and you told me about Katie, you got a soda for yourself." He chuckled a little. "And I remember your exact words too when you finally told me—you had music playing and candles lit and you smiled lovingly and took my head in your hands and then you said…"
Helga finished it for him, speaking in an affectionate tone. "Arnold, congratulations my darling, our dream is coming true—after weeks of trying, your irresistible animalistic passion for me has finally knocked me up. Way to go, Football Head, you old rascal you."
Arnold sighed deeply, blushing completely. "Exactly."
Helga chuckled. "Then you fainted."
"Yeah, I did…"Arnold admitted sheepishly, rubbing the back of his neck with his free hand.
Helga rolled her eyes. "Then you tried to practically put me in a plastic bubble on a pedestal for the next few months until I finally convinced you to cut the crap."
Arnold shrugged. "I didn't know what else to do—it seemed like the right thing at the time. I-I mean, you were already being nice enough to carry our baby inside of you. It seemed wrong that you should have to do anything else on top of that."
Helga sighed and gave him a wry look. "Yeah, but there's a fine line between insisting on helping me carry the heavier bags of groceries and wanting to cook dinner for us yourself every night, and never letting me walk without holding my arm and trying to cut up all of my food for me. But you figured it out eventually." She nudged him in the shoulder. "And I'll be 'nice' enough to carry this baby too without you mothering me," she added with a grin and a wink.
Arnold laughed and rubbed his shoulder. "Okay, I promise, no mothering you," he assured. Arnold reached over to the table and poured himself a little more wine and Helga a little more soda. "How do you think Katie's going to feel about this?"
Helga just shook her head with a smile, taking a sip from her glass. "I think she'll continue her little 'crusade against me' phase by practically adopting the baby like it's her own and showing the little thing even more extra affection in front of me than she shows you." She sighed, leaning back against the couch. "I don't know why she's so bent on trying to compete with me." A touch of pensiveness came to Helga's features. She knew Katie wasn't trying to hurt her or be mean to her—Katie was a Pataki, and Patakis, even when diluted by a little sweet and mild-mannered Shortman blood, tended to behave much more vindictively when they were angry than Katie ever did in her antics toward Helga. No, Katie was just stubbornly and playfully trying to prove a point or something, and Helga just wished she could see all of the details of the situation laid out before her to get a better understanding of her daughter's perspective.
Arnold nodded in understanding and considered, sipping a little more from his glass. "I really do think it's just because she admires you so much, Helga," he offered kindly, optimistically and most importantly truthfully. "You're her successful, talented, strong Mother, and she's a lot like you, and she probably just wants a chance to prove that she's just as successful and talented and strong but in her own way." Arnold smiled. "It actually reminds me of how you used to compete with Olga when we were little—always resisting her and trying to mess things up for her to prove you were just as good at things as she was. It also kind of makes me remember how you used to try and impress me when I would get crushes on other girls just so I'd notice you, but at the same time you'd act like you didn't care what I thought about you." He put a hand on Helga's. "Honestly, if it's any consolation, Helga, I think she likes you better than me. She'd never jump through hoops just to prove herself to me, she mostly just uses me to get to you. Not that I mind the extra affection and attention from her." Arnold smiled dreamily. "After all, I don't think there's anything as nice as having your little girl give you a hug and a kiss and call you her Daddy and then smile and go off to play." His eyes lit up a little at a sudden thought, and he looked to Helga. "Do you think this one will be a girl too?"
Helga had just been watching him with interest and appreciation and sipping her soda, and now she just laughed warmly at this question and put down the drink. "I'm not sure if that fatherly ego of yours needs another cute little female member of your fan club running around here. To tell you the truth…I have a feeling it'll be a boy." She shrugged and put her hand on her barely rounded stomach. "Something about this time around feels different from the last time around, and I think that's what it is." She looked at Arnold very seriously for a moment. "Understand this: if it comes out with a football head as wide as yours, I would have a doctor on standby in the delivery room just for you and a good therapist just for you too, because I'm going to be squeezing your hand until it breaks and calling you every name in the book until that child passes."
"And…how would that be any different from the first time in the delivery room exactly?" Arnold couldn't help but ask with just a touch of sarcasm.
"Oh ha, ha," Helga replied with an eye roll. "Give me a break—if I have to suffer the simultaneous torment and joy of creating human life, you can suffer a sprained wrist and the sounds of a few harsh words against your innocent little ears." She sighed and shook her head. "Honestly, Arnold, I give your Mother a massive amount of credit. Not only did she give birth to you and that wide head of yours but she did it completely naturally and without a shaman let alone a hospital in sight. That woman is a hero to us all." She laughed a little, and then added, "And anyway, as soon as Katie was out of me, I calmed down and you know it." She smiled proudly.
Arnold laughed, putting down his wine glass and looking at her with a grin. "That's only because I begged the doctor on my knees to up your pain medication. Then you were the most loving version of you I've ever known. You kept swooning and calling me 'Arnold darling' and reciting bits of love poetry and giggling. Gerald was there, he got most of it on tape."
Helga rolled her eyes, smirking a little. "Yeah, don't remind me." She put a hand to her head. "Crimeny, that car ride with him trying to get to the hospital in time was awful…. I cannot believe he almost had to deliver my baby using nothing but advice from Phoebe and births he's watched on medical dramas and a few clean beach towels he had in the trunk."
"He feels exactly the same way, Helga," Arnold assured her with a warm grin.
Helga smiled back at him, her eyes narrowing. "Yeah, well, now that you're all settled in at work between the zoo and the aquarium and those lost South American civilization lectures at the city university from time to time, you are going to be on call for me from my eight month onwards at all times, no question. Either a doctor is delivering my baby or you are, end of story. And especially if it is a football headed boy, I'm going to need all of the support from you I can get."
Arnold nodded. "Okay, Helga, I promise, I will be on call for you for that entire two months." He considered and then smiled more, resting back and looking to the fire. "Hmm…a boy might actually be kind of nice. Maybe he could be friends with Gerald and Phoebe's new little boy Kenji just like Gerald and I were best friends." Arnold smiled hopefully at the idea. "And just like how Katie is best friends with Brighty," he added.
Helga couldn't help it. A laugh that sounded a lot more like a scoff escaped her.
Arnold glanced over at her curiously.
Helga noticed and just cleared her throat and glanced away with an innocent grin.
Arnold looked at her even more curiously. "What?"
"Nothing," Helga assured, holding up her hands.
"Helga…" Arnold gave her a bit of a dry look.
Helga considered and then looked at him curiously. "You…really don't see it, do you?"
Arnold blinked. "See what?"
