Disclaimer:  As always, I do not own it.  Do you really think anyone would sue me if I didn't put this here?  I mean, isn't it painfully obvious that I could never write Hey Arnold! the way, say, Craig does?

The Man of My Dreams

by Pyrus Japonica

            "There you go Helga.  Three frozen mini-pizzas and a six-pack of Yahoo.  That'll be $13.95."

            "Thanks Mrs. Johansson."  I dug in the pocket of my dress and pulled out the crumpled fifteen dollars I had there.  Then I grabbed my change and food and got out of there fast, before she could give me any kind of pitying look.  I wasn't fast enough to avoid hearing the customer behind me ask, "What's a young girl like that doing out this late buying groceries?" though.

            It wasn't that late, it was only 9:30.  I've been out later than that before without my parents noticing.  It's not that they don't care about where I am, they just…never notice.  That's all.

            Big Bob would notice if I didn't get back with dinner soon.  It had been 9:00 before we realized that Miriam had once again forgotten to buy anything this week…except for her usual dozen bottles of Tabasco sauce, of course.  My stomach growled and I quickened my pace.  If I hurried, I could throw the pizzas in the oven, finish my math homework, eat and be in bed by 10:30.  I rounded a corner too sharply, as always, and-

Thwack!!

            I was on the ground, surrounded by rolling bottles of Yahoo.  I groaned and sat up, ready to ream out whoever I had run into, but the words died in my throat as soon as my eyes focused.

            "Arnold!"  You would think I would be used to it by now, these head on collisions that brighten my life.  But every time I see him my breath just stops.  Those eyes…I slapped my face, hard.  Fortunately he wasn't recovered enough to have noticed my sappy grin, now twisted into a normal scowl.

            "You could have killed me, Football Head!  Watch where you're going!"  There, that's better.

            "Sorry Helga."  He hadn't actually looked at me yet, but who else could I be?  He began gathering up my groceries for me.  I stood up, folded my arms and waited.  Anything to prolong this moment…

            "What are you doing out this late anyway?  You missed one over there, what are you blind?"  I left that one wide open for an April Fool's Day comment, and for a moment I thought I saw a smirk on his face, but it was gone quickly as it came.

            "I was going to spend the night at Gerald's, but he had to go to the hospital at the last second.  You know his Grandma's not doing well.  They're on their way to pick up his mom now."  I hadn't seen the pillow and sleeping bag he was holding.

            "And they just let you walk home?  Sheesh, some-"

            "No, they offered to drop me off on the way, but I'd rather walk.  It's nice out.  Besides, what're you doing out?"  He looked at the bottle in his hand.  "Strange time to get a Yahoo craving."

            I grabbed it and the bag he was holding.  "Yeah well it happens.  Just be glad you didn't break any of these, Football Head."  I pushed past him and marched down the sidewalk without even bothering to hear his response. 

**********

            "…nor will you, my flaxen-haired angel."  I finished the last of my tantric spells, wiped the lipstick off my face and got ready to sleep.  I climbed into my bed and was just about to turn off the light when I heard the bellowing of Big Bob.

            "Olga!  That kid Alfred's at the door!"

            "Arnold?!  At my house?"  I forgot I had pjs on and threw myself down the stairs.

            The front door was closed.  Of course, Bob wouldn't say, invite Arnold inside or anything.  It's only close to freezing outside, let's leave him on the stoop!  I took a deep breath to try and calm some of my anger before opening the door.

            There was Arnold.  He looked cold, but not as cold as I felt suddenly standing there.  At least he had a coat.  I was about to ask him what he wanted when I made the mistake of looking in his eyes and lost my ability to speak.  We stared at each other.

            "Um, Helga?"

            I snapped out of it.  "Yeah?  What do you think you're doing here, Hair Boy?"

            He looked a bit confused himself.  "I'm, well…I guess I just wanted to apologize.  For knocking you down.  You know, earlier."  He was suddenly very interested in his shoes.  Is he ok?

