Disclaimer / A/N : All characters belong to Craig Bartlett / Viacom / etc. Any pop-culture & Hey Arnold universe references have been cross-checked with Wikipedia/Wikia and marked with an asterisk (*). Teen for language & situations.
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They both chuckled at their situation, before heading down the stairs.
"Ah, Eleanor, there you are! Did you enjoy your afternoon off?"
"Yeah, I had a pretty good time," Helga shrugged, accepting the mostly-thawed out hamburger patties.
The older blond smiled broadly, carefully moving the contents of the cooler so that things fit perfectly. "That's good to hear, making friends is crucial for this stage of your life."
Helga started handling a package of juice boxes, taking out half of them and packing those into the cooler. "Not necessarily..." she trailed off as she kept the rest in a corner of the trunk.
"Well, this 'stage' is all about finding yourself, right? It's hard to do that with noise. As in, other people's influences." With her hands to her hips, she surveyed their work. "The way I see it, as long as you've got inspiration, you know yourself. And you don't really need anyone else."
By this time, Gertie was looking over the young woman, clucking her tongue softly. "But what if your inspiration is a person?"
Helga stiffened at the suggestion, covertly turning her head to the older woman; who herself, was now gazing at Phil lovingly as he emerged from the back door. Helga mentally sighed in relief. I do not want to talk about Arnold if I can help it.
"Well, then you don't need anyone else but them," she whispered. Suddenly, the teenager's mouth felt dry, biting her lip anxiously when she caught sight of her darling, who was holding rolls assorted blankets under his arms. Criminy. When did I become such a throw-pillow?
For good measure, she made sure to punch Arnold on the shoulder when he passed by.
"What was that for?"
"Stand up straight, you look like Igor."
The two of them piled into the backseat of the olive green jalopy in relative silence, being told by the older couple that Vada and Tai were going to caravan them.
Helga seemed to have been acting strange since the incident that morning, and something in Arnold needed to set things straight. He guessed it was all from the bout of uncharacteristic flirting(? If it could be called that) he attempted, but it could have been something that Miriam did that afternoon. Whatever it was, he'd rather the air be cleared between them soon, because Helga reverting to her younger-self was something he didn't need when there were more important matters at hand.
It was seven when they arrived at the pier, the sun having not quite set. Arnold held open the car door for Helga, as a classic Harley-Davidson motorcycle* coasted up in the spot next to them. The two teens' jaws dropped.
Grandpa chuckled, slamming his own door. "Yeah, isn't that thing a beaut'? Pookie won't let me get one."
"We're getting old, dear. You'll end up losing your teeth in the wind!"
"Yeah yeah," he waved his hand dismissively, as he approached Tai and Vada with the three others in tow.
"Hi! I'm Vada," Vada smiled brightly up at the two, the small woman already eager to meet the new tenants.
Next, was her tall husband, military-shaved and professional. "And I'm Tai."
"You two must be Arnold and Helga!" Vada moved a dark brown curl from her face,"We've heard a lot about you two."
Helga chuckled, as Arnold responded, "Good things I hope?"
"Of course," Tai smiled, his eyes crinkling. "You guys haven't been here long enough for us to spy on you."
Everyone shared a good laugh, while Vada and Tai finished greeting Phil and Gertie. Apparently, the older couples have already talked of the night's itinerary, letting the teenagers know of it once they've arrived.
Alone time to roam around for an hour, then meeting back at parking promptly at eight. There, they'll all make their way to the beach, where there are public grills spread about the area and they'll set up their blankets for a nice, old fashioned barbecue, topped off with juice boxes and the bi-weekly bonfire.
So, Arnold and Helga were left alone together, on this pier littered with cheesy carnival games and just as cheesy couples. Of course they were going to play those games. It was better than milling about in the silence they've been in since morning.
Anything would be better than this. Helga rolled her eyes at the awkwardness. Sighing, she abruptly grabbed his wrist, pulling him to the closest booth. She dropped his hand when they entered the tent and her eyes fell on the display. Arnold shuddered slightly at the sight.