Helga let out a deep breath and shook her head. "I can't believe she hasn't flat out admitted it to you—her precious 'Daddy.' I mean, with me, I get it, she'd die before she admitted it to me. But to not tell you—wow, that is shocking!" Helga rolled her eyes, smiling even more
"Helga?" Arnold sighed and asked a touch more firmly now. "Can you just tell me what you're talking about? Please?"
Helga just sighed and stood up, walking across the living room to the hallway. "You became best friends with the girl you fell in love with," she glanced over her shoulder, standing in the doorway now, "And I'm not certain, but your daughter might very well fall in love with the boy she just happens to already be best friends with." She smirked a little and shook her head. "For her sake, darling, just take some time and get used to the idea—I still remember how jarring and awful it was when Big Bob caught on to us without warning." She shuddered a little. "I don't want Katie to have to go through that, but it is starting to get more and more obvious that they have little crushes on each other. So at least now you can take some time to absorb the situation, and there's much less of a chance that you'll stumble into something awkward and embarrass yourself, your daughter, and sweet little Brighty. And for now, I think it's best if we just let their relationship develop at its own pace—that's what I've been doing, and I think it's going well enough. Your daughter's got a good head on her shoulders, and Brighty's a sweet guy, and they're getting older—I think they'll be okay no matter what happens."
Arnold was just sitting there, eyes wide in surprise. Then he blinked several times. "But she's…and he's…and they…I didn't…" Then he just let out a deep sigh and stood up, looking to Helga and smiling sheepishly a little. "Helga, why do I never figure these things out until you tell me about them?" He approached her.
Helga's grin picked up more on one side. "Because you're adorably dense." She gently touched the side of his face. "A trait which I've always found very attractive…arousing…alluring…Arnold…." She moved closer, her voice lowering, eyes hazed. "Forget enjoying the quiet. I'm feeling very passionately pregnant again. And we've only got seven months of it left, so we might as well get our fill."
Arnold still seemed a little confused about everything but then that confusion melted to fluster and then that fluster melted to love. He smiled shyly and lifted up his hand to put it over hers on his face. "I would be lost without you, wouldn't I?"
"Oh completely," she giggled warmly and rolled her eyes, already playing with the buttons at his collar.
Arnold smiled a little more down at her. Then he stepped back and held both of his arms out. "Want to jump up?" he asked spontaneously.
Helga blinked at the offer and looked up at him, her smile growing. "Are you sure you can still handle that? The last time we tried was when I told you I was pregnant with Katie, and it's been ten years. Neither one of us is getting any younger."
Arnold laughed a little. "Trust me." He looked at her with loving confidence.
Helga eyed him curiously but then shrugged. "Oh why not? If it looks like we're going down though, I'm using you to cushion my fall. Here I go!" Helga turned to the side a bit and then leapt up, holding out her arms toward Arnold.
Arnold instantly came forward and caught her under the legs and behind the back. He wobbled for a moment on his legs but then managed to steady the both of them until he stood firm, holding his wife in his arms.
Helga beamed up at him, arms latched around his shoulders. "Oh Arnold, so determined and strong and caring. Whatever will you do with me next?" she cooed dotingly.
A blushing Arnold only smiled more and swiftly walked her out into and down the hall and up the boarding house stairs. "I'll do my best to make you happy. I like to keep my pregnant wives happy after all."
The two of them laughed as Arnold got their room door open and then closed it and then pushed open their bedroom door with his hip, allowing them to finally enter that space. Then there was the sound of cushions compressing as Arnold gently moved Helga down to the surface of the bed.
Helga laughed more. "Arnold," she whispered playfully. "Close the door please, my forgetful little Football Head…"
"Oh, sorry, Helga," he replied sheepishly. "Here…" He walked back over to the open bedroom door.
She sighed in satisfaction. "I do love a man who takes orders well."
Arnold laughed a little to himself and shook his head as he closed the door and then turned his sights back to her.
Arnold and Helga spent some well-deserved time together celebrating their 'anniversary' and their happiness over the new baby until a little before dinnertime when they recalled that Gerald and Phoebe would be coming over not to mention Katie and Brighty would be returning soon, so the two of them probably needed to look into preparing supper.
Meanwhile, with Katie and Brighty…
After the movie, Brainy had indeed picked the kids up and taken them over to get some ice cream at Slausens (now owned by a young man named Charlie who had formerly gone by the nickname of 'Chocolate Boy' a lifetime ago and who had learned to just enjoy chocolate as a simple occasional pleasure in life along with the many other flavors offered by the ice cream parlour) followed by a quick trip to the planetarium to see to some things for work. By that point, it had gotten very close to dinnertime—more than late enough for Helga and Arnold to have already finished talking. So when the children asked to walk back home alone (and Katie asked if Brighty could come to dinner at her house), Brainy had agreed and let the kids go on their way.
Brainy liked seeing them together. Katie was as good a friend to Brighton as Helga had become to Brainy around that age, maybe even better. She listened to him and talked to him and spent quality time with him and stood up for him whenever the other kids would tease him about being shy. And Brighton was always there right by her side, loyal to Katie and listening to Katie and just liking being around Katie. Brainy even had the notion that Brighton's shyness slipped away a little when he and Katie were alone together, and he was grateful for that. His son had a special place in his heart. Oh certainly Brighton's sisters were wonderful—energetic and smart and funny…but Brainy could relate better to a quiet shy little boy always wanting to spend time with the most passionate girl he knew. 'I just hope those two handle it well when they realize how much they secretly like each other. But I think they're strong enough to stay friends even if anything more doesn't work out, just like with Helga and me.' He shook his head with a smile as he drove away, leaving the kids to walk the remaining few blocks back to the boarding house.
Though they walked side by side, Katie clearly led the way with her slightly longer and always firm stride. She smiled happily to the boy beside her. "I'm glad we got to go see that sequel, Brighty. But, um, maybe next movie we'll just go a comedy or something instead." She smiled sheepishly. "You always get green in horror movies."
Brighty shook his head though, looking down. "Oh, no, it's all right. Yes, some of the gore and scary parts make me feel a little sick, but I always like the interesting stories in horror movies. Very thrilling." He smiled at her.
Katie laughed, shaking her head. "All right, all right, whatever you say, Bright Guy."
Brighty laughed a little too, then asked unsurely, "Are you sure your parents won't mind me coming over for dinner tonight?"
Katie rolled her eyes. "Mind?" She put her hands on her hips. "Brighty you come over like three times a week for dinner, and either way they love you, and also either way it's just dinner. I promise it's fine," she assured him with a warm, confident tone.