            "You already said that, you didn't have to come groveling back a second time.  I'll live, just don't do it again.  Now get out of here, it's almost 11 for crying out loud!"  I slammed the door in his face.

            Leaning against the other side for support, I wondered what that was all about.  What's wrong with Arnold?  I didn't hurt him or anything did I?  Confused and worried, I looked out the side window.  He was no where to be seen, so I opened the door again and stepped out, then walked down to the sidewalk and looked up and down the street.  No one was there.  I sighed blissfully.

            "Oh Arnold!  Going out of your way to say you're sorry for something that was my own stupid fault!  How I love you!  How I long to keep you from the harsh, bitter cold, safe in my welcoming arms!  How I-"

            I felt the presence behind me as always, and my fist flew back before my ears had a chance to alert my brain…

Wham!

"Ow…" came a soft voice behind me, and I gasped and turned around.

            "Arnold!"  I knelt beside him on the ground and gingerly touched his arm.  He had his hand over his eye.

            "Are you ok?"  And how much did you hear?

            He removed his hand, and I could see that he would be sporting a black eye to school tomorrow.  "Yeah, I'm alright.  Guess that'll teach me to sneak up on you like that."

            I laughed half-heartedly.  How long had he been behind me?  How could I have been so stupid, I knew that wasn't Brainy's wheezing!

            Arnold was looking at me intently.  "Helga, I came back because, well, I mean I wasn't going to apologize to you again."

            Huh?  "Huh?"

            He pulled something out of his coat pocket, and my heart stopped. 

"You dropped this."

My locket.  I started to think of plausible excuses.

"Before you try to talk your way out of it,"  Drat.  "I have to tell you that I read the inscription."  My eyes widened.  Any minute now, I'm going to have a heart attack.  "And I just wanted to say," he had stopped looking at me and was now staring at the locket as if it were a lifeline he couldn't lose sight of, "That I didn't know…I mean I thought you…what I mean to say is…"  He tore his eyes away and looked back at me.  And he just stopped talking.

I didn't know what to do.  He knew.  There was no way I could explain that locket to him.  He was just staring at me, holding it out between us, and without thinking I reached out and closed my hand around it.

But before I could pull away his hand closed around mine.  And suddenly we didn't have to say anything else.

********

            "Arnold, I'm not sure this is such a good idea."

            We were in front of my house again, waiting for the school bus together.  Arnold had the black eye I had predicted, but it looked kind of cute on him.  And we were holding hands.  Yes, that's right.  But I was scared to death.

            "Let's go over this again," he smiled at me, "You and I both know you're not the bully you appear to be."

            "Yeah…"

            "I love you, and you love me."

            "Yes…"  My heart did a little happy dance.

            "And I want the whole school to know about us."

            "Yeah, see, this is where I go into panic mode."

            He squeezed my hand a little tighter.  "Don't worry.  Once they understand the real you, they'll love you as much as I do.  Well not as much as me.  Maybe half as much.  Actually I'm not even sure if that's possible.  Can you half something infinite?"

            "You're so cute when you're confused."

            I was going to kiss his forehead, but broke away hurriedly when I saw the bus approaching.  This was not going to be easy.

            I took a deep breath as the driver screeched to a stop in front of us.  The door opened, and I put my free hand on the rail, preparing to step inside and face the scariest day of my life. 

Arnold must have sensed my hesitation, because he leaned in close to my ear and whispered, "Don't worry.  I'll be right with you."

******************

The cafeteria was noisy, but not as noisy as usual.  I leaned back in my plastic chair and put my feet up on the table.

Well, it hadn't been a very usual day.  The gang had taken Arnold and I surprisingly well, after the initial shock.  I had told the story at recess, Arnold almost proudly showing off his black eye beside me.  At one part I swear I caught Phoebe crying tears of joy, she was grinning so hard.  Even Rhonda surprised me by saying, "Finally!  I always knew you two would make it!" when I was done.  Arnold sat behind me for once in class, and the whole time he kept leaning forward like he had this morning and whispering…ahem.  On second thought there's no way I'm telling you what he was saying.  A girl has to have some privacy.  Suffice to say it was very sweet and I'm going straight to the mirror to look at my eyes with Miriam's engagement ring when I get home to see if I can find a difference.  If I can't I owe him a kiss.  Of course, if I can he owes me ten.

