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Yes, No, Maybe So

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What is this?  Is this real?

So the tormentor of my very soul, the football head that haunts my dreams, the love of my life, just dropped a note on my desk.  And he wasn’t very discreet about it either.  He was passing by my seat while going to the pencil sharpener, leaned in a bit, and dropped a folded piece of paper right in front of me.  He was even looking away as he did it, striving to appear as inconspicuous as possible.  Like it’s some big secret or something.

But seriously.  What is this?  Is this some sort of joke?  A failed attempt at revenge for all the spitballs I threw at him in elementary school?

In an attempt to calm my nerves, I heave a sigh as I open the note with care.  I mean, what if it is important somehow?  I wouldn’t want to accidentally rip it to shreds if it were a life-or-death situation or something.  But why should I care anyway?  It’s probably some stupid note asking about homework, or something mundane like that.

However, the air escapes my lungs the moment I read the scribbled words.

Will you go out with me?
____  Yes
____  No
____  Maybe


What?
  My eyes dart to and fro, all over the classroom.  What could be the point of this?  Who the hell does he want me to pass it to anyway?  Who even wrote this?  Did Arnold write this himself?  But it looks…different.  I mean, I thought I knew his handwriting as well as my own, so it can’t be his.  It’s too neatWhy did I decide to stop stalking him when we entered junior high school again? 

I’m completely at a loss, and desperate to find any sort of hint.  My eyes focus on Arnold, now back to sitting at his desk in the front row.  He’s not showing any sign of…anything, really.  He’s only looking at the teacher as she writes some complicated algebra problem on the whiteboard.  He’s always been a goody two shoes like that.  It’s almost like he tries to be the teacher’s pet or something!

…Okay, I’m digressing.  So what should I do?  This is probably Arnold just being the Good Samaritan and passing it on.  If he was, then why did he give it to me?  Especially when he gave no indication of who it’s for.  Oh well.  It’s not like my life is hanging in the balance of whether the recipient were to receive this stupid message anyway.  I mean, come on.  A confession note, complete with a multiple-choice reply?  Who even does that anymore?  This is high school for criminy sakes!

Before I know it, I’m back to doodling footballs in the margin of my notebook.

It’s not until the bell rings, signaling us to put away our supplies and leave, that I remember the note on my desk from earlier.  I end up throwing it away in the trashcan on my way out.  It was taking up space anyway.

Things are looking good.  I guess I can be excited for-

“Helga!”

Oh why does my heart always skip when I hear that voice?  I’m too old for this shit, dammit!  I turn to look as Arnold runs up to me.  “What do you want?” I ask, immediately feeling a pang of guilt at the acidity in my voice.  Why do I always do that?

I regret it the moment I see his face.  His brows are furrowed in…is that worry?  Or is that confusion?  “Why did you throw away that note?”

Whoa, he noticed?!  “What the hell, Shortman?  Are you spying on me or something?”

Okay, now the look on his face is frustration.  I can see it in the way his eyes narrow.  “Why wouldn’t I notice?  I was the one who passed it to you, remember?”

I roll my eyes.  Of course he would worry about that note, now that I think about it.  He’s just doing his job, like he always does.  “Because you’re our friendly neighborhood do-gooder Arnold, doing everything in your power to help everyone else.  How could I possibly forget?”

His eyes widen, exasperated.  “What?  Helga, that has nothing to do with anything!”

“And your point is?”

“Helga, that note was supposed to be-”

“For one of your hundreds of friends, I know.”  I wave my hand at him in nonchalance as I turn my gaze away.  My eyes are everywhere, looking to find a means of escape.  Arnold’s really focused on the stupid note for some reason, and it’s starting to make my stomach churn in unease.  “Next time you decide to recruit me to help you, I’ll be nicer.  I’ll actually pass it along.  Just let me know to whom next time, will ya?”

Arnold sputters, like he’s desperately trying to vocalize his thoughts but failing miserably.  What is with him today?  I’d laugh in his face if I weren’t so absorbed in trying to get away.  “But Helga, I-”

Thank god, I see Phoebe approaching her locker down the hallway, unveiling my perfect getaway route.  She always was a good scapegoat when it came to the subject of Arnold.  “Oh, I see Pheebs!  She’s been dying to ask me about that history project we’re working on, and you know what they say: ‘By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.’  Or something like that.  Well, catch ya on the flipside, Football Head!”