Brighty smiled a little again. "Thanks, Katie. I…I like having dinner with you." His green eyes looked to her blue ones.
Katie blushed a little and made herself look forward now. "Y-yeah, um…you're pretty nice company yourself. At least you're someone to talk to besides my parents." She smiled sheepishly and gave a shrug, putting her hands behind her back.
Brighty gave a little sigh and frowned, moving closer to her as they walked. "Katie, I still think you should talk to your Mom more. Don't you think she ever wonders why you get so grumpy with her?"
"I am not 'grumpy'," Katie assured stubbornly. "I am…dissident." She nodded at the word, finding it effective. "My Mom's just so…nice to me. It bugs me." She crossed her arms over her chest, her pink lip quirked to the side.
Brighty shrugged at the familiar explanation. "But my Dad's nice and he doesn't bug me…and my Mom's nice too and she doesn't bug me. And your Dad's nice and he doesn't bug you." Brighty knew his logic might not help too much, but he always did want people to get along so very much.
Katie sighed and rolled her eyes. "It's more than just the fact that my Mom's too nice though, Brighty, and you know it. She's too much like me. And I don't like it when people act like we're the same." A stern pout came to her features as she looked forward. "We're not the same. I mean, we're alike, but I don't want to end up being pegged as just some little junior version of her. I want to express myself in my own way. And when I do something passionate or daring I don't want people to just say, 'oh, well that's Helga's daughter for you', I want them to say, 'oh, well that's Katie for you'! Whenever I do something good or helpful, no one acts like it's because I'm the same as my Dad, and that's because I have my own way of doing good things that's a lot different from his. But every time I do something creative or adventurous it's like people just think I'm doing it because I'm Helga's daughter. But I'm not, I'm doing it because I'm me." She stuck her chin up in the air proudly.
Brighty looked at her compassionately. "Have you tried talking to your Mom about the problem yet, Katie? I think she would listen."
Katie sighed and looked down. The passion in her voice quieted a little. "Sometimes when I'm visiting Aunt Olga I talk to my older cousin Lisa, and I used to ask her why my Mom calls Nana Miriam just 'Miriam' sometimes instead of 'Mom.' Lisa said she doesn't know everything, but she thinks there was some trouble between Nana Miriam and my Mom when she was little. And my Mom never likes to talk much about stuff from when she was really little with my grandparents, so I think it must be true." Katie looked very pensive and compassionate. "I know my Mom would listen, Brighty. But what if she doesn't quite understand what I mean—what if she starts thinking that what I'm trying to say is that I'm unhappy with her or that she's being a bad Mom? I just want space from her do my own thing and be my own person." She frowned a little then. "But maybe I have been pushing things a little lately. I could try to be nicer to her. You're right. And I will." She looked to Brighty, her eyes wide and shining in the evening sunset. "I know I can bug her a little with the way I'm handling things now, but I'd never actually want to hurt my Mom, Brighty. I love her. She's even kind of my hero…but you can't tell her that," she added quickly.
Brighty just smiled back at her warmly. Sometimes that was all he could do to show his approval and support. Words had never been his strong suit. Though he felt Katie had a beautiful way of expressing things all her own.
Katie let out a soft sigh and took his hand in hers in appreciation as they walked. "Thanks for listening, Brighty. You're the best listener there is."
Brighty blushed and looked down. "You're welcome…" he mumbled softly.
Katie noticed his blushing and blinked and blushed quite a bit herself, looking away. Then she realized she had accidentally started holding his hand and instantly let it go and rubbed her arm. "Um…h-hey, so, how's the latest model plane coming?" she asked, desperate for anything to move the conversation along.
Brighty shrugged and replied quietly and humbly. "Oh, you know, i-it's fine…"
Katie smiled a little and nudged him slightly. "Why do you always have to be so modest? The last ones you made were so cool! You put so much detail into them. You know, my Grandma and Grandpa Shortman can fly planes. Maybe next time they visit we could finally go up in one with them together if you wanted. I think we're old enough now."
"Really?" Brighty asked eagerly, looking to Katie with so much hope for the idea.
Katie giggled and nodded. "Sure! Why not?"
Brighty just looked so happy. Then he considered, and then asked as a means of showing his appreciation, "Katie, do you want me to stay after dinner a little and help you with your composition for the piano—the new piece that you let me hear earlier? I could set the metronome for you and turn the pages and help you work out your 'muse' or whatever you call it." Brighty often assisted Katie in this way.
Katie blushed distinctly and looked down with a grin, shaking her head. "O-Oh, no, Brighty, I appreciate it, but that's okay. We, um…we probably shouldn't push our luck anyway since we got in trouble for talking so late last night. Besides, it's a silly composition. I-I might even abandon it." She started to play with a few tresses of her hair.
Brighty raised an eyebrow. "But you never abandon compositions. And you make some of the prettiest music I've ever heard."
"Well, I might abandon this one," Katie asserted with a sigh (and trying not to smile too much at what he had said about her music). She shook her head to clear it now, hoping to change the subject. "Anyway, I have some new ideas for songs I might like to try instead. Hmm, you know that's another reason my Mom and I can't get along—she's completely tone deaf and I'm a piano prodigy like Aunt Olga. Daddy even says his Grandma used to play piano, so I must be talented just like her too. My Mother the poet and me the musician—it would never work. Two artists clash too much." She shook her head. "That's another reason I like spending time with my Dad so much—he's not artistic at all in the usual ways, so he's always fascinated by all of the stuff I create. Plus he likes what I did with his old bedroom." She smirked a little to herself in satisfaction. "All the pulleys and the different way I have things strung up, and the clay sculptures I make ever since Lisa showed me how. And I've even finally got that carousel system set up in my closet—all I have to do is pull a rope and my clothes go by one piece at a time so I can look them over. My Dad says he's an electrical genius but I'm a mechanical one." Katie gestured to herself proudly with her thumb.
Brighty smiled and nodded. "I've always admired how talented you are at rigging up different simple machines." He shrugged. "And if you'd rather not work on music tonight, that's okay. You can always call me up later if you need anything as long as we don't talk on the phone too late. I'm just always glad to be here to help you."
Katie grinned and laughed to herself a bit. "Yup, always right by my side tagging along."
Brighty looked uncertain and shy for a moment.
Katie just smiled more and moved closer to him, here eyes going a little half lidded. "And I wouldn't have it any other way," she added softly.
Brighty beamed a little again and Katie looked forward and let out a sigh of satisfaction.
They walked on together, now finally coming up to the boarding house.