The best part of today as far as I'm concerned, however, was watching Arnold snub Liiiiiiiila.  Finally!  Of course, my beloved could never be truly cruel to her…yet.  I'm planning on giving him lessons.  At last I can put my years of bullying to good use, ha!

            Criminay!  I've been waiting almost ten minutes here!  Where's my food?  I put my feet down and looked towards the lunch line.  Ah.  Arnold was holding a tray loaded with his food and mine…and apparently having a heated argument with Phoebe.  Wow, two of the nicest people in the school, fighting?  I wondered what they were talking about and suddenly I heard Phoebe's voice from across the room.

            "I always get Helga her lunch!  I know what she likes, how much of it, what she can't stand-"

            "Pheebs, I am her boyfriend, she asked me to get her lunch, and that's what I'm doing!  Deal with it!"  Uh oh.  I was about to get up and protect Arnold (Phoebe can get pretty violent when she's mad) when I saw Gerald heading over to them.  He said something I couldn't hear, then led Phoebe away to another table, discreetly giving me a thumbs up as he did so.  I stopped worrying about Pheebs.  If anyone can calm her down, Gerald can.  Instead I looked happily at Arnold, who had sat down next to me.

            "Here you are, my angel.  Sorry I took so long."

            I blushed (I still wasn't used to him calling me cute little names.  I had resembled a tomato for most of second period.) and turned to my food.  It actually looked good.  Really good.  Too good, in fact, to have come from the lunch line.  I looked back at Arnold, who was beaming at me.

            "Do you like it?  I stopped at the deli on the way to your house this morning so we could have a proper celebration lunch."  He had unpacked a virtual picnic all over the table.  Picking up his pint of milk, he proposed a toast.

            "To the most wonderful, beautiful, intelligent, funny, brave, incredible. adorable—"

            "Arnold, I love you, but we only have 20 more minutes for lunch period."

            "Right.  Well anyway, here's to you, Helga G. Pataki, the love of my life."

            "I'll drink to that."  Who knew heaven was located in a cafeteria?

***********

            I was getting better at this not-blushing-when-Arnold-does-something-sweet thing.  By the last bell of the day, I was only a light pink.  Hey, it's progress.

            I had been having (for obvious reasons) a little trouble paying attention in class, however, so I wanted to borrow notes from Phoebe.  If I could find her.  Arnold and I were waiting outside the school room when I spotted her across the way.

            "Stay here my darling, I'll be back in a jif."

            "Love, I would wait for you forever."

            Still grinning, I made my way over to my best friend.

            "Hey Pheebs, I need the notes from today's class."

            "Oh, ok.  Which period?"

            "All of them."

            "All of them??"  She looked a bit shocked.

            "Yeah that's right.  Why, is there a problem with that?"  What's her deal?

            "Well, no…I mean, I'm amazed that you don't have notes from anything all day but…well you see, I won't have a chance to copy all of the notes down for you tonight.  I have a cello lesson, my fencing league, and I'm supposed to meet my mom to –"

            "Come on Pheebs I need those notes!  Besides, we have that math test tomorrow – if you don't help me study for it, I'm toast!"

            "I could help you study." a voice behind me said.

            I jumped and stifled a scream.  "Arnold!  Don't sneak up on me like that Foot—I mean…sorry Arnold."

            He only smiled at me.  "No problem.  But I'm good at math.  I could help you study."

            "Thanks for the thought, but Phoebe always helps me study for math tests."

            "It is true that Helga and I have acquired sufficient techniques in our study habits to provide satisfactory results on our examinations." Phoebe agreed thoughtfully.  "Very well Helga.  I am certain that my mother will understand if I put off our meeting to—"

            "Great Pheebs, seven o'clock, my house.  Don't forget."

            "Remembering." she waved goodbye and headed off.  Meanwhile I had taken a closer look at Arnold.

