Excuse Me, Football Head
A little, five-year-old Arnold strolled down the street with a bright look on his face, heading in the direction of Mrs. Vitello's Flower Shop. His grandparents' anniversary was today, so naturally his grandpa had completely panicked, shoved twenty bucks in his hand (as was all he had on him), and thrown him out of the house yelling to get flowers and fast. Arnold was happy to oblige on such a pretty day. He knew his grandpa wanted him to hurry up, but honestly, five or not, he knew what was going on. His grandpa had forgotten. He couldn't blame him, he was old, but to a young, overly-do-gooder child it was inexcusable. So he figured he'd take his time, enjoy the light Spring air, and head back when he saw fit. He figured soon enough Grandma would be yelling at his grandpa for doing bad, and by then Arnold could show up with his flowers and save the day. Their anniversary could still go on well enough, and Grandpa would have still learned his lesson. It made perfect sense to Arnold.
Walking down the street, though, he suddenly felt himself ram into someone. His daydreamy eyes instantly came back into focus and he made a small noise of pain, stumbling back.
He heard whoever he'd hit groan also, and he opened his eyes to see that it was Helga G. Pataki. The class bully. Arnold usually tended to avoid her. He'd used to like her and think she was nice, but since she'd started bullying kids senseless he'd figured it might be best to keep his distance. Although, for whatever reason, she never seemed to pick on him. This wasn't the first time they'd run into each other, in the most literal sense. He'd had many random encounters with the girl by fate, but to his experience all she ever did was blush and look all shy, much like how he'd first encountered her when they first met in front of their preschool. These encounters usually occurred in public, after or before school, never when anyone was around. When these times came, Arnold would be civil to her, but he would admit that he was very wary and often times tried to speed up these encounters as fast as possible so they could part ways. After all, she was a meanie. But then again, she'd never actually been mean to him. This he found confusing. He supposed it was mainly just because he'd never given her a reason to; they never talked or played together, they played in different circles. He was playing with the cars and dinosaurs while she was playing with the dolls, making them do Wrestlemania moves on each other while surrounded by a small fortress of colorful blocks. He'd admit it looked fun. Violent, but fun. But nonetheless, he kept his distance still.
After all, she was a meanie.
But as stated previously, she was not a meanie to him. And so, he offered a friendly smile and said, "Excuse me, Helga G. Pataki. Hello."
Helga blinked at his address at her in her full name. She always told people that was her name, and so Arnold called her as such. As she usually did in response, she just blushed and looked down, looking a bit distressed.
Arnold, in turn, just frowned a little and looked at her sadly. "Are you okay?" He knew what the answer would be, this having become a bit of a rut they'd gone into. Though he found he had no complaints. But despite knowing her answer, he asked anyway, always worried about the welfare of others, this girl especially.
As she always responded, she said, "Y-Yeah, I'm okay..."
At hearing her quiet assurance, Arnold's frown continued. This was the part of their routine he found he didn't like. Why was she always so shy and distressed when she was around him, yet so loud and blustery amongst their peers? Despite him only being five, he found this a little endearing... though he didn't understand it. That bothered him. This all bothered him.
Nonetheless, knowing he was on a mission and this was part of their usual routine anyway, he continued, "Are you sure?"
"I'm sure, thank you."
He forced his usual, little smile and nodded. "Okay. See you later, Helga G. Pataki." And with that, he went off down the road, hearing her shy mutterings of goodbye behind him as he left.
Once at Mrs. Vitello's, Arnold found that he had some money left over from getting the pretty daisies that seemed to suit his sunshiney and eccentric grandma well. He had just enough to get one more bit of flowers. Granted a much smaller bouquet, only of a few flowers, but he felt compelled to do so.
He picked out some lovely pink flowers out of the back of the store where a very gracious Mrs. Vitello brought him, wrapped them up in a little silver ribbon, and paid for his couple purchases. Flowers in hand, Arnold carefully stashed away the smaller flowers into his back jean pocket, the buds out to make sure they didn't get crushed, and walked over back home.
To his surprise, what he found was not his grandfather cowering in fear at having forgotten another anniversary, but instead his two grandparents sitting on the couch with Phil's arm slung around Gertie's shoulder, both with smiles on their faces and watching an old movie.
Arnold walked into the room with the flowers and blinked in confusion. What had happened? Where was the learned lessons and scolding?
Noticing his grandson in the doorway, though, Phil grinned and beckoned him over quickly as he spoke animatedly with amusement shining in his eyes, "Come here, Shortman! You won't believe what happened as soon as you left!"
