**A/N: OK, so this is a HUGE first for me. 1) My first One Shot. 2) My first Hey Arnold! story. 3) My first FAN FIC EVER! I generally write about OC, but I've been obsessed with this fandom for a few months now and figure, Oh, what the heck! I'm sorry, it's mostly dialogue, but I wanted to make sure I kept everyone IC, and this was the easiest way for me to attempt that. If you notice that I'm going OOC at any time, please point it out so that I can polish my work. Thank you! I hope you enjoy my first attempt!**
Arnold and his grandfather were in the upstairs sitting room, looking at old family albums. Arnold had a school report on "life in the 1920s". The students were all supposed to interview their grandparents in order to give a report of what life was like as a child of the twenties.
As Grandpa Phil flipped through the photo album and told Arnold about his childhood, something kept bugging Arnold in the back of his head. No matter how hard he tried to pay attention to his grandfather's stories, Arnold's mind kept wandering.
It was almost two months after Arnold's home and neighborhood nearly got demolished for Future Tech Industries' mall. The highway off-ramp to their neighborhood just finished its reconstruction and Ernie Potts had recently finished fixing the road in front of the boarding house. Each of the Sunset Arms boarders were "strongly advised" to volunteer for community service to make up for the explosion they caused in hopes to prevent the bulldozers from advancing onto the neighborhood, and since the damage was caused by Ernie's explosives, he was in charge of the clean-up.
Yes, nearly two months later, and everything finally felt like it was back to normal. Well, nearly everything. There was still that one thing that lingered in the back of Arnold's mind that just wouldn't let go. No matter how hard he tried to think of anything else; there it was to distract him again.
While flipping through Phil's photo album the thought nagged at him harder than it had in the past two months. There she was, in nearly every picture, no matter how old Phil was - Gertie, the girl who once tortured young Phil in a nearly identical manner as Helga teased Arnold. What seemed odd was that as Phil told Arnold stories of his youth, he always seemed to talk about Gertie with a sense of nostalgia and whimsy; often chuckling after talking about a prank she pulled on him.
If a girl harassed you so much as a youth, why think so highly of her now? The question got tangled up with Arnold's normal nagging thought until he couldn't hold back any longer.
"Yeah, Short Man?" Phil looked down at his grandson, and seemed to pick up instantly that the boy hadn't been paying much attention that whole time.
"Do you remember when you first told me about Gertie?"
Phil rubbed his boney chin for a moment, deep in thought. "Nope. Not a clue."
"It was the day before I threw the paint on Helga," Arnold sheepishly reminded his grandfather.
"Oh right! When you snapped and went into an evil rage!" Phil flailed his arms wildly about, nearly knocking the photo album off his lap.
Arnold rolled his eyes and sighed heavily, "Grandpa! It wasn't 'evil' and I didn't 'rage'!"
"Oh, right. Right. Whatever you say, Arnold," Phil responded sarcastically, staring down his grandson.
Phil put his hands up in compliance, "OK. Ok. So it was before you snapped and dove into your delinquent ways."
"Grandpa!" Arnold crossed his arms and glared at the old man. He was trying to be serious here!
Seeing how angered the little, oblong-headed boy was getting, Phil decided to stop teasing. "Ha,ha. Sorry, Short Man. Continue."
Arnold stayed silent for a moment, regaining his composure, "Do you remember the advice you gave me that day?"
"Never eat raspberries?" Phil's stomach gargled right on cue. He braced an arm against his abdomen and jumped out of his chair, "Uh, 'cause it's true. Er, excuse me, Arnold." Before Arnold could say a word, Phil sprinted to the bathroom.
All Arnold could do is sit and wait for his grandfather to finish up. He spent the time flipping through more of the pictures. Phil was usually smiling and posing with his friend Jimmy Kafka, but there Gertie was, somehow in the background. Usually she was setting up a prank that was just about to be pulled on Phil, or she was sticking out her tongue at him, but there she was none-the-less.
In the older pictures of Phil, Gertie became more and more part of the foreground. In some pictures, maybe when they were about eleven or twelve, she was even shown with her arms around Phil and Jimmy, huge smiles on their faces. That nagging thought tugged at Arnold again.