            "Um, Arnold?  Since when do you wear glasses?"

            "Oh these," he touched them gingerly, "Eugene found them in the drama room.  They're just glass, not prescription or anything.  I thought they would cover up the black eye a little."  His face did look somewhat better.

            "Well whatever works I guess.  Anyway, want to walk me home, Football Head?"

****************

            When Bob gets a new beeper commercial on the air, life in the Pataki house becomes even more unbearable than usual.  He was playing his latest over and over as loudly as possible downstairs.  Even with a pillow over my head I could still hear enough to drive me nuts.

            Big Bob's Beepers!

            Big Bob's Beepers!

            The Beeper King's

            Got everything!

            At Big Bob's—

            "AAAGH!"  I threw the pillow across the room and put on my coat.  It was only 6:30, but I could see there was no way Pheebs and I could study here tonight.

            "I'm going to Phoebe's!" I yelled at the trophy room as I ran down the stairs.  My mom mumbled something like a goodbye as I opened the door to leave and almost crashed right into-

            "Arnold?"

            He looked at me a bit sheepishly.  "Hi Helga."

            "What're you doing here?  I thought you were going to hang out with Gerald tonight."

            "I was, but, well, I just couldn't stop thinking about you.  Where are you going?  I thought Phoebe was coming to study with you."

            Big Bob's-- 

            I stepped outside and slammed the door shut behind me.  "Change of plans, I'm going over to her house instead."

            "Great!  I'll tag along with you, you know, walk you there and stuff."  He reminded me of a really happy puppy, standing there with that hopeful look on his face.

            "Um, sure, I guess that's ok."

            He took my hand and I felt myself melt inside.  Ahhhhh.  Too bad it was only a few blocks to Phoebe's house. 

            The sun was setting as we walked, so we looked like the perfect romantic picture, just any ole couple in love, strolling down gold-streaked streets.  (Hey that's pretty good.  I should remember to write that down later.)  Arnold told me how much he loved me while I drifted along in my own dream world.

            "…and the first time I saw you, in your cute little pink bow that matched your pants, I knew…"

            I was watching the sidewalk, counting the cracks as we passed them.  Forty-two, forty-three, forty-four…

            "…eyes are pools of blue I want to bath in…"  He paused for a breath.

            "Oh go on."

            "Ok I'll stop."

            "No, I mean it, go on." I instructed him.

            "Your adorable nose…"

            Seventy, seventy-one, seventy-two, seventy-three…

            "…when the stars light up at night, they only remind me…"  Another pause for a deep breath.

            One hundred thirty-four, one hundred thirty-five…

            Breathe.  "…love set in stone before…"  Breathe.  "…time had begun…"

            One hundred ninety-nine, two hundred…

            We had been walking pretty briskly, and at this point Arnold had to stop to catch his breath.  I looked around us.  We weren't anywhere near Phoebe's house yet.  I checked my watch.  It was almost 7.

            "You know Arnold, maybe you should just go home.  I need to study anyway and at this rate you're going to make me late."

            "No, I'm…"  Breathe.  "…fine…"

            "You are not fine.  Go home.  I'll see you tomorrow."  I started walking off, but soon realized he was following me.

            "I said go home Arnold!  You're going to make yourself sick or something!"

            "Helga…"  Breathe.  "…wait…"  Breathe.

            I started running, hoping he would get the hint and leave before he hurt himself.  Since when does Pheebs live so far away?  I glanced over my shoulder and to my annoyance he was still running along behind me.  Alright, if that's the way you want it.

            I took a sharp left down an alley.  Go home, Arnold!  Around the corner, behind the dumpsters, over the fence, down the street.  I could still hear him breathing behind me.  Leave me alone!

            "Helga…"  Breathe.  "Helga…"  Wheeze.

            Wheeze?

            I froze.  "Arnold…?"  Slowly, I turned around.  Arnold was almost doubled over, wheezing hard.  But, no, that wasn't…that couldn't be Arnold…he looked like—

            "B-brainy?"