"Hey Brighty, hypothetically, if I did decide to complete my latest composition, and if I did want your quite valuable opinion on my work…could I play it for you in private sometime and get your honest opinion?" She looked at him very sincerely and seriously. "Your completely honest opinion—no holding back. Please. It's important to me about this one…um, just to get someone's completely honest opinion, heh."
"Of course, Katie. I'd love to help. And I'll be as honest with you as you need, always." He looked at her with the total sincerity of a true best friend.
"Thanks, Brighty. I knew you were my best friend for a reason."
"I'm glad you're my best friend too, Katie."
Katie laughed. "Now come on, let's get in there and get some grub!" She snagged his hand and led him up the stoop in a flurry.
They got inside just in time to make it to the dinner table for their meal.
"I'm really sorry we only had pizza, you guys," Helga apologized again tonight to Gerald and Phoebe as she started to clear the table following the meal (the children had been sent up to Katie's room by this time to play for a bit until dessert). "We sort of lost track of time." She tried not to blush too much.
Arnold nodded, already blushing entirely as he tried to help with clearing things too. "Yeah, really, we're sorry, you two. Next dinner we'll cook something great. Today's just been a little special." A little grin came to his features that he couldn't help.
Gerald, dressed in a red shirt and dark jeans, and Phoebe, in a pale blue dress and still wearing her white lab coat from the office, looked at their two friends and just tried not to laugh; they knew them so well. "You two invent another random anniversary to celebrate that completely distracted the both of you all afternoon again?" Gerald asked with a grin. "What is it this time—the anniversary of the first time you two bumped into each other around a corner?"
Helga grinned, returning to the table from the kitchen with a pot of coffee. "Shows what you know, Gerald—that anniversary isn't until the fifteenth of September each year." A touch of smugness came to her features. "Today was the anniversary of our first date, a perfectly normal and reasonable celebration for any couple to have. And we reminisced and had fun—that's what was most important." She glanced at Arnold. "Right, Arnold?"
Arnold, coming back from the kitchen now with napkins and some cream and sugar, still blushed a lot but nodded as he took his seat again. "Oh, yeah, i-it was a nice anniversary." He poured himself some coffee, avoiding eye contact with everyone as Helga sat down beside him.
Helga just laughed and shook her head at his modesty. "And besides, we have some good news we'd like to share. " She turned her attention to Phoebe. "Oh but first, how's the baby? You must be so relieved not to have that child trying to consume you from the inside out anymore, Pheebs. I was getting worried for a while. I don't know how you managed to stay on your feet at work up until the ninth month."
Phoebe just shrugged humbly and smiled softly. "Oh, it wasn't such a difficult task, Helga. I liked being pregnant. I wouldn't mind trying it again." She blushed softly.
"Later. We wouldn't mind trying to have another kid later," Gerald quickly threw in. "And for the record," he looked to Arnold and Helga, "I want to apologize for every time when Katie was a baby that I came over here and found the two of you frazzled and covered in mashed peas and one of you walking around in zombie-like circles with her in a papoose while the other one was passed out on the couch with their mouth hanging open, and I just laughed and acted like there was no way that that little baby should have been able to tire out the two most energetic and crazy people I know. I was wrong—babies are intense, and playing with Timerbly when we were kids did NOTHING to prepare me for fatherhood." He sighed dramatically and slumped back in his chair. "Man, I'm just glad Jamie-o's got Ken tonight. Finally, one evening of peace with my favorite foxy lady." Then he smiled warmly and put an arm around Phoebe's waist, cuddling against her a bit.
Phoebe blushed lightly and gently cuddled back against him. "It's been a great deal of work. But such wonderful work." She kissed Gerald's forehead. "Gerald wa ii otoosan desu. Daijoubu."
Gerald chuckled warmly, gently tracing around the line of her cheek and through a curl of dark hair present there. "Phoebe wa kireina okasan desu. Aishite imasu." He sighed. "Maybe another baby would be nice. Besides you got the best cravings when you were pregnant." He laughed and looked to Arnold and Helga. "Have you guys ever tried avocado, chili sauce and chocolate sushi? I've called it a Keiko Crunch Roll, and it's been a hit on the menu at the all of the café branches." He gave Phoebe another little hug and then stretched up with one arm. "I'm telling you, despite all the hard work, babies really are a beautiful thing."
Phoebe giggled warmly and nodded. Then she looked to Helga with a soft gaze and asked, "Speaking of babies, when is yours due, Helga?"
Helga, Gerald and Arnold all blinked in surprise.
Then Helga sighed deeply, resting her head in her hand, and tried not to smile. "Am I wearing some kind of big flashing sign on my head today that says 'Arnold knocked me up two months ago' or what?"
Phoebe just chuckled and shook her head. "Helga, I'm a doctor. And I know you very well—I've known you since we were three years old. And I've seen you pregnant before. I can just tell." she finished humbly.
Arnold blushed a lot and tried not to laugh. "Helga, why do you have to describe it as 'knocked up'?" He glanced at her.
She just smirked at him. "Because it embarrasses you a lot when I do it," she explained, like it was the most obvious thing in the world.
Phoebe looked to Arnold with interest. "You guessed too, Arnold?
Arnold nodded. "Yeah. How long have you known Phoebe?"
Phoebe smiled a little. "Two weeks. I didn't want to say anything to you though, Arnold. I thought you'd be happier hearing it from Helga or finding out yourself. But since Helga did just say that she had good news to share with us, I assumed that's what it was."
Arnold smiled in appreciation. "Thanks, Phoebe. Yeah, it was fun figuring it out on my own. And Helga and I had a nice time talking about it." A sincere tone came to his voice. "Speaking of that, you'll be the godmother again, won't you, Phoebe? And Gerald will be the godfather?"
Phoebe nodded, her smile growing warmer. "Of course, Arnold. It would be an honor." She looked to her dear old friend in appreciation. Then a new thought occurred to her and she beamed a little and looked to her best friend. "So you're due in seven months then, Helga? That's wonderful. Our children will get to grow up together just like all of us did."
"Okay, okay, hold on right there." Gerald just looked at Helga with wide eyes and spoke in a firm tone, having finally found his voice. "I have an announcement: well, okay, two announcements. First, yes, I'd love to be the godfather again of course. But second, and this is the big one, starting five months from now I am not coming near you at all, Helga G. Pataki-Shortman. At all. In fact, I am going out of town. Maybe I'll visit Timberly at Bennington College or Jamieo at his bachelor pad uptown. I don't care, as long as I'm kept far away from anything involving you and giving birth."
