Let's Be 'Friends'
Chapter Twenty-Five: With Love, Fuzzy Slippers
Lila was surprised to see chocolate handprints along the walls, but Brainy simply clicked his tongue and shook his head.
"Hey, it looks like they made a cake," Lila moved into the kitchen to examine the dessert. Something told Brainy to rush towards it. Instinct, a pretense to danger maybe.
It read in green decorative icing: LILA, WILL YOU GO OUT WITH ME?
Brainy almost fainted, but put on a stoic expression as he hoisted the cake into his arms and marched into the fancier living room. He wanted to throw the cake at wall. Or their heads. He shut the door and locked it, "Helga, what the fuck?"
Helga and Arnold were leaning against each other on the couch, fully dressed with their wet hair brushed back. Arnold was watching ESPN while Helga wrote. She looked away from her notebook and shrugged. "Wanted to make you a thank you cake."
"And asking out Lila is a thank you?"
"Yeah, you know," Arnold shrugged, "double dates and stuff."
"I already told you," Brian lowered his voice, "I can handle my own relationship. Besides, keeping it on the DL will be good. God knows what kind of havoc would be unleashed if the four of us went out together." He smirked and turned to leave, "By the way, you're cleaning up the kitchen."
Fuzzy Slippers was known in Hillwood as a lot of things - sneaky, underhanded, a gossiper, a papparazo, a stalker - but when he got his facts wrong he did everything in his power to fix it. He hated the idea of someone's reputation ruined on a lie. If it was going to be ruined, it was going to be based on their own wrongdoings brought into the light.
But things were different now.
"They think they can mess with me?" he mumbled as the picture uploaded onto his laptop. It was almost six a.m. and he hadn't been able to fall back asleep.
He'd suffered from insomnia since he was a kid. Bright computer lights never helped, sure, but his mind had a hard time shutting off regardless. He was always wondering what was happening in the night, what news would greet him in the morning. A city never sleeps and it's informant never does either.
Rhonda had been slacking as an Informer due to her new, intense, and odd love with Thaddeus. She'd always been in a relationship with her cell phone, but now she was cheating on Slippers. Sid threw himself into Slipper's work and was constantly on his phone, even in the shower. He was constantly refreshing his e-mail and checking his MMS Inbox. He was cracking. And Gerald was still reliable. And obviously planning against him with the enemy.
It was time to fight back.
The Hillwood High School hallways were abuzz with abnormal activity. It was only 7:06 am on a Wednesday and every student seemed alert, awake and talkative.
Helga heard everyone's voices lower as she passed, noticed everyone staring or looking at her sideways. She looked up from under her hooded sweatshirt, "Phoebe, am I missing something?"
"No. . .I am confused as well. Maybe Gerald can enlighten us," Phoebe waved her boyfriend over.
Arnold stopped a few feet back, forcing an uncomfortable face as he looked at his shoes. He had to act like he wasn't talking to Helga. Had to act like she hadn't just sucked his neck five minutes ago in his Packard. They were broken up.
Gerald was scrolling on his phone, reading a new e-mail and scanning the attached photo. The picture was loading slowly on the school's internet, but so far he saw Arnold walking outside, arm stretched out and holding. . .Gerald's eyes bulged in surprised. "Oh, shit." He flashed Phoebe his screen, putting a finger to his lips. Phoebe nodded in understanding. "Phoebe, sweetie, I think now would be the best time to escort our blonde friends to their first periods."
"Good idea. See you in biology," Phoebe kissed Gerald's cheek before grabbing Helga's arm.
Arnold finally lifted his head up and began listening to the lowered whispers. The kids were talking about him, of course they were, but what was the problem now?
"Lila and Arnold are back together!"
"Look! Yesterday's newspaper!"
"I can't believe it!"
"Lila moves fast!"
"No, Arnold moves fast!"
"WHAT?" Helga's shriek could be heard from across the courtyard. Arnold flinched. His instinct was to run to her, calm her down, let her rant until she ran out of breath. But he couldn't do that anymore.
He couldn't do anything anymore.
HELGA: LIBRARY BATHROOM. LUNCH. WE NEED TO TALK.
