Disclaimer: I utterly, wholly, no ifs ands or buts, no strings attached, do not own Hey Arnold!

Chapter Four - Rhonda's Reality Check

Rhonda Wellington Lloyd felt her heart would break through her chest and land onto the dining room table. Every breath she took burned her lungs, her chest and her stomach. Everything in the room appeared blurry, out of focus. She took her final swallow of a rare kind of lobster and spent a minute chewing on the delicacy that once tasted so good. Now it had no taste, no flavor, no life; it was only flesh. At last, she swallowed. It tickled the back of her throat, causing a few light coughs to erupt from her mouth. A few gulps of water saved her from what could have been the most embarrassing choking while eating moment of her life.

"Rhonda, darling, is everything okay?"

Rhonda flinched at the sound of her name. For the first time in her life, her father's confident smile gave her chills. She nodded and then gave him a smile and a light laugh. "Yes, daddy."

He raised an eyebrow. "Really? You've been unusually quiet tonight. You usually have a lot to say."

Rhonda's mother drank some wine from her glass before speaking. "Buckley, darling, she's been like this for the past three days. I've debated on taking her to see a physician."

Rhonda shuddered and shook her head. Oh gosh. Now she thinks I'm sick or something!

"I doubt that's why she's not all right, dear," Mr. Lloyd rubbed his chin for a moment. He snapped his fingers. "Ah! I remember your mother mentioned the boots I bought you. Is that why you're feeling down?

Mrs. Lloyd sighed.. "Dear, if only you had remembered to get them in red, not in black. She already had the black ones-"

Mr. Lloyd frowned. "Well, I would've remembered to get them in red if you had left the message on my PDA-"

Mrs. Lloyd nodded. "I did, darling, and it specifically stated to get them in red, not black-"

Rhonda stood straight up. Her hands pressed down on the table, she groaned. "Mommy! Daddy! It's not the boots!"

Complete silence took over the once vibrant room filled with Rhonda's parents' engaged conversation. Rhonda looked at her mother and father's faces. Their wide open eyes, partially opened mouths and her mother's gasp made Rhonda regret yelling at them.

"They're perfectly fine! I love them! It's just..." she sat back down, sliding down a few inches in her chair. The quietness, especially from her parents, made her feel more uneasy. "Someone in my class died, and...I - I feel horrible about killing - er, I mean, I feel horrible about him getting sick and dying. They weren't a close friend of mine but...I guess I kind of miss...having him around."

"Oh dear..."

"Oh my word..."

"We're terribly sorry."

"We most certainly are."

"Thank you mommy. Thank you daddy."

...

Rhonda excused herself from the dining room table. She gave hugs and kisses to her mother and father and trudged out the dining room to her dimly lit bedroom. Before she got ready for bed, she sat down at her vanity. Looking at her reflection in the mirror, she frowned at her image. She looked so downtrodden, depressed and a shell of her former self. A tear trickled down her cheek. Her red, puffy eyes stared back as if unable to recognize the nine year old rich girl who mimicked every movement, every emotion. She turned away from her image, repulsed like a vampire would be to a cross. She left the vanity set and found herself face up on her bed, arms folded over her chest.

Rhonda darling, look at you! How can you be so moved because that pest died? You wanted him gone, right? Well, he's gone now! You should be happy! Ecstatic!

"But I'm not. It's like, his death makes me miss him more and more."

She glanced at her alarm clock. 7:45 pm, it read.

She let her head fall on her pillow. She exhaled sharply. "It's official. As of 7:45 pm, I, Rhonda Wellington Lloyd, admit that I like, or rather liked...Curly."

Rhonda rolled over and mushed her face in the pillow, able to sob without anyone hearing a single cry.

...

The next morning, Rhonda got off the bus. She didn't realize she would be one of the only few people on the bus, so she arrived 32 minutes early. Her hands held her books close to her chest as if it were a shield to protect her from danger. The fog, the cold winds, and the barren school yard gave her chills. The school almost looked like it was abandoned, maybe even haunted.

Thoughts of running away flooded her mind. Maybe Patty would only tell her things she already knew, like Curly was dead. And now that Patty knew the truth, she could tell Principal Wartz, the police or anyone else about Rhonda's wish to make Curly die and Rhonda could be punished and ridiculed for the rest of her life. Also, Rhonda wasn't talking with Nadine because she could tell someone about Curly's death, so her best friend of so many years was not someone she wanted to confide in.