“Helga-!”

His voice is nothing but a distant murmur in the back of my mind as I head toward my destination, dodging through the clusters of students in my way.  More like pushing them out of the way, but to each her own.  I catch Phoebe right as she closes her locker shut, balancing her textbooks in her lean arms before putting them in her tote bag.  When she notices my presence, she turns for a regular greeting, a friendly smile gracing her lips.  That smile disappears, almost in surprise, when she notices how out of breath I am, my chest heaving.

“Helga?” she asks, her eyebrow raising in question.  “Why do you appear so…out of breath?”

I chuckle.  Or at least, I try to chuckle, but it sounds too breathy; way too quiet to reach Phoebe’s ears. “Oh, you know, just doing my daily jog.”

Phoebe’s eyes narrow behind the oval frames of her glasses, catching on to my obvious lie.  “Helga, it’s ten fifty.  And we’re between classes.”

Shit, she got me there.  Well, I might as well continue with this story.  I’ve always been a ‘Go big or go home’ kind of gal.  “It…was a quick jog?”  Yep, because that was believable.

Her chest expands before heaving a sigh, shaking her head.  “What’s really happening, Helga?”

Well, there’s no use fighting a losing battle.  Deep inside, I knew from the start that she’d figure it out; she always does anyway.  In fact, this might be a record for her.  “Okay, Pheebs, okay.  I wanted to get away from a certain person.”

Phoebe’s eyes widen, glistening with intrigue.  “By any chance, are you talking about-”

“Don’t say it.”

“Ice Cream?”

Before I can stop myself, I smack my forehead with my hand, letting my palm drag down my face.  “Oh god.  Of all the different ways you could have done it, why did you have to call him that?”

She raises her hand to her mouth, attempting - and failing - to stifle her giggles.  “Well, I recall you telling me not to speak his name.”

My shoulders sag in defeat, my head craning back to look at the ceiling.  I say nothing, contemplating my life choices while I give Phoebe time to make it through her giggle fit.  I wait until she’s finished before confirming her suspicions.  The last thing I want is her laughing at how much of a basket case I am.  “Yeah.  It’s about…Ice Cream.”  I cringe at the nickname.

Luckily, Phoebe doesn’t laugh; only looks of curiosity are evident.  “What happened?”

I survey my surroundings before I continue, making sure the subject of our discussion is nowhere in sight.  When I see the coast is clear, I sigh.  For as observant as my best friend can be, I hope she doesn’t notice how relieved that sigh sounded.  “Let’s just say he’s acting weird.  Like really weird.  I’m talking crazy Twilight Zone levels of weird.  I’m half expecting him to pull a mask over his head, revealing he’s some alien or something.”

She giggles at my comparison before her brows bunch together, her lips pursing in thought.  “How so, Helga?”

Before I can open my mouth for an answer, the rattling clatter of the warning bell reverberates throughout the school halls.  It looks like I don’t have to explain myself to Phoebe for the time being.  I can have the chance to better organize my thoughts before finally confronting her.

Perfect.

I look at my watch, feigning surprise as I adjust the backpack strap on my shoulder.  “Oh wow, is it that time already?  Man, I gotta get to science before the teacher completely eviscerates me.  See you later, Pheebs!”

…and now I’m running away for the second time today.  This is getting ridiculous.  I should be ashamed.  Phoebe’s my best friend; I shouldn’t be avoiding her too.

Well, this will probably all blow over soon, and I won’t ever have to talk about this again.  That would be great, because I wouldn’t have to concern myself with the subject of Arnold acting like a total loon.

 


 

I’ve never been one interested in superstition.  No, let me rephrase that: I haven’t been one interested in superstition since I entered junior high and nothing happened to my mom after I had accidentally stepped on a crack in the sidewalk.  But I have to say that the phrase, “Don’t count your chickens before they hatch,” has never fit my life as much as right now. 