Arnold's questioning eyes continued, and grew a little wider at seeing his grandma smile warmly at his grandpa and say, "He's not the only one who forgot..."
A moment passed.
And then both old figures were suddenly practically in each others' laps, fallen over from laughter, Phil slapping his knee and Gertie holding her stomach, both with their own unique, crazy laughs loudly filling the room.
Arnold's eyes only widened. "You BOTH forgot?" He was appalled! How dare they both forget something so important and meaningful?
They must have noticed the tone in his voice, because they both almost immediately stopped laughing and looked at Arnold with wide eyes. Phil spoke first, "Well, yeah, Arnold. When you get to be old enough to be alarmed by the fact that the dinosaurs have long since died and you can't figure out for the life of ya how you survived the ice age, you tend to forget a few things." He grinned and Gertie cackled spiritedly.
This did little to ease young Arnold's distressed concern, though, and his eyes shifted between them. "But Grandma, Grandpa, it's your anniversary! How could you forget something that important?"
Seeing that joking wasn't going to get through to Arnold as he saw this as a serious matter, Phil settled his grin down into a more serious smile and glanced over at his wife as he explained a little, "Well, Arnold, when you get older, things will sometimes slip your mind. No matter how important. I mean, I can barely even remember what I had for breakfast yesterday. How was I supposed to remember today was our anniversary?"
Gertie chuckled, also looking back at him as she explained to Arnold, "Yes, Arnold, we're old and we're bound to forget things, but the one thing we'll never forget is that we love each other, and that's really all that matters. At least this way, we can be forgetful old ancients... together."
Phil grinned, looking back at Arnold. "Exactly." He reached over and took the flowers from Arnold's hand, and presented them to Gertie with an amused glint in his affectionate eyes. "Happy Anniversary!"
Gertie laughed and took the flowers from him. "Why, thank you, General! You always did have good taste in grandsons with good taste in flowers. Mine should be here any second."
Just as she spoke these words, there was a soft knock on the door. Gertie grinned and stood up briskly then, walking out to open the door. Arnold and Phil exchanged glances, before their eyes went back over and came to focus on a certain blonde-haired, pigtailed, blue eyed girl. She stood in the doorway shyly, holding a box of chocolates in a predictably heart-shaped box. Gertie walked in after then to stand beside the young, slightly trembling girl and to put a hand on her shoulder as she spoke happily, "Found this one out on the street and told her I'd give her five bucks if she went and got me something for our anniversary."
Helga just nodded and handed the box to Gertie, standing awkwardly. The house smelled like... Arnold. She trembled a bit harder at the thought.
Arnold blinked at seeing Helga standing there. Why were their lives always intertangling like this?
Gertie just took the box with a smile and walked over to Phil to present them to him, which he took with a grin. "You're too skinny," Gertie admonished musingly, "If you keep this up, one of these days you're just going to snap in two. Like a twig."
Phil just rolled his eyes at her joke and stood up in defense. "Now, if it weren't for all those raspberries, I wouldn't be NEARLY as fragile-"
"Fragile!" Gertie cackled. "So you do admit it!"
Phil's eyebrows furrowed a little. "No I-... I..." He couldn't think of a response. She was the only woman in the world that could make him completely out of wits. And so, instead of perhaps getting angry, he just unfurrowed his eyebrows in amusement and laughed. "Now I may be skinny, but I'm still a spring chicken!"
"So am I!" Gertie laughed, falling back onto the couch again, as Phil did the same beside her. Of course, as was what spring chickens did. Sit on their butts.
Phil opened up the chocolates and looked over at Arnold looking caught between staring at himself and his wife, and the young girl now standing in the corner. He gave a small chuckle to himself and spoke to Arnold, who's eyes came to him at being addressed, "Arnold, why don't you and your little friend go play outside or up in your room?"
For whatever reason, the idea of Helga G. Pataki in his bedroom made him blush furiously. A girl? In his man cave? He thought not. Especially not Helga. He wasn't sure why, but the idea of her specifically in his room made him flush even deeper. He shook off the feeling, though, and nodded to his grandfather, walking off in the direction of the doorway and Helga. He urged her to follow silently, and she did, and soon they were outside, Arnold just shutting the door. He didn't much like the idea of spending time with Helga. She was so... quiet. He was starting to think that maybe the reason she acted the way she did around the other kids was simply for show, while in reality she was just a shy and quiet girl. Not much to her. He turned to her then and tilted his head slightly. "So what do you want to do?" No reason he couldn't be courteous. Maybe she did want to play.