Rhonda stood in front of the stairs of the school. Her entire body tingled with numbness, not just from the cold weather, but from what was about to come. In 12 minutes, Patty would either save or destroy her life, her reputation, and most of all, her sanity. Rhonda would rather wallow in misery and plunge down a bottomless pit than discover what happened to Thaddeus "Curly" Gammelthorpe, the demented psycho of P.S. 118. Rhonda knew the boy was dead. But what was it that made him die? How did his parents take the horrible news? How would they react when they find out the most stylish socialite of Hillwood murdered their only child? What would happen to Rhonda Wellington Lloyd, the most fashionable and knowledgeable girl in Hillwood?

Eight minutes left...

The image of Curly's grinning face sent shivers up her spine. Memories of him fixing her mother's coat, willing to "dump" her in order to make Rhonda the one everyone in school should feel sorry about, giving her flowers and candy, and offering to take her out to dinner at many of the most expensive restaurants brought tears to her eyes.

Rhonda chuckled. "Crap. That's how I feel right now. Like absolute crap."

Four minutes left...

She sat on the bottom step of P.S. 118, hunched over with her head in her hands. She watched a few cars pass by, grown-ups walking along the sidewalk move to and fro, busy being trapped in their ordinary lives, not having to worry about going insane.

Rhonda sighed. They're lucky. Able to live lives so uncomplicated. None of them killed someone they wouldn't admit they wanted to have around.

Time's up.

"Hey Rhonda."

Rhonda lifted her head. She gasped, unable to recognize the large figure over her. She brought her attention to the person's straight face that showed no emotion and sighed in relief. "Hey Patty."

Well Rhonda doll, enjoy your last few minutes of freedom...

Patty took a seat next to Rhonda. They both stared straight ahead, not looking at one another. Rhonda couldn't face Patty. She had revealed everything to her. How was it Patty wasn't laughing at her, using her weakness as an advantage to put her down after Rhonda had basically used her to get through finishing school. Now was Patty's chance to get revenge, and yet she kept quiet. Maybe Patty was waiting to get the last laugh? Maybe this was all a set-up to get Rhonda in trouble?

Rhonda's thumbs twiddled in her lap. She absolutely abhorred long periods of silence when around other people. "So..."

Patty faced Rhonda. She put a hand on Rhonda's shoulder. "In a few minutes, you'll know everything."

Rhonda looked at Patty. If she didn't become friends with Patty, Rhonda would've guessed that her furrowed eyebrow and lack of a smile meant she was about to get beat up. But she knew Patty wasn't going to cause any trouble, although every time Rhonda stared directly into Patty's eyes, she found it difficult to swallow the thick lump in her throat from being so nervous. She winced as it squeezed down her esophagus. "You mean...about Curly?"

Patty nodded. "Yeah. Three days after he died, Arnold told me what happened to him."

Rhonda felt her eyes enlarge so much, they almost burst. "He told you everything?"

"He found out what happened to Curly and wanted to tell you the news personally, but you didn't come to school. He figured I would tell you."

Rhonda averted her gaze from Patty to her new red Dansko clogs. "Yeah, well, I couldn't admit to anyone that I had killed-"

"Rhonda! You're here!"

Rhonda was almost ready to faint at the sound of that voice. His voice. She couldn't look. She refused to see where that voice came from. It had to be her mind playing tricks, fooling her into thinking that he was somewhere in the vicinity; that Curly was yards away.

His voice returned. "Rhonda...I knew I could see you again."

"Patty, I must be schizophrenic or something," Rhonda shrugged. "I keep hearing Curly-"

Her heart completely stopped. She couldn't breathe. Her mouth felt as dry as cotton. There, standing next to Patty, was Curly with his characteristic smile that either meant he was your friend or you saw him as a complete nerd and a lunatic. A few bandages were placed on his cheek, his left hand and his neck.

Rhonda smiled at Patty. "You mean, you brought him here?"

"Yeah. After I talked to him about it, he said he wanted to show up himself and tell you the truth."

Rhonda stared at Curly, still in shock. "But I thought...Mr. Simmons told us that you...that you were supposed to be-"

"Dead?" Curly shook his head. "The whole school thought I was dead for three days. I was holed up in the hospital because of some strange new strain of the flu. I think it's called H1M1 or something. Luckily they found some medicine that took care of it."

Rhonda bit her lip, trying not to explode into tears. She laughed. "You're kidding me."

