The Secret
By Cybra

A/N: What can I say? Fantasy is one of my favorite genres of fiction! (Angst and mystery tie for that spot. And horror comes in a very close second.) I've been toying with this idea for a while now, so I'll see what I can come up with.

Disclaimer: All canon characters of Hey Arnold! contained in this work of fiction are the property of Craig Barlett and not of the writer Cybra. Any resemblance to actual events or persons – living or dead – or any previous work of fiction in the Hey Arnold! fanfiction universe is purely coincidental. (Man, I always wanted to say that!)

Chapter 1: Something Fishy's Going On Around Here…

Four young boys talked amongst themselves as they approached the Sunset Arms boarding house. It was shaping up to be an ordinary weekday afternoon: boring with a chance of falling asleep due to nothing to do. At the current moment, the quartet of fourth graders was trying to figure out some kind of activity to prevent themselves from sacking out.

"We could go to Gerald Field and have a game," Sid suggested hopefully.

"With just the four of us?" asked Gerald, raising an eyebrow.

Stinky added his own two cents. "That idea really bites."

The fourth member of the group – the boy who lived in the boarding house – asked, "Why don't we watch a movie? I'm sure I can get the boarders to surrender the VCR if I ask nicely enough."

"Do ya have any popcorn?" Stinky asked, licking his lips.

"Yup. We got some just last week. It's the kind with the movie theater butter," Arnold said, nodding.

"Hot dog! I sure love movie popcorn!"

Gerald grinned at his best friend. "I'm game."

"Sounds great! But what're we gonna watch?" Sid inquired.

"Well, why don't you guys figure that out while I make the popcorn?" the blonde boy suggested.

"You don't mind? I mean, it is your house."

"I don't mind. Knock yourselves out."

At this moment, Arnold had reached the front door and grabbed the handle. Almost by instinct, all four boys moved to the left side of the stoop, leaving a clear path on the right side. The blonde opened the door, allowing dogs, cats, and one pig to exit the boarding house. Once the animals had cleared out, they entered the Sunset Arms, Arnold closing the door behind them.

"Hey, Arnold! Can I ask you for a favor?" Ernie asked, smiling broadly. The smile became a little cautious when he noticed the boy had company over.

"Sure, Ernie. What is it?"

"You remember Lola, right?"

The blonde boy smiled. Sure he remembered Lola. She was the top model for various fashion magazines that were aimed towards those women whose dress sizes were going in the XL direction. He had aided Ernie in gaining the lovely and charming woman's affections. "Right."

"Well, she's been having some trouble at work and needs someone to talk to." Ernie lifted both eyebrows and closed his eyes halfway. "I figured you'd be the best person for the job since…you've done so well for all of us here in the boarding house."

Stinky, Sid, and Gerald looked confused by the way the demolition worker was talking while Arnold opened his mouth slightly in a silent "Oh".

It was something that no one living in the boarding house ever discussed with "outsiders" unless those people had proved their trustworthiness. It was a secret that could not be dragged from any of their lips in front of those living outside the Sunset Arms. It had been a personal request of Arnold's grandparents and Arnold himself. No one was to know unless that person was approved by at least Arnold's grandparents. Only Arnold and his grandparents gave permission to reveal the secret.

At the present time, the select few outside the boarding house who knew the secret were adults: Lola, Dino Spumoni, and Mr. Green. The mysterious Mr. Smith had known the secret as well, but he wasn't counted as an "outsider" since he had lived in the boarding house at one time.

"Sure, Ernie. I'd be glad to help!" the grandson of the owners cheerfully said, quickly recovering whatever composure he had lost in that brief second.

"Great! She'd like to see you around six. That okay?"

"Let me check the calendar."

Arnold trotted towards the kitchen, his group of friends – the three kids and the adult – following behind him. He looked up at the calendar. Almost everyone had written something somewhere on the calendar to show his or her own activities. In Arnold's easily recognized scrawl was written on every day of the month "Free."

In an amused tone of voice, Arnold commented, "I think I can squeeze her in." He picked up the pencil lying on the counter for just such purposes, erased the word "free", and scribbled in "Lola – 6:00." Satisfied, he set the pencil back down in its place. "There we go."