Instead, though, she just shook her head at him and looked even more distressed than usual. She didn't speak, just waved her hand at him, as if the ability to speak had left her and she was attempting to use sign language to communicate. It made Arnold's politely smiling mouth turn to a small frown. "So you don't want to play?" he asked, staring at her.
She looked torn between saying yes and running as far away as possible. She somehow managed to speak after a moment, "Um... no..." She looked very saddened at her own answer.
Arnold nodded, a bit sad that she was sad. "Okay. I'll see you later then." He moved his mouth up into a smile.
She nodded and walked off the stoop, and slowly down the sidewalk, all droopy and sad looking.
Against his better judgement, and completely on impulse, Arnold sucked in a breath and ran after her quickly, pulling out the flowers from his back pocket and presenting them to her. At the time he hadn't been sure WHY he had gotten the extra flowers, but seeing the shocked yet clearly pleased look on her face, he suddenly found his answer. He was tired of seeing her so quiet and sad. Perhaps this would brighten her spirits. But what happened really was far beyond the happy smile and grateful thanks he'd expected. She took the flowers, looking at them as if they were the most precious of all treasures, and then came forward and gave him a big hug, making him stiffen. A hug? Well... he did like hugs, but something about her hugging him was making his spine tingle in a way that he wasn't sure how to describe. But whatever the sensation, it was different and unusual, and he wasn't sure whether to be pleasured or afraid by it. Not wanting to make her sad again, though, or think he didn't like her, he did his best to ignore the tingling and bring his arms around her back, hugging her.
After a full minute, she still hadn't let go, and he was starting to feel a bit uncomfortable. Why was the school bully hugging him so long? Finally, though, seeming to sense his discomfort, she pulled back and smiled, thanking him quietly for the flowers and giving him a peck on the cheek before fleeing down the sidewalk as fast as she could.
Arnold just stood there, his mouth set in surprise, and his mood increased mysteriously. He smiled and turned around then, deciding he'd go play with Gerald at his house, a little bounce in his step.
Helga G. Pataki was a very unusual person. Quiet and subdued, shy and plain, but overall very sweet. There didn't seem to be much to her personality. Although he did still wonder what all the bullying was about, and how she could spend all this time around him in her true self, and then be so loud and odd around the other kids. He just shrugged, though.
A small fire setting itself in his heart that he didn't notice, he went to Gerald's, where he played and had fun.
Several months later, young five and a half year old Arnold was walking down the street with a little spring in his step. He'd been in an especially good mood all morning. It was the weekend, and a beautiful morning. What more reason did he need to be happy?
His eyes closed as he hummed, he didn't notice until it was too late that someone was walking in the opposite direction of him and crashed straight away into them.
The force wasn't enough for him to fall over, but definitely enough for him to stumble back a little. Already knowing who it was, Arnold opened his eyes and saw Helga Pataki standing there, looking as shy as ever. Their routine hadn't diminished in the least, but he really wasn't in the mood to talk to the girl. She was pleasant to be around, but not at all a conversationalist. She was a normal girl, who enjoyed teasing other kids in school. He never paid her any attention in school, too preoccupied with his toys and Gerald and the other kids. She never messed with him, he never messed with her. And yet, their meetings seemed inevitable. And so, as usual, he smiled and said, "Excuse me, Helga G. Pataki. Hello."
Helga had the same expression she always did; one of great distress. Although for reasons beyond his comprehension, she seemed hesitant this morning. She looked as if she wanted to say something.
For once a part yet not a part of their rut, he genuinely asked, "Are you okay?"
"It's just..." she spoke, surprising him, "You always call me Helga G. Pataki... Just call me Helga."
Arnold blinked. "But you always say-"
"It's a mouth full," she interrupted him.
Arnold blinked once more... but then he smiled a little and nodded. It was a simple enough request, so why not? "Okay... Helga." She was right. That was much easier. It also finally allowed him to admire her first name separate from her full one for once. It was a nice name. Strongly feminine. He found it suited her. Although it was a rather unique name. Should it not be awarded to a unique person?
She smiled at this, just a little, but it was enough to make him happy he'd granted her request. "Thanks..."
Arnold nodded. He was a bit lost here. They'd gone outside of their usual rut. Now what was he supposed to say? He looked down, feeling a bit shy himself for once. "Yeah..."
Seeing he didn't seem to have anything more to say, Helga just worked her way around him and walked away.
