AN: Had a terrible dream last night that some of you readers were so upset I hadn't updated, that you went and reviewed all the older fanfiction I had written when I was 10. It was terribly embarrassing, so this morning I woke up and finished this chapter. I'm sorry!
Strange As It Seems:
"I don't think the giant chart is necessary, Gerald," Arnold objected. The two friends were in Arnold's room; Arnold sat on the bed, legs dangling over the edge, while Gerald paced back and forth in front of him. An easel was propped up next to Gerald, a large oversized notepad – one that might have seemed at place in an executive business meeting or in a first grade classroom – sat upon it.
"A chart is very necessary, my good man," Gerald said, coming to a rest in front of the easel. He placed his hand to his chin, thinking. "You're a mess around Helga, and if you want this date to go smoothly, you need all the help you can get."
"And you're going to give it to me in giant chart form?" Arnold sighed.
"Yep! I think we might start with a giant list though." He scratched his chin, then drew a black marker from his pocket. On one side of the paper he wrote 'Things to do around Helga Pataki'; he drew a line separating the page in two and then wrote 'Things NOT to do around Helga Pataki'.
"This is ridiculous," Arnold said, matter-of-factly. "I hope you know that."
"And I hope you know that this is going to save your life!" Gerald said, capping the marker and turning to face him. "Giant lists are a form of visual learning; you'll remember it better this way!"
"But I don't need this!" Arnold insisted.
"Arnold," Gerald said, closing his eyes and shaking his head, "What was the last thing you said to Helga?"
Arnold frowned and stared at the ground in thought. Well, I asked her out at lunch the other day…and then I…er…well… He looked up at Gerald, a weak smile on his face. "I er…I kind of, um, stuttered at her in class yesterday? When I was asking to look at her notes."
"You stuttered at her in class yesterday," Gerald repeated, nodding his head, his eyes still closed. "Arnold – you haven't SPOKEN to the girl since you asked her out. You've been a mumbling, bumbling, stuttering MESS. And let me tell you, man – that is not going to be attractive on tomorrow's date. Not at all."
Arnold frowned. "Well, what do you suggest?"
Gerald opened his eyes and grinned at his best friend. "My suggestion is that you've got to play it cool, man."
"I'm cool!" Arnold said, defensively.
"But you sure haven't been acting like it lately, especially when you get around Helga G. Pataki," Gerald replied. He turned to face the notepad, marker in hand, and wrote BE COOL in capital letters beneath the 'Things to do' heading.
"'Be Cool'," Arnold read. He rolled his eyes. "Thanks Gerald, very helpful."
"Okay, okay, fine. Here's something a little more helpful," Gerald said, scribbling on the pad. As he turned around, Arnold saw that it read BE YOURSELF.
"Be myself?" Arnold said, "But myself is a nervous stuttering wreck, I thought we already went over that? I thought that was the point of this list?"
Gerald shook his head, "No, not THAT yourself. Be the yourself that you are around everyone else." Arnold stared at him, blankly. "Look, the key to a successful first date – and trust me, I know, I've had one and it was very successful, as I'm still dating the lovely lady to this day – is to be their best friend for a day. Be friendly, funny, caring, compassionate: do all you can to make sure they are having the best day of their life. And you, my man, have that down pat. You're the most friendly, funny, caring, compassionate kid in the whole school. You're concerned with making everyone happy. Sometimes, I feel like maybe you have a crush on me, what with how nice you are."
"Wait, what?" Arnold interrupted.
"Never mind. The point is, if you act like the friendly gentlemen that you are naturally, you'll be set!"
"But what if she gets the wrong idea?" Arnold asked, worriedly, "What if she thinks I just want to be friends?"
"Just throw in a little physical interaction – accidentally touch her hand, or touch her arm when you laugh. She'll get the hint. A few 'you look nice tonight's might not be a bad idea either. Plus there's the second key."
"The second key?"
"The second key to a successful date is to have some sort of interaction that is unique to you too. You need to find the certain dynamic that exists between you two and embrace it. And lucky for you, you've known Helga so long that you already know the dynamic between you!"
"I do?" Arnold asked, skeptically.
Gerald nodded. "The majority of yours and Helga's relationship has been built around teasing. First outright bullying, but over time it has evolved into a light friendly teasing that seems to go both ways. You and Helga are at your best when you have this sort of witty banter going on between you. If you get that going on, she'll realize that you're not just hanging out with her as a friend, but as someone who you have this personalized experience with, you get what I'm saying?"
"Sort of," Arnold said, as Gerald wrote DYNAMIC under BE YOURSELF. "This list is getting a little bit one-sided: where's all the stuff I'm not supposed to be doing?"
Gerald sighed. "Arnold, you're a pretty smart guy. There's a lot of stuff you shouldn't do on a first date, but I think you're smart enough to figure that out on your own. I think you know better than to stare at other girls or to try to cop a feel" (Arnold blushed) "or anything like that. But there is one thing I'm not too sure about – one thing you may just be stupid enough to do. And that is the only thing I'm going to write on this side of this list."
"What's that?" Arnold asked.
Gerald turned and wrote in huge capital letters that he underlined three times DO NOT TELL HER YOU LOVE HER.
Arnold stared at it for a second, a dark red blush creeping across his face. He shook his head and said, "You realize you wrote that under the 'Things NOT to do' section, right? So that makes it a double negative: Do not do not tell her…"
"You know what I'm saying!" Gerald snapped, tapping Arnold lightly on the head with the marker.
