Disclaimer: I'm not Craig. I write like a girl. :)
A/N: Don't worry, I'm hard at work on Hot Air (shameless plug: read it, it's good…or if not read it anyway and humor me, grin) but I had to write this all of a sudden. This takes place directly after the events of "Helga's Locket", during "Arnold Saves Sid". Don't ask me how that works, it's just the way the story shaped out, lol.~PJ
By Pyrus Japonica
"Fancy meeting you here."
"Yeah, um, it's quite a coincidence really. Heh."
The old man slid (as best he could, his one good hip was in his other pants) through a clump of bushes, made a show of looking around him and sat down harder than he intended on the park bench. He folded his hands and twiddled his thumbs while he waited.
It was an unusual area of the park to be in. There wasn't a lot of grass for picnicking, no fountains or sculptures, and not a particularly nice view from the bench. But then the old man wasn't here for the view. The bench leaned up against a fairly large tree, facing away from it. Most people would never have noticed it, hidden behind bushes and facing nothing as it was. It was as if the park designer had been left with a corner of empty space, but was out of ideas, so he just stuck in the bench and a couple of trees.
And the old man waited.
A breeze rustled the tree above his head, and a few acorns plopped down around him. A squirrel, noticing this, crept carefully towards them, not sure if the old man was a danger yet.
And the old man waited.
The squirrel became braver, and soon he was scurrying along gathering nuts as if the intruder on the bench didn't exist, occasionally glancing at him as if wondering whether he was actually a nut himself.
And still the old man waited.
Suddenly from behind him came a crashing through the surrounding bushes. Someone collapsed on the ground beneath the oak tree and breathed as if they had been running hard. The squirrel, much offended, ran off to seek politer company. The old man didn't turn around. But he spoke.
"Yer late, Pataki."
The girl behind the tree caught her breath finally.
"O-o-o-lga's coming tomorrow. I had to clean the trophy room before Bob would let me out of the house."
The man's face hardened. "That blowhard Pataki is the worst—"
"You don't have to tell me about him, Gramps. I live with the guy, remember?"
There was silence for a while. The two of them stared in opposite directions, Grandpa towards where the squirrel had run to, Helga towards the bushes. Neither showed any sign of getting up to join the other, either behind the tree or on the bench. A casual observer might not even know they were meeting each other.
"Well, I guess you're back then, huh?"
"For how long?"
"You gonna stand there asking me questions all night?"
"You could have told me about the locket."
The girl squirmed a bit even though Grandpa wasn't looking at her. "You never asked."
"How did Pookie get ahold of it?"
"Ah, I see. Well you'll be happy to know that I love my Hedy-Lamar-eating-a-sandwich locket almost as much as my Arnold one."
"My Arnold one."
"And I still say you're crazy."
"This coming from the geezer who spent the whole day talking to a picture of his grandson."
"Are you saying you've never talked to it?"
There was silence from behind the tree. The old man chuckled gleefully.
"Actually, there is something I've been meaning to ask you."
"Meaning to? I just got back tonight, Phil."
"I've sort of been meaning to ask for about five years. Ever since you left."
"So let's see. There's been the locket, the parrot, the pink notebook with all them loony poems in it, and that time you left that answering message on our machine. You know, for a girl who doesn't want her secret getting out you sure leave a lot of clues."
Helga scoffed. "The football-head wouldn't realize the truth if I flat out confessed to him. He's dense."
"My grandson is not—"
"Listen Phil, I've come so close to telling him, the "l" sound in "love" had come out of my mouth. And he still thinks I hate him."
This time the silence came from the bench.
"What did you want to ask me, Chin Boy?"
"Um, well it's really about Chin Boy. And making fun of my batting stance. And the tacks in my chair, and getting me in trouble all the time, and that anthill incident, and—"
"What's your point?"
"…of course, he does have you and Gertie's genes. Maybe it's genetic."
"Watch it, Miss Eyebrow. I could go on for a long time about your relatives."
"So could I." Helga mumbled, but Grandpa heard.
There was silence for another moment, then he changed the subject back to the matter at hand.
"Really though, it's getting harder to cover up for you. That parrot was the worst, I had to keep threatening to turn it into a pie every time it started spouting poetry."
"That parrot was a nightmare. I saw you got your ceiling fixed, by the way."
"Yeah, thanks to that "mysterious" check someone slipped under our door. It's amazing how good you are at forging Big Bob's signature."
"I outta be, I've been signing my own sick excuses for school ever since I learned to write."