Arnold glanced after her, but then just continued on his walk.
Helga. Yes, he could definitely call her that.
A few weeks later, Arnold was walking through the aquarium. It was a public location, only costing him a few cents to look at the fishies. He currently was just walking through the blue-dimmed walls of fish, his eyes alight with wonder. The fish were all so beautiful. And all special in different ways.
He stopped at one tank and stared at all the fish, his mouth open slightly.
He found that the fish all reminded him of certain people he knew. There were two fish, one long, the other short, dancing around each other and doing little flips, as if they were putting on a show. He found they reminded him of Sheena and Eugene. Suddenly, though, the short one crashed into one of the artificial corals, and Arnold held back a small laugh. Definitely reminded him of Sheena and Eugene.
There was another one that was a very small, pokey looking fish, looking very brave and assured of himself, even almost smug... Arnold wasn't sure who he reminded him of. He poked his finger at the glass at the fish, and suddenly the fish puffed up huge, looking panicked and distressed. Arnold's eyes widened and he grinned. Okay, now the fish reminded him of Harold. And the fish beside him that quickly swam away in fear reminded him of Sid, while the one on it's other side, long and skinny, swam after in fright also. That one reminded him of Stinky.
Another fish swam up then, a small blue one with some yellow mixed into it's scales. The little fish swam into a little cave and poked it's head out. That one reminded him of Phoebe.
One fish swam up to the little blue-yellow fish and did a little dance, some red sheen coming off of it's scales. That one reminded him of Gerald.
One of the little fish swam straight up to Arnold's face and stared at him, his little mouth opening and closing, little bubbles coming out. Arnold grinned at him, pressing his nose up to the glass. The little fish didn't move. This one was a dark yellow little fish, much smaller than all the others, and Arnold found that this one reminded him of himself. Yes, this would be his fish. His little fish.
Suddenly, though, his fish swam away in a bustle and behind a coral. Arnold watched with interest as the fish came back out a second later, with another little fish, this one pink. He blinked. The two fish stared at him, glubbing, as if trying to tell him something.
He didn't even notice when someone slid up next to him, staring at the same fish. It wasn't until a moment later that he realized, and his head spun around in surprise.
Helga glanced at him shyly and did a little wave.
Arnold blinked at her. What was she doing here? "Oh..." He turned to face her a little better, still considerably caught off guard. "Hi, Helga."
She nodded her greeting then looked back at the fish. He did the same.
After a few seconds, she spoke, once again catching him by surprise, "I like the pink one."
Such a simple girl. He figured she would. He didn't understand why she liked pink so much. It was a nice color, but was it really THAT nice? He just dismissed it as a girl thing and replied, "I like the gold one. I think those two are friends."
This idea was banished though when several little pink and gold fish swam up and the larger pink fish swam around them, the gold one just glubbing in his spot, seeming happy.
Arnold blinked in surprise, before he grinned and bounced a little. "Oh, look! They have a little family!"
He didn't notice the intense blush that had suddenly burst out on Helga's face.
A good month since their encounter at the aquarium, Arnold was walking to the park to meet with Gerald. It was after school, kids were running around, and Arnold was determined for today be a memorable day. There wasn't anything particularly special about today, but he figured, why couldn't there be? Today should be special.
Which was why he was in such a rush to the park, running down the sidewalk quickly.
In no way was he prepared for what happened when he turned the corner.
For once, instead of just stumbling back from the collision, he completely fell backwards on his behind. He'd never fallen completely back before when he ran into Helga. He guessed he'd been going a bit too fast.
No matter, their routine could continue as usual. He looked up at her, seeing she'd fallen too, and he gasped. He stood up quickly and offered his hand anxiously. He couldn't believe he'd made her fall down!
Looking like her usual shy self, Helga just stared at the hand, looking like she wanted badly to take it but...
There were kids everywhere, some even their classmates, and they were staring at her from across the street. Arnold was too concerned with her to notice, but all Helga could think about was the last time something similar to this had happened...
She accepted kindness from him, and she was mocked for it. No one other than Arnold had ever seen her shy and quiet, although he didn't know that. But it was true. To everyone else she was a bully. Arnold always ignored her in school and stuff, though. Not out of any emotion in particular. She just figured he didn't really care. The concern he was showing now was the same concern he'd show to anyone, the wonderful person she knew he was. She wanted to take his hand so bad...
But the people, the eyes, the curiosity, the potential for mockery...
She had no choice...