Helga just rolled her eyes and tried not to laugh at him. "Oh, and I suppose I just planned to go into labor last time when you were the only one around—because the idea of you delivering my first born child in the back of your car was such a treat for me." She smirked a little and raised an eyebrow.
Gerald glared at her with a little smirk of his own, crossing his arms over his chest. "I still say you planned things that way last time just to torture me."
Helga scoffed and rolled her eyes. "Oh, yeah, I planned to experience the full spectrum of pain involved in natural childbirth with nothing but a handkerchief to bite on just to bug you, Gerald. Incidentally, go home after this and try passing a small watermelon through your largest nostril and tell me if the pain of that would be worth pulling a prank on me."
Gerald just smirked more. "Hey I would not put it past you."
At this point Arnold and Phoebe were just cracking together up at the behavior of their spouses.
Phoebe shook her head, her laughter calming, and looked to Arnold. "Have you told Katie yet, Arnold?"
Arnold shook his head, getting his laughter under control as well. "No, not yet."
"Told me what?"
All of the adult's attentions instantly turned to the familiar deliverer of this question who right now just happened to reappear from upstairs with her best friend. Indeed, Katie and Brighty stood in the doorway to the dining room, Brighty looking mildly curious about the behavior of the adults, and Katie looking downright suspicious with her arms crossed over her chest and an eyebrow raised and her hip cocked slightly to the side.
Helga cleared her throat and took the reigns, turning to her daughter and waving a hand in the air casually. "Oh, just that I think we still have some of that chocolate pie in the fridge if you kids wanted any dessert. I know you had ice cream before dinner, so I wasn't sure how you'd feel about that. Brighty, we also have some raspberry cobbler if that interests you instead," Helga offered kindly to the young man.
Katie just sighed deeply at her Mother's response. "I don't understand why you always make desserts that have raspberry in them, Mother. You know I'm allergic. Suppose some of the raspberries touched something else in the fridge and I ate that something else? I could die!" she informed Helga with that dramatic flair she had.
Helga just let out a deep breath. "Everything is always wrapped up and sealed in the fridge, and marked, Katie—nothing is going to touch anything else and kill you. And I only make things with raspberries a few times a month. And you know it's because they're your Father's favorite." She smiled a little again.
Katie just let out one last light sigh and shrugged in response. Then she cleared her throat and addressed the adults. "Anyway, unfortunately, Brighty and I can't join you for any dessert. He has to get home now, and I have some composition projects I want to work on for the rest of the night on my own." She smiled at Gerald and Phoebe. "Thank you for coming over, Uncle Gerald and Aunt Phoebe. It was nice having dinner with you." Katie smiled with a touch of enthusiasm. "And I hope you'll bring over Kenji soon. I'd love the chance to visit with him and play with him. I promise to be careful, I know he's still very little." She gave a small bow—a habit of hers when she assured people of her intentional good behavior in a certain situation.
Phoebe nodded to the young girl and smiled. "Of course, Katie. We'll bring him by in a couple of weeks. Maybe one day when you're older you'll even be able to babysit him for us if you want."
Gerald nodded in agreement, looking down at Katie with affection. 'I hope we have a girl next. I'd really like a daughter too now that I think about it.' "Yeah, you can teach him the ropes around here, Katie G." He winked at her and made a pointing gesture with his index finger.
Katie smiled happily at them both. "Thank you!"
"Not a problem," Gerald assured, reaching for the coffee pot and pouring himself a cup.
Katie dashed back over to Brighty. "Come on, Bright Guy, I'll show you out." Before heading down the hallway with him though, she paused and looked up at her Father. "Daddy, maybe I will have just a little chocolate pie later if you wouldn't mind saving me a piece, okay? Brain food for composing," she explained with a sheepish little grin.
Arnold blinked at suddenly being addressed and couldn't help blushing a little. He just kept looking at the sight of his daughter next to her little male best friend and thinking about what he maybe knew now. "Oh, um…well, sure, Katie, of course. I'll cut you a piece." He grinned a little. "Um, you two kids have a nice walk to the door—don't stay out too late, heh."
Katie just looked at her Father very curiously. "Er…right, thanks, Daddy." She took Brighty's arm and started to lead him away. But then she paused, took a breath, turned around to Helga and added, "And, Mother…I'm sure if I could eat your raspberry desserts, they'd be very good. And thank you for always making me strawberry cake for my birthday each year since it's my favorite even though you're allergic to strawberries. I appreciate it." She let out a quick sigh. "Come on, Brighty, let's go." She went down the hall with him finally.
Helga just watched them go with surprise and interest. "Uh…you're welcome." She smiled a little.
Arnold looked a little confused too. He glanced at Helga. "What do you think that was about?"
Helga just scoffed and nudged him in the shoulder. "Oh please, forget the random compliment I just got from our daughter—what was with 'have a nice walk to the door, don't stay out too late' thing you came up with? Football Head, you are such a spazz!" She laughed heartily.
Arnold just shrugged, looking sheepish. "I couldn't help it. You know it's always a lot for me to process when I find out someone 'likes' someone else. Just give me time, I'll get the hang of it. I always do sooner or later," he assured, trying to seem confident in his abilities.
"Oh, Helga," Phoebe asked, her eyes bright as she poured herself some coffee now too, "Are Katie and Brighty finally dating or did Arnold just finally find out about their little secret crushes on each other?"
Arnold gave Helga a dry look. "Helga, does everyone know about this except me?"
Helga shrugged. "Mostly." She nudged him. "And, hey, don't worry, I know, it's a weird feeling. It'll pass. If it makes you feel any better, I'm still getting kind of freaked out that everyone seems to know I'm pregnant now even though I technically haven't actually told anybody I'm pregnant—you all just keep guessing." She laughed warmly to herself.
Arnold chuckled and just shook his head, then looked to his best friend. "Gerald, did you know about Katie and Brighty?" he asked with interest, raising up his coffee cup.
Gerald smiled sheepishly and rubbed the back of his neck. "Uh, yeah, I kind of did. But if it helps, I was definitely the last to figure it out even if I did figure it out a while ago."
Arnold raised an eyebrow curiously. "Why didn't you say anything?" Helga he could understand—she loved secrets—but why not Gerald?
Both Helga and Gerald looked to each other and then glanced away, appearing very, very sheepish now. Helga decided to take on the responsibility of explaining. "Uh, about that, my darling…see, Gerald and I sort of had this bet going about how long it would take you to figure things out."
Arnold blinked. "Oh…come on… Really?" He glanced from Helga to Gerald, who both just nodded. Arnold then closed his eyes and just sighed deeply, trying his best not to smile.