Mr. Potts chuckled at the boy's earlier comment. "So glad you could juggle your busy schedule to fill her in."

Grinning widely, Arnold bowed. He gave a small laugh as he said, "Anything for a lovely lady like Lola."

"Hands off, kid. I called her first," Ernie threatened, his grin betraying the lack of malice behind the threat. "Besides, she's older than you."

Giving an impish wink as he straightened himself, Arnold commented, "I think living with only adults most of my life has given me a taste for older women."

"So if I divorced Oskar, all I'd have to do is wait a few years before I could marry someone with more class?" Suzie asked as she walked in, smiling.

"That's practically robbing the cradle, Suzie!" Ernie laughed.

"Maybe." She smiled and leaned over to kiss Arnold's forehead, making him blush. "But like my sister always says, 'If you can't find the right man, raise one.'"

"Now you two are scaring me." Arnold moved a chair over to the counter so he could reach the cabinets above. "I'm just gonna smile and make the popcorn so we can watch a movie, okay?"

"That'll work," Ernie agreed. "What're you guys gonna watch?"

"We dunno," Gerald answered.

"Anythin's better than just sittin' around and doin' nothin'," Stinky stated.

"Well, I just got Monty Python and the Holy Grail. If you're willin' ta share the popcorn, I could share the movie," Mr. Potts offered. He paused for a moment before adding, "That is, if your parents will let you watch that movie. There's some stuff in there that might be a little too…uh…"

"I think 'mature', is the word you're looking for, Ernie," Suzie supplied as she hunted around the kitchen for chocolate sauce to add to her glass of milk.

"Yeah, that's it! There's some stuff in there that might be a little too mature for you guys' parents' taste. You might wanna ask first."

Neither of the boarders mentioned talking to Arnold's grandparents for permission. His grandparents had long ago decided that Arnold could handle seeing some things that weren't for kids in his age group. After all, when things got too intense, Arnold had long ago made it a habit to hastily excuse himself until that portion was over.

In the minds of Stinky and Gerald, the earlier conversation with Ernie that had led them to the kitchen was already forgotten. Sid – who had always been a bit of the suspicious type – filed that conversation away in the back of his mind to think about later.

Meanwhile, Arnold gave himself a "mental sticky note" to remember to meet Lola at six o'clock. It wouldn't do to be late.

~@~

"I'm here to see Lola."

"I'm sorry, kid, but no one is allowed – "

"Arnold! Good! You're on time!" Lola gave the man at the desk a winning smile. "I've been expecting him, Chris. Sorry if I forgot to tell you."

"Oh, it's all right, ma'am. Just be sure to give me the heads-up next time," the man answered, smiling back longingly.

"I will." Lola turned to her visitor. "Let's go to my dressing room."

Arnold followed slightly behind Lola, taking in the sights. He glanced into rooms to see models posing before cameras, giving their most feisty looks and such to the calls of the photographer. As they walked further away from the entrance, shouts of "Okay, give me happy!", "Ooh! That's it!", and other assorted prompts overlapped each other.

"Um, Lola?"

"Yes, Arnold?"

"Don't you feel a little…well…silly listening to what those guys are telling you?"

She gave a small laugh. "Oh, they do that to get us to loosen up! Half the time, they're just teasing the others and me."

"Oh."

The pair approached a door with Lola's name on it. Lola unlocked the door and ushered him inside.

It was a simple room with a vanity and a wardrobe. There was a couch, a cushioned chair and footstool, and a few paintings on the wall, but for the most part, it was pretty much empty. It wasn't quite what Arnold had expected, but he knew from Ernie that Lola preferred more simple furnishings than the average supermodel.

Lola stood by the door and watched as her visitor wandered the room for a moment, getting the feel of it. "So…um…what am I supposed to do? Lock the door? Curtain the windows?"

The blonde boy chuckled. "Kinda suspicious, don't you think? Nah. Nothing's visible. You just talk, and I'll listen. That's all anyone will see if they walk in."

"Oh, okay." She smiled. "I was kinda wondering from the way Ernie kept telling me to tell no one."