They were standing before a creepy, glass-enclosed mechanical fortune teller. Its eyes moved, looking at them expectantly; its inner mechanisms loudly shifting as its head bobbed up and down. Then it spoke, a grainy European accent twisting through the speaker, as it extended a robotic hand toward them.
"Would you like to know what your future holds?"
Arnold grimaced, "I don't think this is a good idea, Helga..." he lightly gripped the girl's elbow to usher her out, when she yanked it out of his grasp.
"C'mon ya big baby, you think this stuff is real or something? We're already here. Might as well get something out of it."
Digging around her pocket for the quarter she found while cleaning, Arnold shifted his weight from one heel to another. For some reason, he couldn't shake the feeling that something strange was going to come of this.
Helga's right though. I'm just being ridiculous. The guys and I always used this thing when we were kids...
His thoughts were interrupted by the sound of a coin falling through the slot, followed by the whirring of gears.
Arnold and Helga's eyes met for a brief second before the machine started talking.
"From here you two do not belong, you've arrived in time to right a wrong; the answer lies in not words, but song."
There was a heavy silence as the machine resigned to its original welcoming position.
Helga's voice shook slightly."W-What," she cleared her throat, backing away. "I-I remember it printing things out, not speaking actual fortunes!"
Arnold knew what was coming next, (she had that same look from when she thought she bombed an exam) and when she took her next breath, he calmly led the girl out. "Helga, please don't freak out! It wasn't as bad as I thought it'd be! Relax!"
Her blue eyes searched around frantically, as if looking for an answer to whatever just happened. Arnold held the other blond by the shoulders, bending his neck down slightly to be eye level with her. "C'mon Helga, get a grip on yourself. For me?" She immediately started relaxing. (Wow, have his eyes always been this consuming? she thought fleetingly.) "You're right, it was supposed to print something out. But it's also the seventies. Maybe it was just ...different. And —hey, look; I'm okay." he continued, "And I'm the one who didn't want to go in there."
Helga shook his hands off her shoulders, suddenly defensive. "Then why didn't you just tell me that?" she snapped.
His expression dead-panned. This girl. He pinched the bridge of his nose. "Let's just go play some more games before we dissect what that thing said, okay?"
It was a 'knock down the pyramid of milk bottles' game that caught their attention first. Helga smirked, her mood already improving. "Let's see how much better I am at this than you are, football-head."
"Yeah? Well you got yourself a competition, Pataki."
Arnold pulled out some of their joint savings for two separate rounds, asking specifically for a prize to whomever won fair and square.
It took three rounds, when suddenly Arnold threw his hands up in victory, having only beat Helga by half a second. The unamused booth-worker pulled off a large banana from the hooks behind them.
Arnold quirked a brow. "A... banana?"
The acne-prone teen shrugged in response. "Either that, or a strawberry. You guys didn't exactly play by the rules."
The blond sighed. "Fine, whatever."
When the two walked off, huge banana curled under Arnold's arm, Helga suddenly laughed.
Arnold pointed an annoyed look at the girl, who calmed down to explain her reaction. "Relax! So we paid 3 bucks for an obviously phallic object. But isn't it funny that our only choices were a banana or strawberry?"
The oblong-headed boy still didn't get it, and she continued, sighing. "You and Gerald were those fruits during my food pyramid musical in the fourth grade!"
A broad smile broke through Arnold's face, the adventure through downtown suddenly vivid in his mind. "Yeah, that's a pretty funny coincidence."
They moved onto a few other games on the boardwalk, Helga opting for the 'Strong-man bell'** as their last stop before meeting back up at the parking lot. By this time, Arnold had on him the banana, a spongy football, a pair of fuzzy dice (around his neck), John Lennon sunglasses, and a water gun in each pocket. Helga and Arnold both had on matching 'I [heart] Hillwood Pier' windbreakers, courtesy of a random person who was handing them out.
Not all the prizes on Arnold were his, of course. The two split their winnings evenly, and somehow were able to keep their apprehensions about the fortune-teller at bay. They kept the conversation light, they joking and goading eachother along the way to other games.