Helga just nodded and gave a little shrug and grin. "Yup. But honestly, I was just getting bored waiting for you to catch on, and the kids aren't getting any younger, and a five year standing bet starts to feel a bit tired after a while, and—"
"This has been going on for five years?" Arnold asked in surprise and confusion.
Helga blinked. "The bet or Katie and Brighty's little romance?" she asked for clarification. "The bet's been going on five years, the little romance…who knows, could have been from the day they met, but definitely at least the groundwork for it has been going on for five years." She leaned over and put a hand on his cheek and looked into his eyes, speaking sincerely. "I'm sorry, darling, Gerald and I couldn't resist. I promise we didn't mean anything by it. I wanted to give Katie a chance to come clean about it herself. But she's almost a preteen now, and the two of them have really been getting close this year, and I didn't want to have you left out of the loop anymore, and I was actually hoping even you would think it was obvious by now even if you hadn't said anything yet."
Arnold smiled softly and nodded in understanding and sighed. "Can you just keep me up to date on any new major developments? I'd really appreciate that, Helga," was all he asked.
Helga nodded. "Of course, my love." She took her hand away and kissed his lips then pulled back. "Though I'm sure we'll both either see any new developments or your daughter will tell us about them. She's very honest, Arnold, just like you." She smiled warmly.
Arnold smiled warmly too. "And very caring and capable, just like you." He gave her lips a soft kiss in return.
When he pulled back Helga laughed with a light blush. Then she turned back to Gerald and sighed, coming out of the brief romantic moment. "Anyway, Gerald, since I blabbed to Arnold and ruined our little wager—though I blame my pregnancy hormones and getting caught up in the romance of our anniversary for it to an extent—I'll pay my end of the bet."
Gerald grinned at this information. "All right. One double scoop cookie dough ice cream cone with extra chocolate sprinkles from the Jollie Ollie man all for me this weekend—your treat?"
Helga nodded with a smile. "Yes, my treat." They reached across the table and shook hands together.
Arnold just looked at the two of them in disbelief. "Wait, wait a minute…you two made a secret five year bet for an ice cream cone from the Jollie Ollie man?" (On a side note, the Jollie Ollie trucks were also owned by the former 'Chocolate Boy' these days—no matter what turns an economy will ever take, a person can never help but have success with a commodity as timeless as ice cream).
Gerald shrugged, looking to his best friend. "It's the principle of the thing, Arnold—victory makes everything taste sweeter."
Arnold was just quiet.
Then Phoebe started laughing, unable to help herself. Arnold quickly followed suit, shaking his head and holding his sides. Pretty soon Gerald and Helga were laughing too, everyone red in the face and out of breath and just enjoying themselves thoroughly during another happy moment in the old boarding house!
Out on the boarding house stoop, Katie and Brighty sat together and now distinctly heard the sudden bout of raucous laughter among the four adults inside.
Brighty looked to one of the boarding house windows curiously. "What do you think is so funny, Katie?"
Katie shrugged, looking away. "Something my Mom said, I'm sure."
Brighty came closer to her on the stoop. "It was nice of you to thank her for making you strawberry cakes each year on your birthday. I think she appreciated it." He smiled.
Katie smiled a little in return. "I just wanted to be nice to her. Do you think I did all right?"
Brighty nodded. "I think you did great. It's nice to see you two get along so well. And I know it makes you happy when you do, and I always just want you to be happy, Katie."
Katie just smiled softly back at him, her blue eyes a little hazed. "Thank you, Brighty. It always means a lot to me to hear you say that."
Brighty blushed and smiled a little extra, looking down. A few seconds passed and then he cleared his throat and tried to move the conversation along. "Um, but…what was with your Dad though, and what he said about not wanting us to take too long walking out here?" he asked curiously, glancing back at her. Except for his own Father, Katie's Dad was usually the calmest and quietest adult he knew. It was just surprising for Mr. Shortman to have commented so awkwardly on himself and Katie simply walking out to the stoop.
"My Dad?" Katie laughed and shrugged. "Oh, I don't know. He gets flustered easily, my Mom says. Maybe they were talking again about Aunt Phoebe having her baby, and he got squeamish or embarrassed. My Mom says my Dad used to act like that just before she had me. She said he would get shy and flustered a lot too even when they were dating." She laughed warmly at the idea.
Brighty blushed a little and looked forward, giving a small nod. "Oh. That's understandable."
Katie glanced at him curiously, then blushed a little too at the sight of his blush. She tried to smile to change the mood a bit by clearing her throat and moving them on to yet another new topic of conversation now. "A-Anyway, Brighty, I know dinner tonight was kind of busy with so many people there and Slausens earlier was a little packed too, but I know you usually prefer quieter places. So how about tomorrow you and I just head over to the pier together and get a couple of fish sandwiches on the boardwalk and then sit at that private place we like by the docks? What do you say?" She looked to him a touch hopefully.
Brighty swallowed and kept looking forward. He gave the smallest shrug, then replied to her very softly, a smile upon his lips. "I'd like that. Only if you want to, of course."
Katie giggled at the typical reply of her shy best friend. "Of course I want to, Brighty. I always want to. You're my best friend." She hesitated only a moment and then flung herself at him in a big hug from the side.
Brighty gasped as he usually did whenever moods like these would overtake her, just doing his best not to go into hyperventilation about the shock of it all. She was just so warm and energetic and soft, and he barely knew what to do with so much affection all for him.
Katie let him go soon and then pulled back and straightened him up as she always had to do after one of these moments between them, fixing his slouch and adjusting his sweater vest. She laughed to herself as she finished up. "You're a riot, Brighty. That's part of why I like you so much." She scooched back to admire her handiwork—the boy before her was indeed all nice and neat looking once again. Then her smile softened. "I'm sorry, I don't mean to get carried away." She played with a curl of her hair absentmindedly.
"It's all right, Katie. I like your hugs," Brighty assured very softly as he just sat there with his usual humble smile and something very happy in his eyes.
Katie did her best not to giggle. She stood up now and held out her hand for him to shake. "Have a good night, Brighty," she said softly, her eyes full of warmth and caring.
Brighty managed to stand up, dusting himself off a little. "Have a good night, Katie." He took her hand and gave it a gentle shake (though she always insisted on squeezing his with just a bit of firmness), then he started to head down her stoop and out onto the sidewalk.
"Brighty?" Katie called back to him unsurely.
He stopped and turned. "Yes, Katie?"
"Did you really like that new composition I wrote—the start of it, I mean?" she asked, biting her pink lower lip just a little.
Brighty nodded to her, smiling again. "I thought it was the most beautiful thing you've ever written. I love it."