She did something she'd never done before. She scowled at him, something he'd never seen up close and personal before. It made him blink. She slapped his hand away and stood up, dusting herself off. "Yeah, yeah, I don't NEED your help," she yelled at him half-heartedly.
Arnold blinked. Since when was she not just shy and normal? Where was the quietness and subdued tendencies? She'd never acted THIS way outside of school... or as far as he knew. "I'm sorry, Helga, I just thought-"
Helga rolled her eyes, her wit coming through effortlessly, something he'd never seen before (or at least, never paid attention to), "Well, you THOUGHT wrong, Bucko. This is Helga G. Pataki you're talking to! I can take care of myself, Football Head!" The name came out loud and clear, barely with any thought whatsoever. As most of her insults came. Without thought, just whatever the first thing that came to mind was.
Arnold's eyes went huge. Where was this coming from? "F-Football-"
"-HEAD! You heard me!" She towered over him, making him shrink a little. "All of this little routine we've got set up isn't working for me anymore. You're so boring!"
Now HE was the boring one? Arnold's mind raced.
Helga merely continued, though, emotion strong in her eyes, though there was something strange hidden away behind all the anger and frustration, something underlining every word she said, "I mean, all these Excuse Me's and quiet, meaningless chatter. I'm sick of it!" Despite she was doing this to make a point with the other kids to know she didn't love him (which she did), this was a frustration that actually had been building up inside her for a while. She was so quiet, their talks were so meaningless, and they had a ROUTINE... A ROUTINE. It didn't work for Helga at all. She'd been dying to break completely free of their rut for a while now, and of her shy little cocoon she hid in when she was around him. She wanted more of a relationship with him, more attention from him. Even if she had to force it out of him! Her scowl deepened. "You're so polite, it's sickening! What in the heck is wrong with you?"
Arnold didn't know why, but something felt funny inside him. She was so full of emotion and passion and she was actually SPEAKING. It was... he wasn't sure what. He'd always been cautious of her, in fear she might snap, but their rut had gotten so boring to even him that he found this all extremely refreshing and even almost a pleasant surprise. Perhaps she wasn't so plain. This was certainly not boring. But still, despite his inner thoughts, he was still very shocked and had no idea what he was supposed to say. "I-I-I-"
"I-I-I-I-I," she mocked, twisting her face ridiculously in an impression of him, before she rolled her eyes and scowled once more, making his heart thump. "Whatever, Arnold. But I'm sick of this. So STOP crashing into me already, you clumsy oaf!" She stormed off then, the first time she'd ever walked away from HIM after crashing into each other.
Arnold stared after her, his eyes wide. That was... unexpected. All the kids around him seemed satisfied and began playing again, paying Arnold no more attention. Arnold was completely surprised and shocked and... and his spine was tingling, his heart was pounding, his hands were clammy.
How could he have been so severely mistaken? She wasn't plain at all! So exuberant! And insane! Interesting! And just... wonderful! His wide eyes went half-lidded, his entire being tingling and something searing in his heart. Without his knowing, he'd developed a rather strong regard for her. The little flame in his heart that had been there for a very long time, suddenly burst into a full blown fire, hot and warm, bright and powerful. He wasn't sure what was going on with him exactly, but he was greatly pleasured by it. He couldn't even move.
Although with time, her new way of dealing with him would become an annoyance, and the fire would be long forgotten despite it's presence, for the moment, Arnold was fully aware of it's being inside himself. The very little amount of space in his brain he kept thoughts of her in grew exponentially and with time, she was all he could think of at times. He wouldn't know why, the time here long forgotten, but with time he'd figure it out.
The younger the soul, the simpler things were. He didn't need to think about it for hours, didn't need to search his soul, didn't have his emotions and opinions clouding his judgement. At five, all he had to do was feel, and what he felt was great happiness and affection. He felt alive.
Perhaps one day he would understand this once more, that all he had to do to figure out his feelings was to stop thinking. Thinking was what held him back. It was what shielded him from the truth.
But never again, was "Excuse me" said between the two. "Excuse me" was formal, between people in a rut, politeness and anxiousness to move on with their day without another thought of the other. Instead she'd yell, he'd apologize, sometimes they'd talk a little, she'd be in different moods, his patience would be high or low, sometimes he'd yell back, she'd apologize, and things would be set back in order between the two lovers that loved to hate each other.
But despite the future that he knew nothing of, the little five-year-old Arnold spent the remainder of the day trying to figure out how he could make it so he bumped into her more often...
A/N: Heh, heh... Well, dentist appointment today. Lift my spirits a little and...