"Yeah you would have won if it weren't for that attractive guy that walked past right as I was about to hit."
"Whatever, Pataki. I creamed you."
Helga made a face, crinkling her nose. "Ugh gross."
"Wow. I really didn't mean it that way," Arnold looked at her wide-eyed and flustered.
"Relax, Arnoldo." she chuckled.
We're having a pretty good time, Arnold nodded to bell rang sharply, shaking the boy from his thoughts, and his eyes followed the ringer as it slid back down toward a widely grinning Helga. He laughed, shifting the items in his arms to to clap. And so, Helga won their second pair of Lennon glasses and a complimentary voucher for a free spot in the couples dance contest happening later that night.
She grimaced at the paper, about to give the innocent employee a piece of her mind. Arnold reached out to look at it. He shrugged.
"It looks fun. If we win, we'd be eligible for tickets to a concert. Maybe your parents would like it."
He didn't notice his companion's cheeks flare with the suggestion, covering it up with her response. "Uh-yeah. Didn't the thing say something about song being the answer? Maybe this'll be it."
She took the football from him in order to lighten his load, and they both headed to meet up with the older two pairs.
Stuffing everything they've won (except for the football and wind-breakers) into the car, they helped bring their picnic onto the beach, with Vada initiating conversation.
"Looks like you two were busy making everyone feel inadequate!"
"That was the plan." Helga smirked.
Tai interjected, "Why didn't you two ride any of the rides, though? That's what Vada and I did."
"Well, the Cheese Festival is this weekend, and I'm sure they have pretty much the same rides, so we just opted out this time," Arnold answered, helping lug the cooler along with his grandpa.
"Phil and I found the perfect spot while we were walking! There's a couple of tiki lamps left over from a party, so we could use that for light before the bonfire starts."
Everyone chatted lightheartedly as the burgers and hotdogs were grilling, looking around at the rest of the families that decided on doing the same thing for the night. Helga found it the right time to people-watch this newlywed couple.
Vada as mentioned earlier, is a short, stout woman. With dark brown hair, her fierce eyes complimented her personality well. Moxie** automatically came to Helga's mind. She wears a headscarf for every outfit. Because of her genial yet not overtly bubbly personality, Vada and Helga immediately hit it off.
Tai on the other hand, was the Yin to Vada's Yang; just as welcoming as his wife, yet had an air of reservation about him that held a strong, quiet confidence. He served briefly in the Vietnam War but was honorably discharged when his night terrors became increasingly worse. Vada rubbed Tai's back affectionately, as Arnold and Helga were rapt in fascination of the two's love story.
Tai threw them a crooked, thankful smile. "Yeah, she's the only one who can put up with them, and somehow" he shifted his eyes over to his wife, "—and somehow stop them."
"They get pretty bad sometimes; thank goodness we got the screaming to cut down before moving into the boarding house," her hand slid into the crown of his hair.
"How did... Why did..." Helga attempted to ask tentatively, but couldn't find the correct phrasing.
"Well. I'm an Asian-American; so a lot of it was guilt in being able to see myself within them. Some of the kids in the war, honestly didn't know what they were dying for— and would just have this look on them that I consciously kept trying to ignore. This look of innocent hatred. —I know it sounds crazy; like 'how could these two terms coincide,' but its just one of those experiences you can't forget. Even if you want to."
The two teens were almost at tears, as Phil and Gertie looked on, having already heard the story themselves.
Tai brightened up. "But with Vada's strength and support, I feel like maybe remembering isn't a bad thing; and coping isn't so hard anymore." He took her hand and kissed her palm.
Helga stood up, smiling gently at the two before excusing herself quietly. Arnold's eyes followed her movements, letting her walk along the shore for a few minutes before feeling compelled to follow.
Without a word, he slid his hand within hers, just as a reassuring gesture, and kept walking.
"Is something wrong?"
She didn't look up, yet answered in an unsure voice. "My parents... I know, I know they love eachother. But its definitely not like that." She gestured vaguely at the picnic table, "...And I know it's silly to think of, since we're pretty young; but I want a love like that." She let go of his hand.