"Won't he miss the money though?"
"Naw, I used Miriam's checkbook for their joint account. He'll never know."
"I guess…well what I mean is…did you do all that stuff just because you really hated me? Were you just being mean? Or…or did you maybe have a reason?"
"I had a reason."
Helga leaned up against the tree and stared at the sky. The sunset was in the other direction but even on this side the clouds were streaked with orange, the tips of them golden as Arnold's hair. She let out a dreamy sigh.
"So what have you got for me?" Grandpa asked.
Helga shook her head slightly. "Arnold and Sid were hanging out the other day and Arnold kept a chicken sign from falling on Sid's head."
"That's my grandson, always noble, kind, self-sacrificing—"
"Yeah yeah anyway Sid's been following Arnold around like a lost puppy dog ever since, trying to repay him."
"As right he should. Why, when I was a lad—"
"Hello, it's driving Arnold nuts!"
"Well I always say a little nuts is good for the soul. But I see your point. I remember Jimmy Kafka and I—"
"Save the spiel, Gramps, and tell it to Arnold."
"I plan to. If I can remember it. Well, if not I'll just make it up like I usually do."
Helga rolled her eyes. How did Arnold turn out so normal?
"Well? What was the reason?"
"You know, it's getting late, I should really get to bed—"
"It's 6:30, Gertie."
"Why so it is! Time flies when you're having fun. See you in the morning!"
"Gertie come on, you can tell me."
"I don't know Phil…it was a long time ago."
"Not that long. Don't go. Why'd you do it Gertie?"
Grandpa stared at the sunset. He knew what he had to say was not going to make the girl happy.
"Helga." She started at the sound. He almost never called her by name.
"You should tell him."
The reaction was immediate, and exactly what he expected.
"Are you crazy?? If I tell him that the one girl he hates more than anyone in the world is secretly laladoot in love with him, do you know what he'll do? He'll shun me! Worse, he'll laugh at me! I'll never be able to hold my head up again!" She jumped up and crashed back through the bushes.
Grandpa snuck a peak around the tree and watched her go. She'll never tell him. He's going to have to make her.
"I don't know why I did it Phil. I mean, you do have that chin. And your batting stance was horrible. And you looked awful funny jumping off those tacks when—"
"Ok ok, I get the point. So I was just a laugh to you, is that it?"
"Yes…no…no, you weren't. It was more than that. I just…wanted to get your attention, that's all."
"You had my attention."
"Yes well, one does tend to notice the person tying you to an ant hill."
"Before that, even. You always had my attention, from the moment I first met you. I liked you -- when you weren't torturing me that is."
"I liked you too."
"Is that you Mr. President?"
"Yeah I'm home Pookie."
Grandma poked her head around the corner and smiled at him. "Did you have a nice chat with Eleanor?"
He didn't answer. Arnold came down the stairs and smiled also.
"Hey Grandpa, where've you been? Dinner's been ready for ten minutes."
"Now don't bother the President, Slick. He doesn't have time for an interview, even if you are the top reporter in the country. But come and have some watermelon."
"I'll be right there." Grandpa watched as his wife and grandson went into the dining room, then he pulled his locket out of his shirt pocket.
It didn't have a picture of Hedy Lamar in it. It had cutouts from two different pictures. One photo was of a girl in a pink dress writing in a notebook with a far off look on her face. The other had a boy dressed up and looking out a window. Beside him was what looked like a girl's red shoe. Neither subject had known their picture was being taken. Grandpa grinned at his two favorite blondes and whispered to them, "I'm working on it, you two. You'll see."
The old man tucked his locket away and headed towards his family. "I'm a wily old coot," he muttered, still grinning. Pookie had put a record on. It was an old Dino Spumoni song.
Dino Spumoni was singing across the street at the Circle Theatre. Phil and Gertie were just standing on the sidewalk, looking as if they had never really seen each other before. Phil blinked.
"Um…do you like to dance?"
"With you?" Gertie never messed around.
"Well, yeah. If you want to, that is."
Suddenly she smiled, and Phil found himself thinking he had never seen anything so beautiful. "I'd love to."
Phil linked his arm through hers. "Let's cut a rug, Pookie."
She stopped. "What did you just call me?"
Phil wasn't quite sure himself. "Uh, Pookie, I think. I guess that's kind of silly." He let go of her arm and rubbed the back of his neck.
She always thought he looked cute when he did that. "I like it," she said simply, and held out her hand. He took it, and they crossed the street together.