Arnold laughed, "You really think I'm likely to say something like that to her? I mean…"
'Yes," Gerald interrupted, "Yes, I do. And look, I don't care if that's actually how you feel, the point is, if you say something like that to her you're going to freak her out and scare her away. You MAY say something sweet like 'Oh, gee, Helga, I like you ever so much'…"
"You sound like Lila," Arnold pointed out.
"Or something along those lines. But do not, and I repeat, DO NOT, tell her you love her. You got it?"
"Yes, sir." Arnold said, nodding his head.
Gerald sighed in relief. "Okay. Okay." He sat down next to Arnold on the bed, and patted him on the back. "Then Arnold, my man – I think you're going to be okay."
Arnold sighed too. "I just hope your advice is enough to shut the butterflies up for once." He stared at the list for a few seconds then asked, almost timidly, "Hey Gerald?"
"…do you still get butterflies when you're around Phoebe?"
Gerald paused for a second before answering, then a slightly dreamy smile crossed his face. "Yeah, but you know what? They aren't as scary and nerve-wracking as they were before…they're kind of…nice."
Arnold sighed again. "Well, at least there's that to look forward to."
Helga threw open her closet door and instantly began rummaging through the clothes there, looking for something to wear. There was no longer the mortifying shrine in the back of the closet – she sometimes cringed at the memory of it: God, how embarrassing – but now she desperately needed to find an outfit that would impress that Football Headed Love God.
"Oh GOD, Phoebe, what am I doing?" She moaned, pulling out a pair of jeans that weren't too ratty. "I don't know the first thing about dates! Especially not one with ARNOLD."
"Maybe we shoul—" Phoebe started, raising her hand to grab Helga's shoulder.
"What are we going to talk about? What are we going to do? What am I going to wear?" Helga despaired, rummaging through her t-shirts, throwing rejected tank tops over her shoulder in a quickly growing pile.
"I think that maybe—" Phoebe began again.
"He's going to realize how lame I am!" Helga cried, grasping a tank top to her chest. "He's going to think I'm boring and uninteresting, and least of all pretty! And he's going to walk out of that movie theater completely disappointed and he's never going to speak to me ever again!"
"Now Helga, I don't think—"
"What was I THINKING? Oh, Phoebe, I don't think I could take it if we weren't even friends anymore. I should have just been content to be allowed to be around him – if I screw this up, I won't even be allowed that! I'll be nothing! I'll have to awkwardly avoid him in the halls at school, won't be able to sit next to him in class, it'd be too much—"
"HELGA!" Phoebe shouted, grabbing her friend by the arms and shaking her. "You need to calm down!"
Helga stopped speaking and stared at her best friend, eyes wide. Suddenly she sighed and said, "Thanks, Pheebs, I need that."
"Now listen, Helga, I think we need to go over a few things before you psych yourself out too much about this date tomorrow, okay?" Phoebe said, guiding her best friend to the bed and sitting her down. "Maybe lay out a few ground rules so that you won't be so nervous, okay?"
Helga nodded. "Yeah, okay, Pheebs, that sounds great. You always know best."
Phoebe smiled at her. "Everything's going to be alright, Helga. I promise."
Helga gave her a weak grin. "Okay, Pheebs, what do you suggest?"
Phoebe took a deep breath and began. "Okay. I originally compiled a list of basic do's and don't's for the evening. But then I realized it basically boiled down to just two major don't's."
Helga raised her eyebrow. "Which are?"
"DON'T bully Arnold!" Phoebe said, sternly.
"Well, doi, Pheebs, obviously I wouldn't do—"
"You say that now," Phoebe interrupted, "But I know you. Whenever you get too close to Arnold and you accidentally give off even a hint that you like him, you get defensive the second you realize it and go immediately into name-calling, spit-ball-throwing, Bully Helga mode. And I won't let you do that. Not at this point in the game. The cat's out of the bag, Helga. You're going on a date with him, so it's a little obvious that you at least like him a little. And you're allowed to show it."
"So you're saying I can't call him 'Football Head' or tease him or…?"
"Well, here's the thing," Phoebe continued, "We've come to the conclusion…"
"We?" Helga asked.
Phoebe blushed, and quickly corrected herself. "I've come to the conclusion that you and Arnold have an interesting dynamic, where you two work best together when there's this mutual light teasing going on, a sort of quick-witted banter. So a little bit of that would be okay, and as for 'Football Head', I believe that has reached the point of endearing nickname."
"So wait, do I tease him or do I act like I like him?" Helga asked, confused.
"Both," Phoebe said, "Though honestly, Helga, with you the two kind of mean the same thing. Just try to be a little nicer, okay?"
"Alright," Helga said, wearily, "I'll try. What's number two?"
"Well, number two may seem a bit contradictory following what I just said…"
"Spit it out, Pheebs."
"DON'T, under any circumstances, tell Arnold that you love him."
Helga blinked. "Phoebe, I…"
"You think that you won't, but you said it before to him under pressure, and I'm worried that if the pressure gets to you this time you'll blurt it out again, and you know what happened last time! It really freaked him out, so I think…"
"Phoebe," Helga interrupted, holding up one hand, "Trust me. I learned my lesson. I don't think I'll ever have the courage to say those words to Arnold Shortman ever again."
"Good," Phoebe said, absently. "Now, what do you think of this hoodie…?"
Phoebe dug through the massive pile of clothes Helga had thrown out of her closet, while Helga sat on the bed, looking down at the ground, a small frown forming across her lips. She had a feeling this date was going to be a huge, horrible disaster.