He slipped them into his pockets and cleared his throat before speaking. "Helga, so what if we're young? It's okay to think of things like that. To want things like that. Everyone deserves love like that; and I'm sure someone will love you like that one day."
Her blue eyes pierced into his, as if trying to pry into his thoughts. All she saw was his honesty, and nothing more. Her gaze dropped. "You don't understand, Arnold."
She looked up once again, but he was gone.
Spinning around, she saw him kneeling into the surf, filling up both of the water pistols. He winked, aiming and shooting at her in the descending night, before running toward the safety of the table. She shook her head in response before smirking, and set off after the boy, both of them shooting at one another and both of them purposefully missing.
Arnold couldn't get rid of Helga's voiced-out thoughts. Throughout dinner, he kept glancing at this girl, this girl he's known and loved for so long... Wait, love? He darted his gaze to the other two couples, shaking his head. It's a different love, not their love. He reassured himself this. He wasn't sure he was yet capable of loving someone so deeply, and yet...
A piece of burger lodged itself happily in his windpipe, causing him to sputter helplessly as Helga reflexively reached for a juicebox to place at his mouth as her other hand patted his back rhythmically.
"Criminy football-head, learn to eat!"
He laughed weakly after the episode, looking at her thankfully. But their eyes lingered too long on one another's and he swore he couldn't look away.
Helga snapped her neck toward the pier above them, clearing her throat as she did so. "Is-is it just me or did you hear our names?"
The rest of them craned their necks to listen to the weak, bullhorn echo of what seemed to be an announcement, stemming from the direction of the setting sun.
WILL THE GUEST-COMPETITORS - MARIE AND MAX, ARNOLD AND HELGA, DAMIEN AND ANNA, ZEKE AND NATASHA - MAKE THEIR WAY TO THE DANCE FLOOR FOR OUR AMATEUR HOUR! FIVE MINUTES OR THE SPOT GETS TAKEN BY A PAIR OF VOLUNTEERS.
By the time Helga looked back at Arnold to make sure he wanted to do this, he was already up and had an elbow extended toward her. The rest of the family stood up as well, eager to see whether they'll fare well. The girl sighed, knees slightly shaking from nervousness.
"What if we make fools of ourselves?"
"We won't. There are far worse dancers than us. Especially ones usually found at the strong-man bell. Besides, if I remember correctly, we don't make a bad pair on the dancefloor."
He winked again toward her, not that she was keeping count. (She really was.)
As they all walked along, Helga thought back to their very first dance, where he spun her almost aggressively (well as aggressive as Arnold can get) across the gym floor —and then again during an awkward middle school dance where the teachers insisted that everybody paired up so as not to feel left out. He just so happened to have been next to her in line for punch.
Her partner that night could have easily been Pink-boy or Sid, if it weren't for her brash self pushing her and Phoebe's way through the crowd. She gulped, almost having forgotten that memory. Her small palms were so sweaty, but so were his, from trying to ask some other older girl to dance. She remembered how he ranted quietly to her while they so naturally glided along, not even noticing the growing crowd of people that formed to watch the prepubescent couple exhibit some other-worldly grace.
She remembered how both relieved and annoyed she felt toward him then; relieved that he wasn't dancing with that airhead (he always seemed to be attracted to those), yet annoyed because that's all he talked about. But then at the end of the song, he looked her in the eye (finally her height) and smiled with gratification.
"Thanks for the dance, Helga."
"Y-yeah. No problem, Arnold."
Since then, no one dared make fun of the spectacle (save for Harold who got the air knocked out of him for it) and it became one of those fleeting moments, tucked in the folds of her memory. Maybe even his memory.
So there they were. On a large space of plywood, underneath cheap hanging lights, with The Temptations* blaring through the speakers that called for them earlier. They surely weren't alone, people were milling about to watch, along with the older couples, and the other contestants showed up around the time they did. There was even a pair, Marie and Max, who were the tender age of nine. But Helga surely felt like they were alone.
Arnold whistled in awe. "Brave kids."
"I've known braver."