"Wish I was," he said. The smile on Curly's face vanished. "I was with my parents and my cousin down in South America in some jungle somewhere. My dad had some business to take care of down there and we all had to go. We went on a ride in our friend's van but unfortunately we got in an accident. Our friend tried not to hit another car and so we went off the road thinking we could pass the car by but the front tire blew out and the van flew down this steep slope and crashed down by a river. I had a few internal injuries and some scrapes and stuff, my parents did too, but I'm fine."

"Wow," Rhonda sniffed, wiping her cheeks free of tears with her shirt sleeve. "What about your cousin?"

Curly sighed. "He wasn't so lucky. He suffered a horrible injury that left him unable to get enough oxygen to his brain, so he had a stroke and...they weren't able to take him to see a specialist in time and he...he died."

"Oh my God. I'm so sorry."

Curly took off his glasses. He removed a tear from his eye with a finger and then put his glasses on. "He went to our school. He was in the fourth grade like us, but had a different teacher. His name was Faddeus Gammelthorpe. No one really knew him because he was so antisocial, even more than me. When the school got word of the news of his death, they mixed our names up. We both caught the same flu from some bug that's indigenous to the area. They thought I died from it and he lived after having a stroke. Everyone thought Faddeus was okay and I was dead, when...it was the other way around. When I came back in town yesterday, Arnold was the first to find out I was still alive. He thought I was a ghost until I convinced him I wasn't dead. Then the news spread and the school fixed the problem."

"Wait. Then that means," Rhonda turned to Patty. "The potion was a hoax? And I never killed anyone? And I won't be going to jail or the nuthouse?"

Patty put on a weak smile. "To be honest Rhonda, I only told you about her shop so you would leave me alone. You kept asking me about it all day, so I had to say something."

Rhonda stood up and jumped in place, screaming with joy and shouting multiple "thank you"'s not just towards Patty but also because her reputation was safe and sound. After a minute, she finally stopped. Not too far off, the bus let off some students, including some in Mr. Simmons's class. They started to congregate in front of the school or head inside.

Rhonda looked at Curly. "Curly, look. I'm sorry about all the yelling and the fighting and stuff. I realized that you're not...you're not too bad of a guy. I was wrong for being so upset."

Curly beamed. "Really?"

"Yeah. But please, promise me, there will be no more stalking and trying to kiss me and all that stuff."

"Got it."

"So I was wondering, if, um, maybe sometime this evening, like maybe at 5 or 6 o'clock, we could-"

Curly laughed, pumping his fist. "Absolutely, Rhonda! I'd love to go out with you!"

Rhonda grimaced. "But wait, you didn't let me finish-"

Curly ran up the steps of P.S. 118. "I can't wait until tonight, when we go on our very first date! Woo hoo!"

After he entered the school, Rhonda frowned and groaned in annoyance and frustration. Even in front of other students and her classmates, she had to let out her grievances.

"Grrrrrr! I can't believe it! I try to nicely ask the little twerp if we could go over our group assignment we have to present next week, and he thinks we're going on a date!"

She growled and then glanced at Patty, who let out a few laughs. Patty grabbed her backpack and headed up the stairs towards the front entrance of P.S. 118.

"Patty, wait!"

"You're on your own this time, Rhonda."

Rhonda sighed. "Arrrrrgh! Why do these things have to happen to me? Why me?"

The bell rang, letting them know class was about to start. Rhonda grabbed her bag and marched up the steps, catching up to Nadine. They stopped at the top of the stoop and faced each other.

Nadine looked down. "Hey Rhonda. I just want to say, um, about us not speaking to each other and stuff-"

"Nadine, look. I'm sorry about yelling at you and not talking to you, okay? I was just going crazy because of the whole Curly death thing. I actually thought I killed him. I didn't want anyone to know. Well, except Patty."

"Really?"

"It's a long story. But yeah, I can't stay upset because of what happened days ago, and neither should you."

"You're right."

"Yeah."

"So..."

"So..."

Nadine smirked. "Friends?"

Rhonda grinned. "Friends."

Rhonda and Nadine hugged. Rhonda stepped back after letting go and stared at Nadine for a minute. Unable to hold a straight face any longer, she giggled.

Nadine smiled. "What's so funny?"

"I'll tell you on the way to class," Rhonda led the way into the school with Nadine right behind her. "You're never going to believe this..."

The End!