A/N: After writing the opening to my second story, "Perks," I decided to take a stab at writing a songfic. As for the title, turn the number sideways and it'll make sense.
Disclaimer: I neither own "Hey Arnold!" nor the song "Asleep" by The Smiths. I also don't own anything relating to Buddhism
The warm night air greeted Arnold and Helga as they spilled out of the gym of rival high school James Madison. Helga was silent and moody, thinking on the events of the basketball game that just ended. The pair made their way to Arnold's car, a blue '89 Mustang Convertible he affectionately named "Gertie." Just like it's namesake, the car was quite a character. Arnold guided Gertie onto the highway that led back to Hillwood and settled in for the quiet drive, leaving the top down. He let his free hand play with the wind.
After a stretch of silence, Arnold spoke up. "Sorry you guys lost, Helga. The Ligers played a great game."
Helga rolled her eyes. "And where were you during the game? No, we sucked. Hardcore."
"Well…you were good at least?" Arnold tried.
Helga growled. "Arnold, I sat out for most of the game because my ankle started to act up. I scored a measly 6 points and was down before the first quarter ended. Nadine fouled out because she got into an argument with the ref for squashing a spider. Stinky decided to take Sid up on his dare of streaking during the halftime performance, which is one mental image I am stuck with forever,and because the Ligers had a 15 year losing streak, we have to wait until next season to prove that we don't suck and that getting this far wasn't a fluke." She scowled deeply, remembering the anguish of having to sit out of the City Championship game and the chaos that ensued.
"Um…well…" Arnold sighed, giving up. "Ok. Yes, the team sucked. Yes, the score was 86-60. Yes, you sat out most of the game. Yes, the whole city saw Stinky's kibbles and bits. I'm just trying to make you feel better, Helga."
Helga bit her lip, internally cursing herself for lashing out at him. "I know. Sorry, Arnold. I'm…I'm just mad my parents didn't show up. Again." Big Bob and Miriam had promised to see her play, but sometime during the second quarter, she got a text from Olga saying that her parents had popped in for a surprise visit and wasn't it so sweet that they took her out to Chez Paris for dinner?
After reading that text message, Helga limped off the bench, intending to throw her phone at the nearest wall. Instead of hitting the mural of the smirking Boll Weevil that was the other school's mascot, her phone made contact with a certain football headed boy's head. Arnold, who came to see her play, took one look at her face and wrapped her in a giant bear hug that squeezed the breath out of her. Arnold sat with her during the remainder of the game. He insisted on propping up her ankle, supplied her popcorn and Yahoo sodas, and didn't even comment on Helga's disparaging remarks about the opposing team. Much, anyway. Helga inwardly groaned. Why was it that the one person who was nice to her had no clue how she felt?
The two sat in silence for a couple of minutes before Helga perked up. "You know what will help me?"
"What?" Arnold asked warily, eying her suspiciously. He had a sneaking suspicion that she was going to suggest a TP session or something.
She held her breath, and then took the plunge before she changed her mind. "Will-you-let-me-plug-in-my-iPod-and-play-a-song?" Helga's words came out such a rush that it took Arnold a minute to process the request.
"Helga…" Arnold was already shaking his head, but Helga intervened before he could go further.
"Arnold, I've apologized hundreds of times for scaring you with that death metal music that ONE morning! How was I supposed to know you procrastinated on your English paper and pulled an all-niter?" Helga smirked. "You know, Football Head," she drawled lazily, rolling her eyes up to meet his, "you should really thank me for that. You should never operate a motor vehicle when you aren't fully alert."
"No. iPod." Arnold stated firmly, the memory of that day swimming in front of his eyes. He walked around for three periods with no hearing.
"Please, Arnold? You'll probably like it; it's kinda sorta, really but not really, like that emo band you love, so it's right up your alley!"
"Fine…and for the millionth time, Dashboard Confessional is NOT emo so stop saying I listen to emo music!" He was tired of having this particular argument with her.
"Sure thing, football head," Helga replied dismissively. She was busy scrolling through the tracks. "I know I put it on here," she muttered, scowling. After a couple of minutes, she finally found the song. "Prepare to be impressed, Arnoldo. It's called Asleep, by the way."
Soon music filled the car. Despite his best intentions to hate it, Arnold couldn't help but listen closely to the haunting melody and the accompanying lyrics.
Sing me to sleep
Sing me to sleep
I'm tired and I
I want to go to bed
Helga hummed along. "Do you like it, Arnold?" she asked, almost shyly. Arnold chuckled. "I'm trying hard not to, but it's really good." Helga turned up the music and grinned, then abruptly stood up on the seat, bad ankle and all. She gripped the edge of the windshield and took a deep breath. "Drive faster, Arnold!" she yelled. Her voice echoed around them and was almost lost to the roar of the wind.