Katie's heart leapt a little. "Th-Thanks, Brighty." She beamed a bit. "Bye!" Then she dashed inside.
Shy little Brighty walked home then, smiling and wondering things to himself the whole way there.
When Katie got back inside she shut the front door behind her and leaned back against it, closing her eyes. 'He thought it was beautiful. And he loves it.' She slid down to the floor and tried not to burst from happiness and pride.
Katie blinked at the sound of her Father's voice addressing her and instantly opened her eyes and shot up, breaths shallow. "Y-Yes, Daddy, what is it?" she asked, trying to seem as nonchalant as possible.
Arnold just smiled softly down at her. "Nothing. I just wanted to let you know that there's a piece of chocolate pie waiting for you in the dining room. Your Mom and Aunt Phoebe and Uncle Gerald are in there right now eating slices of her own. Oh, and when Gerald and Phoebe leave and you're done with your dessert and the last of your chores, please come into the living room with your Mom and me. We have something we'd like to tell you." His gaze was warm and caring as he looked down to the little girl with the reddish/blond curls and big blue eyes and more cleverness than he could have ever dreamed she would have been gifted with. His favorite thing was sometimes to see a distinct bit of Helga in her and other times to see a distinct bit of himself in her, and to never be quite sure whom she took after more.
Katie frowned and sighed deeply at her Father's request, straightening her dress a little. "What did I do now…?" she asked blandly. Getting called into the living room to talk with both her Mother and her Father could not be a good sign.
Arnold just chuckled and shook his head. "Not one thing. In fact it's about something your Mother and I did actually." He blushed just a little and then he bent down and suddenly scooped her up in his arms. "Come on, I'll give you a ride to the dining room."
Katie blinked in surprise but then smiled, snuggling into him as he cradled her. "Daddy! I'm going to be too big for this soon you know."
Arnold sighed, smiling down at her. "Let's not think about that, my little lady Katie. You have the rest of forever to be too big to do this, but only right now for us to really enjoy it." He couldn't help smirking a little and adding. "Besides, you know it makes your Mom act jealous whenever we walk into a room like this." He winked.
Katie's grin picked up on one side and she shrugged innocently. "That's just because you can't pick her up like this anymore."
"Actually, I managed it today with ease," Arnold informed her with a proud smile. "Though today is a special day."
Katie sighed, shaking her head with a smile. "Another anniversary, I know, I know."
Arnold laughed. "Oh, something like that."
He headed into the dining room with her, father and daughter laughing together.
Late that night Katie was up in her attic room alone with only the stars and a little lamp she had rigged over the bed giving her light. She was trying to do more secret work on her latest musical composition, but naturally she was finding herself very distracted as well.
'I'm going to be a big sister. And Mom's going to be a Mom again and Daddy's going to be a Daddy again.'
She tried to wrap her head around the notion and imagine the changes inherent in this news. The rush of feelings inside of her made her think a new composition might be in order soon. "I'll write one for the baby," she decided with a smile, whispering to herself in the dimness. "It'll be like a lullaby and I can play it when Mother comes home from the hospital." She made a mental note and likewise penciled a few bars onto some blank musical notation paper for the future.
Then Katie went back to adjusting some things in her current composition, though she still spoke out loud to herself about the baby situation. Speaking out loud to herself soothed her always when she had a lot to think about, though only Brighty and her parents knew that she talked to herself sometimes. "I have to do my very best to make the baby feel welcomed and to help Daddy and Mom." She frowned a little, pausing in her writing. Then a serious look came to her features. "I should be much nicer to Mommy for a while. Having a baby is hard work, and I want her to know I'm there for her if she needs to talk." She sighed softly, doodling a little in the corner. "She doesn't mean to be so intense and passionate or to compete with me. And maybe I'm a little too sensitive about it sometimes. I could just 'talk' to her like Daddy always says to do with people, and like Brighty wants me to do with her," she rolled her eyes, "But honestly I prefer doing the right thing to just talking about it. I'd rather just be nicer to my Mom than sit down and explain everything to her before being nicer to her." Katie went back to her composition ardently. "So I'll do my best to support Mom and Dad and to love my baby brother or sister. And especially right after the baby's born. Mom'll probably be very tired." Katie didn't know exactly where babies came from but she had surmised it involved something intimate between mothers and fathers, and either way she had deduced pretty easily that the process of giving birth to the baby was a strenuous one. Pushing a whole human being out into the world…. Katie smiled to herself in a touch of pride. "If anyone can do it, it's my Mom."
Katie gasped a little and put down her composition at the soft knock that had come to her door.
"Katie? Are you still awake?" Helga's muffled voice asked. "Go to bed, please. Now."
Katie just sighed. 'I don't even ever have the full lights on up here. How does she always know…?' Katie reached up and turned off the little overhead lamp. "Okay. Goodnight, Mom." She lay down under the covers.
Helga paused but then was heard to clear her throat and reply back happily, "Goodnight, Katie. Sweet dreams." Then she left.
Under the covers, Katie reached for a flashlight on her nightstand and looked at her composition. She supposed she should take a little bit of time now and work on a few more details, but honestly, in this quiet moment right before bed, she just wanted to step back and admire her beautiful work as it looked thus far.
She had a title in mind for the composition already, though she dared not mark the first page with it. 'Mother's too perceptive—she would know, and I'd never hear the end of it.' So Katie kept the title locked up in her mind where no one could see it but she would never forget it. 'Bright Inspiration.'
The only person she would resist telling it to more than her Mother was her best friend. 'I like him so much….' She smiled shyly to herself. He was softness to her brazenness, calm to her energy, intelligence to her spontaneity. Besides which she just liked him, more than liked him, like liked him…. She even thought sometimes, secretly, it would be the nicest thing in the world to sit with him somewhere pressed alongside each other and holding hands. And so she had written a song for the piano expressing those feelings and as a way of trying to understand her feelings better.
Katie sighed, putting the composition over on her nightstand. She turned off the flashlight and lay back, looking up to the stars beyond her skylight ceiling. She whispered to herself quietly. "I don't know. Maybe it's just a crush, but it's a beautiful one. He's too shy to ever like me back like that though. Even if we can just stay friends for now, I'm happy." She smiled a little. "I bet if Mom knew, she'd start acting like Brighty and I were in love and destined to be together." Katie sighed. "But I guess you can't expect much else from a romantic poet and passionate lady like my Mom." Katie closed her eyes and snuggled into her blankets more, smiling to herself. "I'll just do things in my own way. That feels like the right thing to do. I think Daddy would approve." She tried not to blush too much at the idea of her Father ever finding out about her plan and just giggled, starting to drift off to sleep. 'We're going to have a new baby. I'll definitely start the composition for the baby very soon. Aunt Olga can help me arrange it a little, especially if I spend time during the summer with her for that music camp. Oh, maybe I can even make it a duet to play with Lisa! I'd love that, and I'm sure Mommy and Daddy would too!' She smiled to herself in satisfaction and finally let her thoughts run off into dreams.