A flush was heard and a moment later Phil walked past the sitting room on his way downstairs. Arnold called out to him. Phil quickly turned and saw Arnold still sitting in the room, the photo album on his lap. "Oh, right." Phil slapped his head and walked back to his seat, "We were talking, weren't we? What is it, Arnold?"
Arnold handed the album back to his grandfather, "The advice you gave me the first time you told me about Gertie."
Phil again spoke with kindness in his voice as he reminisced about his personal childhood bully, "Ah, Gertie. She was such a trouble maker, that one. What advice did I give, again?"
"You told me to use my instincts with Helga, like you did with Gertie."
"Oh yes. Your instincts. Good advice."
"Um, yeah." Arnold scratched his neck, trying to find the right words, "But, what I mean to ask is, what did your instincts tell you about how to handle Gertie?"
Phil knew what Arnold was asking, but he didn't want to let the cat out of the bag too soon, "Well, Arnold, it is sort of a lesson you need to figure out yourself."
"Grandpa, I really need help with this. Please?" Arnold looked up at his grandfather with wide eyes, begging for any help Phil could afford. It was evident that the boy was at his wit's end.
"Oh, alright, Arnold. I will tell you that I handled Gertie pretty much the same way you handle that friend with the one eye-brow. I ignored her, tried to turn the other cheek, and always tried to look for the good in her. No matter what she might have done to me, I never wavered on that thought that deep down she was a good person."
Arnold looked again at those later pictures, of Phil, Jimmy, and Gertie. "And was she, Grandpa?"
"Probably the best person I ever met - besides you, Short Man." Phil smiled as he placed a hand on Arnold's shoulder. That softness in his voice still lingered as he gave his honest opinion of Gertie.
"How did you get her to stop picking on you? How did you find out how great of a person she really was?"
Phil flipped further into the album, casually glancing at each picture as he lazily looked for one in particular. "Well, I didn't really do anything, Arnold. It was all time. Unfortunately, that's all I can say. Time and maturity."
Arnold slumped, defeated, "So I have to just wait this out?"
"'Fraid so, Arnold." Phil wanted to tell Arnold the full truth so badly, but, as he told the boy, it really was something everyone needed to figure out on their own.
"And then Helga will just stop picking on me one day?"
"Well, I'm not too sure how abruptly it will be." Phil continued flipping through the pictures until he found one of just him and Jimmy Kafka again. The boys were about thirteen at the time. The picture showed them hanging up a sign that read "Welcome Home, Gertie!" Phil pointed it out to Arnold, "See, Gertie had gone away with her parents for the summer and she re-invented herself. When she came back she wasn't a bully anymore." He pointed out another picture. Gertie now wore her hair in a braid instead of the pigtails. She looked more feminine, with the budding curves of a woman. However, in this picture she was playfully carrying Phil around her neck. A large smile on her face, and Phil flailing to be put down. "Sure, she was still tough, strong, and wouldn't let anyone walk all over anyone else - especially herself, but she now fought for the little guy."
With renewed hope in his voice, Arnold asked, "Did Gertie ever tell you why she changed?"
"Well, we all changed that summer, Arnold." Thumbing through another page or two, Phil found another picture. He and Gertie had their arms around each other's necks and seemingly cheering for Jimmy, who was giving a blushing girl a kiss on her cheek. "It was a time where us boys finally discovered that cooties weren't real and that girls weren't icky. Girls cared more for dressing up than playing in the mud with us guys. We all grew up a little bit that summer."
"So, how much longer do you think I need to wait?"
"Well, Arnold, it's hard to say. I think one of the main reasons Gertie changed was because she found out that she didn't need to hide behind the bullying anymore. We all changed and we weren't going to tease her about her secret anymore, and so she didn't feel ashamed. It was then that she felt that she could drop that hard shell. I think you just need to wait until Helga feels she won't be teased. She'll come around then."
A twinge ran up Arnold's spine. He was finally starting to get it. The obsessive thought came to the foreground again. "So, Helga teases everyone else to prevent herself from being teased?"
Grandpa nearly leapt back out of his seat. Arnold was finally starting to get it, "Well, yeah! She teases everyone so that she seems so unapproachable that no one will be able to get close enough to find out her deep, dark secret. Once she feels she doesn't need to hide that secret, I think she won't be so harsh."