"Helga-" he looked up at her worriedly. "Helga, you're gonna hurt yourself! What if we get into an accident? You don't have a seat belt on and –"
"Faster!" She yelled again. "What's the point of having a convertible if you're not going to have fun?" she asked him. She gave him her signature reckless smile that made his stomach flip-flop. He had learned that he would do just about anything to keep it on her face. "You're not going to get down until I drive faster, right?"
Arnold sighed. "At least sit on the edge of the seat," he conceded. Helga complied, gingerly perched on headrest the passenger seat. She wound her legs around the seat for balance and spread her arms open wide, letting the wind hold them up. Her face, turned up to catch the starlight, was as peaceful as he had ever seen it. Her hair flew out behind her, a ray of sunshine in the pitch black night.
Don't try to wake me in the morning
'Cause I will be gone
Don't feel bad for me
I want you to know
Deep in the cell of my heart
I will feel so glad to go
Arnold glanced up, and the sight of her made him breathless.
His friend, Helga Pataki, was beautiful.
In that moment. And, Arnold realized, every other moment as well. The very thought sent warm tingles down to his core. He suddenly had a very hard time focusing on the road and not Helga. She had sat down, hugging herself and smiling. A familiar half-lidded expression was on her face.
She turned to face him. "You know what I love about this song, Football head? It makes me feel infinite."
"Infinite?" he questioned.
"Yeah. I mean, even though it's about suicide-"
"Huh? I thought it was called Asleep!" Arnold wrinkled his brow in confusion.
"Helga rolled her eyes. "Like the big sleep, doi!" she said dryly.
"Oh…heh, heh, heh,"
Helga rolled her eyes again. "Criminey, Arnold, are you really that dense?" she teased, that reckless smile back on her face. He grinned.
As the silence stretched on, as quiet as the highway they were traveling on, her face took on a thoughtful expression. "I was reading about Buddhism the other day, y'know, for that one assignment in Petrovich's class? Well, Buddha said that one of the Four Noble Truths is that there is suffering in this world. One…one of the things that we have in common is that we know how horrible life gets to be sometimes." Helga glanced at him nervously. Although they were close friends, only Arnold brought up his parents; that was a subject that was dealt with on his terms and Helga respected that. Similarly, Arnold learned to stop prying into her home life, something that had gotten worse as the years went by.
Arnold reached over and briefly squeezed her hand, and gave her a reassuring smile that urged her to continue. Helga swooned inside, trying very hard to not start monologuing aloud, lest Arnold think she was mental or something. She settled for a small contented sigh.
Helga took a deep breath and continued, choosing her words carefully. "Sometimes, life hurts. It can hurt so bad that its everywhere, even in the very breaths we take…we just want to curl up in a ball and make it go away any way we can. Or sweep it under the rug and avoid it."
Helga paused again, then plunged forward, praying that Arnold didn't think she was off her rocker. "When life gets to painful, I like to listen to this song and close my eyes like I just did, and I try to just feel. I feel the breeze rolling through my hair, the blood running through my veins, the breath in my chest. I feel all of those things to step outside the hurt. I need to feel the little things, and when I just focus on those little details and get lost in them, I feel so…so alive.And I think I have all of these possibilities, like every path in my life is open to me. I may want to sleep, but life is out there. And it's just waiting for me to pick a path."
She finished and looked at him for a response, but the shocked look on his face stopped her thoughts in their tracks. He was looking at her like she dropped a bomb on him.
"What? Why are you staring at me all funny?"
"That was… beautiful," Arnold breathed, now gazing at her with a half-lidded expression. He had not realized he said it out loud.
Helga frowned. "Can you speak louder, I can't hear you," she said as she turned down the music.
Arnold cleared his throat, then rubbed the back of his neck nervously. "Um…that was thoughtful…a thoughtful analysis," he said, blushing.
Helga's gaze softened. "Thanks, Arnoldo." She fiddled with the iPod, repeating the song. She sang along this time.
Sing me to sleep
Sing me to sleep
I don't want to wake up
On my own anymore
Arnold, too, felt what Helga was talking about, but was unable to put it quite so eloquently. Helga, the poetess, had described it perfectly, save for one thing: riding down this dark road with Helga by his side was scary to him. In fact, it scared him to his core. Scared that the path he would choose would be the wrong path.
He had to commit, consequences be damned. After months of the internal debating, he finally made his choice.
Arnold bit his lip. He was a bold kid, right?
Slowly, oh so slowly, Arnold's hand found its way to Helga's and firmly closed around it. It was soft and warm in the same way that she made him feel. Helga turned to him, blue eyes wide as saucers.
"Helga?" he said softly.
"Yes, Arnold?" she responded just as softly.
"Is this…are we… one possibility? Can we be infinite…together?" Arnold carefully kept his eyes on the road, afraid to look at her and almost just as afraid to hear the answer.
Just as he sneaked a peak at her, he felt her lips crashing into his, telling him his answer was a definite yes.
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