Lila snapped her cell phone shut before skirting off to her first period class. She was blissfully unaware of the news spreading about her, unaware that her Innocent Farm Girl act was being ripped to shreds. Lila was in her own little world that morning. She was too busy remembering last night.
She and Brainy had joined Arnold and Helga for a romantic evening. They all sat out on the patio with take-out food and candlelight after the kitchen was cleaned.
Around ten, Lila's father called and asked her to be home in time for her curfew. He was suspicious of his daughter's "illness," but knew Lila was truly a good girl. "Yes, sir. . . I'll be home within the hour. . . .Eating dinner. . ."
Brainy had taken the moment of Lila's sidestep to stretch his arm out over her chair, leaning his weight back against his chair's legs.
Helga pointed her chopsticks at Brian, "Please, just ask her out. You're killing me here."
Brian stuck out his tongue. "Icksnay on the atingday."
Arnold elbowed Helga playfully.
"Yes, sir," Lila quickly hung and dropped into her chair. Both Helga and Arnold were staring at her with small smiles. She leaned into Brian's shoulder, whispering, "Did I miss something?"
Brian swallowed hard. She hadn't purposely slid closer to him, but this was a truly golden opportunity. It was cheesy as hell, and he'd never hear the end of it from Helga, but damn it, he had to do it.
"Just this. . ."
The angle was awkward, but perfect for a chaste first kiss. Lila was caught off guard, but felt her hands find support on Brian's chest.
Lila sighed dreamily as she leaned against her locker, lost in the memory. She and Brian had set up a date for Friday night and she couldn't wait!
"Oh, my God, look at her, she's so in love," a girl's failed whisper made Lila's head snap up. Before she could ask them what they meant, the late bell rang.
Arnold shoved through the dissolving crowd of students, grabbing Lila's arm in a panic. "For the love of-fuck." He let her arm go and growled in frustration. "Are you okay?"
"I am fine. Are you okay?"
"You mean you haven't heard?" Arnold looked around, watching a few straggling students watch them.
Lila dropped her voice to a whisper, "Yes, I have, and I think your panic is only reassuring their rumors."
Arnold stepped back and tried to keep his expression neutral. "I'm just frustrated. Sorry. Thank you. At least one of us is keeping sane."
"We need to get to class."
They separated without so much as a goodbye.
Lila and Rhonda shared first period English. Today their teacher was showing the movie version of To Kill a Mockingbird, even though they hadn't read the book in class. Lila was able to slip into to the back of the dark room unnoticed. Rhonda saw her come in and pointed to Lila's bag, motioning for her to pick up her cell phone.
NEW TEXT MESSAGES: 2
RHONDA WELLINGTON-LLOYD: [image attachment]
RHONDA WELLINGTON-LLOYD: AND I THOUGHT *I* MOVED ON FAST.
Lila bit her lip. The photo was obviously edited, but it was pretty damning evidence. But Lila knew she had no right to respond without knowing what Arnold and Helga had been saying.
NEW TEXT MESSAGE TO: BRIAN ANDREWS
LILA: THERE ARE STILL PROBLEMS. I'LL KEEP YOU UPDATED, BUT FOR NOW, THINGS ARE GETTING WORSE.
Helga kept her forehead glued to her desk, refusing to even look up and acknowledge her presence for attendance. She didn't even care anymore.
This was just all a big pile of shit, really.
Where did Fuzzy Slippers have the right to spread lies? He doctored a photo!
Helga bit her lip to keep from screaming out in class. Rhonda, Sid and Gerald had all defended him before, claiming that Slippers wanted to do the "right thing" and get facts straight and true. To keep Hillwood from being poisoned or some bull like that.
And look where that got him! Lying to everyone in Hillwood!
If she ever learned his identity. . .
There was a reason Gerald was known as the smoothest guy in school. He kept his cool all the time, under any circumstances. Presentations, fights, even in PE pick up games, he was calm and direct. No unnecessary aggression or nerves could crack through his content shell.
He knew Slippers was onto him.
Gerald was sitting in the back of the Calculus classroom, panic creeping onto his relaxed features. Sweat built on the base of his neck, threatening to spill over and stick to his armpits.