            He looked up at me.  Wheeze.  "Uh…"  Wheeze.  "Arnold…"

            "You're not Arnold."  I was getting hysterical.  "You're not Arnold!  You're not!  You can't be!"

            "Yes…"

            "NO!"  I couldn't move.  Where was Arnold?  What had Brainy done to him?

            "Helga…"  It was Arnold's voice, but Brainy's face speaking to me.  I tried to shut it out, closing my eyes and putting my hands over my ears, but somehow his soft voice crept in.

            "Helga, isn't this how you wanted me?"

            No, I want Arnold!  Just Arnold!  I tried to tell the voice, but I couldn't speak.  I couldn't breathe.  ArnoldArnold!

            "Helga!"

            Arnold?  No.  "Phoebe?"

            "Helga!"

            "Pheebs?  Is that you?"

            "Helga, you're going to be late for school!"

            I opened my eyes.  All I could see was pink.  I untangled myself from my blankets and sat up.  I was in my room.

            "Helga, did you hear me?"

            "Yes, Miriam!  I hear you already!"  It was a dream, Helga.  Just a dream.  Doesn't mean a thing.

**********

            I stood outside nervously waiting for the bus.  Alone.  How much of my dream was, well, a dream?  Did Arnold know my secret?  How could I tell without actually asking him?  And was I about to fail a math test?

            The bus came to a stop in front of me and I decided the math test was the least of my worries.  Ok Helga, so the whole school may know your secret and your life may be over.   What's so bad about that?  I shook my head.  I'm Helga G. Pataki.  I'm getting on that bus and any kid who messes with me today is going to have a long talk with Old Betsy.

            I stepped onto the bus and glared around at everyone, but no one seemed to pay more attention to me than normal.  I saw Phoebe saving a seat for me near the back and headed in that direction.  Of course, that meant I had to pass Arnold, who was sitting next to Gerald just ahead of me.  No problem.  Just don't look at him.  Just don't –

            I had to look, and when I did I stopped and almost dropped my books.  Arnold looked back at me in surprise, reflecting my shocked face in his new—

            "Very nice Arnold, but may I have my glasses back now?  They're terribly, terribly expensive."

            "Sure."  Arnold took the frames off his face and handed them back to Peapod Kid.  "Thanks for letting me try them, I've always wondered what it would be like to wear glasses."

            "Helga?"  Gerald was giving me a weird look.  "What are you staring at us for?"

            Arnold didn't have glasses.  He didn't have a black eye, either.  He doesn't know!    I started to grin but at the last second realized what I was doing.

            "Staring?  Why would anyone even want to look at you freaks?  What are you talking about, Tall Hair Boy?"

            "He's right, Helga.  You were kind of staring."  Arnold looked at me expectantly.  No puppy dog eyes, just wondering what's going on.  Just being Arnold.

            "Well, if you must know…"  I'm happy you don't love me?  "If…I mean if you want to know why…"  No.  I'm happy you're still you.  "The fact is…the fact is that I was wondering why you were even allowed out in public this morning!  Look at you, your hair's a mess and you look like you slept in your clothes!  What'd you do, break the mirror when you looked in it this morning Football Head?"

            He could have retorted that I must not own a mirror, like Gerald did.  He could have said something nice to shut me up, like he often does.  He should have told me I had no reason to yell at him like that, because really, I didn't and I knew it.  He should have made me tell him what was wrong.  He should have stood up to me.

            But he didn't.  He just sighed and looked away.  He just took it and didn't say anything.  He doesn't do that as much as he used to, but he still sometimes lets me walk all over him.  Which is why I can't tell him how I feel.  Not yet.

I rolled my eyes and marched back to my seat, where Phoebe immediately started talking about the math test tomorrow.

A/N:  After watching "Married" (which I loved!!) I had this thought about the way Helga loves Arnold and had to write this little fic.  So figure it takes place between Married and the movie (obviously!).  It's pretty bad because I'm about to start a really really long story and I needed a break first…so this was it.  J  Heh, it's a cute bit of fluff anyway, no big deal.  Feel free to flame away.