"Yeah, I don't want it getting out. People might think that I'm messing with their heads all the time or try to make me mess with someone else's head."

"Do you want me to get you anything? Something to drink?"

"No, I'm fine. I just need a place to sit. This'll work." He sat down on the footstool. He smiled brightly. "Comfy."

Lola sat down on the couch, still nervous. She had never done anything like this before. "Is there any way I'm supposed to act?"

"Nope. Just talk."

The fashion model took a deep breath and began explaining the problem she was having. A co-worker – a male fashion model – would not stop pursuing her and she was just about at her wits' end. She had become a bit jumpy since he was constantly hanging around. She was about ready to sue him for sexual harassment since he kept trying to get too close to her.

Even as she spoke, a foreign calm slowly swept over her. It was almost like a slow-moving wave rolling up onto the shore. This wave followed her every nerve, calming her agitated feelings. Her own mind responded to the calm by creating a picture of a stream flowing through a forest.

Once she finished her story, she felt far better than she'd felt in weeks.

Arnold pondered her situation for a moment. "I think you better invite Ernie to visit you for the next couple of days while you work. It should give this guy a hint. Especially if Ernie sets him straight, but try to stop him before he hits this guy, okay?"

Lola smiled. "Of course. It sounds like a good idea." She smiled a little more broadly. "Maybe I can get the photographers to take some pictures of Ernie and me."

"That'd be nice. I'm sure he'd love it," the boy said, smiling back.

"Thank you, Arnold. You've been really helpful."

"My pleasure." He rose from his seat while stretching and caught a glimpse at the clock. He'd been sitting still for almost an hour. "Looks like I better be going home."

"I'm sorry to keep you so long."

"That's okay."

Lola walked with him to the entrance of the building. "Is there anything you want?"

"Huh?"

"As payment."

"Oh. No, I'm fine. Thanks anyway. Goodbye, Lola!"

"Goodbye, Arnold."

~@~

Sid watched as a large model waved his friend goodbye. Arnold walked down the street, whistling a tune and unaware of his fellow fourth grader's presence. As soon as Arnold had passed, Sid slipped out of his hiding spot and followed after the blonde.

The blonde reached the boarding house and held open the door to let the animals inside before entering as well, shutting the door behind himself.

Sid didn't want to go inside anyway. Instead, he ran around to the back door and listened as Arnold shouted, "Grandma! Grandpa! I'm home!"

"Hey there, Short Man! Back from the land of the rich and famous, I see." The hiding boy could practically see Phil giving his grandson a toothy smile. "I saved you some supper."

"Thanks, Grandpa. What is it?"

"Oh, it's your grandma's stuffed bell peppers."

Sid's face turned a shade of green. He remembered the eating contest far too well. Luckily, he hadn't been one of those eating the bell peppers. According to Stinky, you practically had to have a cast-iron stomach in order to eat them. He also remembered Helga demanding if the peppers were stuffed with socks (which Phil had responded with "That was a secret!").

"Sounds great, Grandpa." Sid violently shook his head against that sentence, but Arnold obviously couldn't see it. "I'll just have to warm it up."

Beep-beep-beep-beep. Whir… The sound of a microwave being used reached Sid's listening ears.

"How'd it go, Short Man?"

"It went pretty smoothly, Grandpa."

"What was wrong with Miss Lola?"

"Grandpa, I don't think she'd like me discussing it without her permission."

"Okay…Did ya have any fun playin' with people's heads?"

"Grandpa!"

"Oh, all right. All right." A small cackle of laughter. "Just teasin' ya, Short Man! I know you wouldn't – "

Sudden silence.

Footsteps approached the backdoor, and Sid froze in panic. What would he do?! If Arnold or somebody caught him, what would they say?!

The door suddenly opened, causing Sid to shout and leap away from the door.

His blonde friend stood there, puzzled look on his face. "Um…Sid? Are you okay?"

"Huh? Yeah! Fine! Just dandy!" The boy with the long nose laughed nervously. "Well, gotta go!"

The eavesdropper tore out of Arnold's backyard at a speed that the blonde thought broke a world record.

Shrugging, Arnold walked back inside, wondering just how much Sid had heard.