Who wouldn't pick up the signs? After knowing the guy for years, Gerald liked to think he knew how Slippers' operated. He assumed that Fuzzy spent the last night photoshopping that pic for revenge, to get Gerald to crack and confess to his betrayal.
Gerald was torn. Arnold, Helga, and Lila were his friends. But Fuzzy Slippers was also his friend. Slippers trusted Gerald much more than any other person. And his betrayal was acted out irrationally on anger, but it had to be done. Gerald could not start regretting his decisions.
Arnold waited out by the parking lot for Sid to return from his smoking break.
If anyone knew how Arnold was feeling, it would be Sid. Still nursing his broken heart, working with Slippers still hasn't helped bandage it. It made Sid much more paranoid about daily activities, so much so that he was almost silent during hallway conversations. And in his silence, Sid thought constantly about Rhonda. Arnold could tell from the glossy eyes the sadness hidden just below the surface.
Sid looked surprised to see Arnold standing there, "Hey, Arnold. Uh, what can I do you for?"
"You know Lila and I aren't together, right?" Sid exhaled the smoke, stepping out his cigarette quickly. He shrugged in response. "Well, we're not. I still love Helga, even though-"
"I know," Sid put his hand on Arnold's shoulder, locking eyes with him. After a breath, Sid stepped back and began toying with the frayed end of his gray plaid shirt. "What can I help you with?"
Arnold pursed his lips. No. It was too crazy to ask. "I don't know if I can. . . I mean-"
"Come on, ask me."
An awkward silence settled in as Arnold faced an internal debate. To ask or not to ask?
"Well, Sid, I. . .I need Fuzzy Slipper's address."
Helga had been stalking the library bathroom for her past two free periods. Between super-secret-sneaking kisses with Arnold in the Ancient Latin and History of Latin section and faking doing her homework, Helga had actually managed to only see two people go into the bathroom. Which was perfect for her. Low people traffic was ideal.
Lila arrived just as the lunch bell rang. The library had cleared out, even the graying and over-tanned library assistant behind the desk had gone to eat in the teacher's lounge.
Lila smiled, green eyes shining as her pale blue skirt swished loose around her thighs. Helga pushed her hood off her head and pointed to the unisex bathroom door. Lila continued to walk, listening for the sound of Helga's footsteps behind her.
"Okay, Sugar Pie, listen up-" Helga slammed the door shut, locking it. "What the fuck?"
Lila maintained her composure, "I have no idea how I was put into that photo, Helga. You know it's not true."
"Are you sure you're not working for him?"
Lila giggled. "No one but Sid, Rhonda and Gerald know about Slippers. Honestly, I thought Slippers was an imaginary figure and Gerald was behind the curtain, so to speak."
Helga groaned. "How did he get that picture of you?"
"School website? Facebook? How should I know?"
"How did he get that photo of Arnold?"
"Helga, I told you-"
Helga slammed her hands on the sink, glaring at Lila's reflection, "I know, I know, I am just spitballing ideas. If we ask the right questions, we'll get the right answers."
Lila approached the sink, "Why would Slippers want to do this?"
"Revenge, " Helga shrugged, "or because he's a twisted bastard."
Lila rolled her eyes, "Let's stick with revenge. Why?"
"He's clearly after Arnold, and no one goes after that angel unless he's involved with something bad. And by that I mean me."
"So, do you think he knows you're not really broken up?"
Helga snapped her fingers and turned from the mirror, "Yes! He knows from that photo! Whoever took that wanted him to know! The newspaper was dated to yesterday, right, when Arnold and I were together all day?" Lila nodded. "Oh, Lila, you just keep getting better!"
"What are you going to do now?"
"I have to talk to Gerald, find out who took that photo." Helga unlocked the door and took off in a jog towards her books, shoving them into her backpack one swift motion.
This was going to end once and for all. No more peaceful negotiations or e-mails or text messages. Helga was going to start knocking heads. Ol' Betsey and the Five Avengers were officially out of retirement.
A/N: Guys, I need to take a hiatus.
One of my roommates died unexpectedly last week and, well, I'm trying to get my life back together.
I know everyone's been waiting and I hate that I never get around to updates, but my heart's really not in this now.
see you in the summer.