She stilled her quickened heart using the breathing exercises she learned from Dr. Bliss from so long ago. Things seemed to be going crazy for her, she didn't need those techniques for the longest time. If Arnold was nervous, he surely didn't show it, and he led her along; spins and dips, smiles and silent conversation through their eyes.
They won, of course. The other couples were dismissed fairly quickly, but the judges for some reason, decided to let the song play till its end, where everyone erupted into hollers and applause.
Helga blushed, ducking away quickly to where someone held out their free tickets, and the two blonds were waved over by Arnold's grandparents.
Vada and Tai smiled brightly at the two when Gertie gushed, "Wow, it was like you guys were professionals!"
Arnold bashfully rubbed the back of his neck. "I was just taught, is all. Besides, Helga did most of the work."
Her jaw dropped. What is he talking about...? But before she was able to speak, the Honduran ran up to the two of them, breathless.
Arnold backed away from the other boy cautiously, eliciting an odd look from Helga, as the older couples went to talk to the other competitors from earlier. The darker skinned boy smiled, not noticing Arnold's reaction.
"I wanted to congratulate you. My people have an appreciation for the art of dance." The boy then reached out to pat the blond's shoulder, but Arnold flinched and jerked away from the motion.
Honduran seemed a bit crestfallen, causing Helga to pull Arnold by the elbow and hold a finger to the other kid. "One moment."
Her voice lowered to a harsh whisper. "What is wrong with you? Wasn't it just a day ago you were jumping at the chance to talk to this kid?"
"Yeah but.. I'm not supposed to trust him." He shot the shorter boy a suspicious look, as the foreigner idly glanced around.
It was Helga's turn to don a deadpan expression. "Oh, right. Of course."
"Look, I'll tell you tonight. Just. We need to get out of here."
Helga sighed, having lost patience a minute ago. "Yeah whatever."
She turned to the kid, taking up the responsibility of getting rid of him. "Look, I'm going to throw up from all the corn dogs from earlier, so if you excuse Arnold and I, we'll just see you at school."
The boy nodded sympathetically at her fictitious pain, hobbling away.
"See? Piece of cake. Why can't you be less obvious."
Arnold shrugged, "I'm just an honest guy."
"Well, too bad for you because we're secretly in the wrong era."
"Let's just go."
It was 10pm when everyone clattered back into the boarding house, Jimmy having just tucked in Miles.
Phil slapped his oldest son's back jovially. "Arnold and Helga won free tickets to a concert!"
Arnold nodded, while bringing their assorted prizes up the stairs, having every intention to place them in Miles's room. Helga spoke for the both of them. "Yeah, we danced our asses off."
"They were marvelous!" Vada chimed in, with Tai following.
Jimmy nodded in approval. "I'd like to see this sometime. What concert?"
Helga stuck her tongue out in concentration as she fished her windbreaker for the stubs. "James Brown."
"Yeah, but we're planning on giving them to a friend of mine, she's way more of a fan than we are." She ascended up the stairs, with the brunette right behind.
"Charitable, if I do say so myself."
This was too much. Sure, the guys in high school were said to have found her attractive, but she was also intimidating, so she didn't need to associate with guys she found aesthetically pleasing unless she desensitized herself to it. Arnold was the only exception. And now it felt like there were two of him.
Jimmy passed her as he walked toward his room, and Helga opened the door to her and Arnold's. Or rather, she would have opened the door, if it weren't locked. Thinking he was changing or something, she made her way to the bathroom, passing by Mr. Smith's door on the way.
A camera flash, and subsequent printing noise. She turned her head toward the door, seeing a slip of paper emerge from a part of the wall where a doorbell would be.
You have been compromised.
The pixie-cut blond walked closer to the door, and it opened on its own accord, a blinding white light engulfing her vision.
A/N: Oh man oh man what's gonna happen.
*Harley-Davidson: I was thinking specifically the 1950 Panhead
The Temptations: Band of the 70's. (Just My Imagination)
**Strong-man Bell: AKA High Striker
Moxie: (n.) slang; The ability to face difficulty with spirit and courage. Aggressive energy; initiative.