Things were in deed clicking in Arnold's head. His mind all of a sudden started to clear away the fog that had been lingering for two months. "Wait a minute, Grandpa. When you first told me about Gertie, you said that maybe Helga was always picking on me in particular because she liked me liked me."
Phil rubbed his chin, "Well, that does sound like something I'd say."
"And you said that Gertie stopped picking on you right around the time that boys and girls started like liking each other." Arnold started getting excited. Things were making sense now. That persistent thought stopped being so heavy.
"That's true." Phil cocked an eyebrow. Did his grandson truly understand why he brought up Gertie in the first place?
"Grandpa, did you tell me about Gertie because she liked you liked you? Was that Gertie's secret? Was that why she was mean to you until that summer? Did she become nice because she didn't care anymore if you knew she liked you liked you? Is that why you thought Helga likes me likes me? " Arnold spoke with intensity and determination. He needed to know. Everything would make sense if this were true.
He finally figured it out. Phil laughed a little, "Ha! Well, that is a theory there, Arnold. Why do you ask? The first time I brought this whole thing up you quickly shot down the suggestion. You said that there was no way I could be right. Helga hated you. So, why the change of heart?" Phil cocked an eyebrow again, "Something happen, Arnold?"
Arnold quickly sank back into his seat. He might have finally gotten some of the answers he so desperately needed, but should he really tell Phil what happened that night? It was all so fantastical, and overwhelming. Plus, they had agreed to pretend it never happened. In fact, Arnold hadn't told anyone about what happened on that balcony. But if he wanted answers, it seemed that he was going to have to give some first. "Um, well." This was it. It felt weird to tell someone, even if it was his grandfather. Arnold wondered if he should have talked to his grandmother first. She was usually so delusional that she wouldn't remember a thing just an hour later. "The thing is," he continued, rubbing the back of his neck while trying to figure out how exactly to explain the situation. "Well, she, sorta, um, confessed to liking me."
Phil jumped out of his chair with a holler and raced to the door of the room. Arnold quickly reached out to catch the album as it fell to the floor. "Ha! I knew it!" Phil shouted down the hall at one of his boarders, "Oskar! That one-eyebrowed friend of Arnold's does have a crush on him! You owe me a dollar!"
Mortified, Arnold yelled, "Grandpa! Stop that!"
Phil chuckled as he walked back to his seat, taking the album back from Arnold. "Hehe, sorry, Short Man. So, how'd she tell you?"
Again, Arnold hesitated. The whole scene played through his head dozens of times a day, but it was still difficult to actually explain it. It all happened so quickly. "Well, it was while I was at the FTi building trying to get the proof of the Tomato Incident. And well, I found out that Helga was Deep Voice-"
"Deep Voice?" Phil chuckled to himself.
"What?" Arnold didn't understand what was so funny. Was it really a mistake to tell Phil what happened?
Phil composed himself and just smiled at his grandson, "Sorry, nevermind. You'll figure it out when you're older."
With a sigh, Arnold continued, "Anyway, I found out that Helga had been helping me save the neighborhood that whole time. I wouldn't have been able to do it without her, and I asked her why she was helping me if she hated me so much, not to mention that she would have been rich if the neighborhood got bulldozed."
"Aww, and she said it was because she liked you, how sweet!" Phil elbowed Arnold and winked.
"Actually, Grandpa, she lied at first. She said it was her 'civic duty' and then that she liked mysteries. But it was pretty obvious she wasn't telling the truth." Arnold rubbed his arm and looked away from Phil, feeling guilty about this confession. "I dunno, Grandpa. I sort of cornered her into telling me. Maybe I forced her into a false confession when I wouldn't believe anything else she said."
"Well, maybe, but what does she say about it now?"
"Well, I - um, I couldn't really - well" How to explain this part? "I sort of made her take it back."
"Take it back?"
"Well, so much was happening and I was overwhelmed with her confession and, well, I needed time to think about it. I mean, I couldn't let her just stand there, waiting for an answer. And I didn't have one for her. I actually still don't."
Phil smiled at Arnold, proud of him, "So you gave her back her dignity by allowing her to pretend the whole thing never happened."