The moonlight filtered through the glass overhead, shining palely upon the little girl growing up who slumbered beneath the open sky in her attic room.
In another room in the dark, Arnold and Helga lay cuddled together, smiling.
Helga was smiling quite a bit extra though. "Arnold, you'll never guess—when our daughter said goodnight to me just now she actually called me 'Mom.'"
Arnold's eyes lit up in interest. "Really? That's wonderful, Helga." He moved closer to her. "She must be very happy about the baby—maybe after it's born she'll even call you Mommy again like she used to."
Helga looked up to the ceiling and thought about that. "I hope so. I'd love if she did. But I'll take 'Mom' too." Helga blushed faintly in the darkness and her voice softened to above a whisper. "Arnold, I won't admit this outside of this room on the off chance it makes me look soft and mushy and overly sentimental to other people, but I love being a Mom. I like being pregnant, I like giving birth, I like changing diapers, I like washing little clothes, I like having cupboards full of baby food and young kid food and hanging projects on the fridge and going to school plays and piano recitals and parent teacher meetings. And I like hearing Katie laugh and run through the house and I like when all of her friends run through the house too. I love it all very much, Arnold." She had a hand on her abdomen and her other hand held Arnold's under the covers.
Arnold nuzzled his head to hers a little. "I couldn't think of a better Mother, Helga. I'm happiest being a Father when I think about having you right beside me as the Mother. And I'm so happy we're going to have another baby." He kissed her cheek softly. "I love babies." He laughed softly. "I loved when Katie was a baby."
Helga giggled, turning toward him a little. "We have to think of names…" she cooed, savoring his kisses.
"But we don't even know if it's a boy or a girl," Arnold replied with a smile, ceasing his kisses for a moment just to gently stroke through the lovely soft tresses of her blond hair that he had loved since they had been children.
Helga smiled. "I told you, it's a boy. Trust me. I have a feeling." She squeezed his hand.
Arnold just sighed softly and nodded. "And who am I to doubt Helga G. Pataki-Shortman intuition? Okay…well, Katie's middle name is 'Gertrude' so can the boy's middle name be 'Phillip'?" he asked, smiling more.
Helga nodded, gently tracing over the curve of her beloved's head with her fingertips. "Of course, my darling. There's not a question of it in the world. Now, about first names…let's pick something original, hmm?" She rolled her eyes. "Not that Big Bob wouldn't love a 'Robert Jr.' running around, but I think the baby deserves a shot at his own identity. And we did a really good job coming up with Katie's name even if we did debate nearly every female name in the book before we finally came to that compromise." She laughed warmly.
Arnold chuckled and nodded. "Okay, Helga. Well…I always liked Craig."
Helga chuckled. "I always liked Matt. Or Matthew. Or Mathias."
They smirked at each other a little.
Then Helga couldn't help but yawn. "All right, well, I'm a bit sleepy, so we can duke this one out later."
Arnold laughed. "Okay." He yawned too, pulling the covers up over his shoulders and closing his eyes. "We'll play a game of chess to decide who wins." He smirked a little more.
Helga scoffed. "Yeah, right. How about a poetry contest instead?" She closed her eyes and smirked a little more too.
Arnold grinned a little to himself. "How about a compromise—a bowling game?"
Helga chuckled and shook her head. "Oh yeah, I'm completely going to decide my son's name based on the events of an afternoon in a bowling alley."
They laughed together.
Then they both yawned softly in the darkness.
"Goodnight, Helga dear."
"Goodnight, Arnold darling."
They both let out a quiet breath.
"I love you." Arnold's arm came over her body to hold her a little.
Helga smiled more and turned in toward him, letting her hands rest against his chest. "I love you too."
Arnold and Helga fell asleep together, caught in the middle of their adult lives much as the start of their love had caught them right in the middle of their childhoods.
Did I mention, OMG IT'S FINALLY DONE! XD I hope you all enjoyed this. Just a little interpretation of life later on for Arnold and Helga. And I normally try to stay away from OC's but I hope you all liked Katie and Brighty. Please review and thank you all for your readership so very much!
Plans for the future:
As I said above, I'm planning to have all of my in progress stories wrapped up by early summer. Right now I'm preparing an original novel and a novella to submit to publisher's which is taking up a fair amount of my time and writing energy, and the busy season at my job will be starting soon so that will take up a lot of time as well.
So these are my fan fiction plans as soon as my in progress works are complete for anyone who's interested:
I will be submitting a few one shots and one longer story for another fandom I've had an interest in for a while, The Nightmare Before Christmas. I've wanted to explore something beyond childhood love for a while, but I don't feel as confident writing about Arnold and Helga as adults as I do writing them as kids. I've been working with Jack and Sally's relationship from TNBC though, and it's been a pleasant experience for me. I hope if any of you are fans of the movie, you'll check out my work, but if you're not, no worries at all. Just letting you know I'm branching out a bit : )
I may write a Jimmy Neutron story. It's been on the backburner in my mind for years. Jimmy and Cindy interest me, and besides that series was canceled way too early (as are all good series, am I right?)
There's an ever so slight chance I'll put up a My Little Pony oneshot one of these days. We'll see, lol.
Now, as for HA! (which I'm sure is what everyone cares about most since clearly if you're reading this story you're in the fandom, lol)…I really do not have much in the way of long stories left in me anymore just because of all I've written so far. If I keep trying to write long stories, I'm going to end up repeating myself which isn't helpful to me and which is probably boring for you. So, there'll be oneshots from me here and there if I get inspired. I do have an idea for a slightly longer (maybe 7 to 10 moderate sized chapters) post-confession fic about Helga and Olga with some Arnold thrown in of course that I'd like to work on whenever I get free time.
Then there is a TJM fic. I have so many notes for a TJM fic lol. It would be a long story by necessity, maybe smaller than TA but not by much, but I would still love to do it. So I'm going to try very hard to get it going for you guys. It might take me a very long time to finish it (or even to get it initially posted), but if you'll all have patience with me, I would like to try. And I hope you all would find my interpretation enjoyable.
All right, thank you all for listening to me ramble about my plans XD Have a wonderful day and as always Happy Reading!
~Azure129 aka Jenna