"Right! I just asked her if it was a false confession. Ya' know, heat of the moment sort of thing. She agreed that's exactly what it was. I mean, it's possible, right? Helga is a bit - er - dramatic. And with everything going on; well the whole thing was playing out like it was in a movie or something. Maybe she got caught up in the drama, saw too many movies, and thought a love-confession was appropriate. I dunno. But it could have just been that, right? I mean, it is possible that Helga G. Pataki really doesn't love me, right?"
Arnold looked so confused. Phil remembered this feeling too well. The poor kid's world was turned upside down. Everything he thought he knew was twisted and wrong. How do you process something so extreme when you're just nine?
Phil knew that Arnold just wanted an answer, but he couldn't give one. All he could do was help Arnold find the answer himself. "Do you really think that, Arnold? That Helga just got caught up in the moment?"
Arnold sighed again, "No, not really. I mean, there was a lot of stuff about Helga that made a lot more sense when I thought it was because she liked me liked me. Do you think that's why she's so mean? Is it because her secret she doesn't want anyone to know about is that she has a crush on me?"
"Could be. She does seem to like to be 'one of the boys' and having a crush on a boy might make her seem too girly. She might be afraid that all of those boys she's friends with will just pick on her."
"So what should I do?"
"Well, the first thing you need to do is figure out if you like this girl back. It doesn't matter if she took it back, you both know she laid her heart out on the table and it isn't right to let her dangle. Granted, I'm sure she wouldn't have minded to be in romantic-limbo-bliss for a bit longer if it turns out you don't like her that way, but if you don't have a crush on her too it's only fair that she knows it's time to move on. Either way, once you tell her how you really feel, her teasing you should stop."
"Really, you think so?"
"Well, yeah, Short Man! If it turns out that you don't like her that way, then she'll move on. Sure, at first she may take out her anger on you and the bullying will be a lot worse. Perhaps she'll threaten to pound you. Or maybe she'll let one of your deep secrets out. Or maybe she'll spread a rumor so that no girl will have a crush on you. Perhaps make your next school year a living hell!" Phil started to get all worked up. Coming up with all the twisted things this pigtailed bully could do to poor Arnold overtook him.
He probably could have kept going, except Arnold interrupted him, "Grandpa!"
"Oh, sorry Arnold," Phil calmed down, and continued in a calmer, more serious tone. "But sooner or later she'll move on and you won't be the person she'll need to pick on all the time to prevent people from seeing that she actually likes you." Phil then stared intensely at Arnold, "But don't think of telling this girl that you like her back, just so you can avoid inevitable increased bullying!"
"Grandpa! I would never." A flash of Gerald's younger sister Timberly jumped into his head, "I know how much it hurts when someone pretends to like you like you, when really they don't."
"Well, that's good then. And, on the plus side, if it turns out that you do like her back romantically, why would she pick on you? Either way, the bullying will eventually stop."
"I guess you're right." Arnold stood up, gathered his notes for his school project and headed out of the room. He stopped at the doorway and turned back to his grandfather, "I have a lot of thinking to do, don't I, Grandpa?"
Phil smiled back. Arnold was finally ready to know the truth. He was ready to hear what Phil's instincts really were when it came to Gertie. Arnold needed that little bit of hope to help him make a decision.
"Well, Short Man," Phil winked at his grandson, "If you need any more advice, I'm sure you could always ask your Grandma Gertrude."
**A/N: Well, there you have it. My first One Shot/HA!/Fanfic. Hope you enjoyed it! Again, if you noticed me going OOC at any time, PLEEEEEAAASE point it out to me! Thank you! Also, I know, I know... that last line was sort of a pathetic reveal, but it was more of a reveal to Arnold, not to the reader. 1) Hopefully the reader knows the episode "Girl Trouble" in which case you already knew the reveal because they did a similar one at the end of that episode. 2) Even if you didn't know/remember "Girl Trouble," I'm hoping that I wrote this well enough for it to be pretty obvious... however, if you WERE surprised... *shrug* maybe I've pulled an M. Night Shyamalan... Anyway, I was thinking why Arnold wouldn't pick up on the Gertie thing, and then I remembered that I had no clue what my grandparents' names were when I was nine, so I guess it makes sense. Anyway, enough rambling. ConCrit pwease! ^_^**