It’s been a few days after the…‘note incident,’ and there hadn’t been anything out of the ordinary from Arnold since.  I was just about to forget it even happened before I notice a familiar mane of cornflower hair enter my peripheral while rummaging through my locker for morning supplies.  What is happening?  Why is this happening?  School hasn’t even started, for crying out loud!  Is it too much to ask for some peace and quiet amongst all the clamor of students socializing around me?

I try my best to make no changes in my demeanor as I continue to collect my necessary binders and notebooks.  If I can’t see him, then he can’t see me, right?  Oh, who the hell am I even kidding?

He clears his throat, but I don’t budge, pretending to not have heard him.  Maybe he’ll leave if I pay him no heed-

“Hey there, Helga.”

Shit.  Wait, why am I so surprised?  It’s Arnold after all.  He’s never been the sort to leave when receiving no response.  I roll my eyes as I turn to look at him.  He’s smiling at me and why does he look so…off?  Is it because he’s constantly shifting his weight from one foot to the other?  Is it because he seems like he doesn’t know what to do with his hands – fidgeting between being in his pockets to adjusting the straps of his backpack to combing through his blond hair?  Or is it because his emerald eyes are darting to and from my own, like he can’t keep eye contact with me for some reason?  Yep, I should just admit it now: Arnold’s become a total loon.  “What do you want this time, Arnoldo?”

He shrugs, a soft chuckle escaping his lips.  The sound resonates straight to my racing heart.  “Who said I wanted anything from you?  Maybe I wanted to talk.”  His gaze drops to his hand, which I now notice is hiding behind his back.  Has his arm been like that the entire time?  “Or, uh, show you something.”

What?  “Huh?”

Arnold slowly moves his arm, revealing a yellow daisy in his hand.  What is even happening?  Is this real?  I suddenly feel like I’ve been thrown into a fever dream.  It’s like my subconscious took his behavior from a few days ago, mixed it with a cherished memory of him handing me a flower identical to that one when we were nine, and threw it all into a blender along with Miriam’s favorite vodka.  Part of me is waiting for the cameras.

My ears have reached some sort of hyper-awareness, picking up on all of the sounds around us.  A group of girls laughing at some inside joke.  Someone running past, their ragged breathing only audible for a brief moment.  A group of guys shouting, “Oohhhhh!” and laughing at how their friend did something stupid. All of these sounds only make the silence between us even more apparent.  I want to say something, but my voice won’t respond to my brain.  All I can do is look up at him with an eyebrow raised.

He clears his throat, his mouth turning up into a tight smile.  Why does he look so tense?  “Uh, isn’t it pretty?”

Okay, nothing makes sense anymore.  How can I even properly react?  This is just too weird.  A million questions spill out of my mouth before I can stop it.  “What are you doing with a flower?  Were you carrying it around all morning?  You’re not the type of guy who would just pick a random flower and-no, wait.  You totally would.”

Chuckling at my interrogation, Arnold leans against the locker next to me.  His smile looks more relaxed than earlier, now turning into a smirk.  “Sounds like someone knows a lot about me.”

What’s his deal?  Shouldn’t he be getting at least a little bit angry?  I practically insulted the guy!  I scoff as I turn my attention back to my locker, finishing what I had originally set out to do.  Anything to distract me from the pounding against my ribs.  “It’s nothing to get too worked up about.  It’s not like you’re that closed of a book or anythi-”

“I never said it was a bad thing.”

What the hell?

An abrupt metallic clang meets my ears, causing my heart to skip a beat.  Holy shit, did I just drop the book that was in my hand?  While my hand was still in the locker?  Have I ever done that before?  My heart now racing a fucking Olympic triathlon in my chest, I look at Arnold and fuck.  His eyes are now half-lidded, his smile lop-sided.  It’s the expression I’ve dreamed about since I was three.  It takes everything in me not to let out a dopey sigh or abscond from the conversation.  I shake my head, attempting to retain some of my previous composure.  “Shut up.  Why do you even have that flower anyway?”

His grin fades as he looks away.  A red hue flushes his cheeks, his free hand reaching up to scratch the back of his neck.  A nervous tick.  Wait…is he nervous?  About what?  “Well, I was helping Grandpa this morning with the landscaping and this was just something I picked.”

What?  A beat of silence passes between us before I find my voice again.  “…so why do you still have it?”

Arnold shrugs, his eyes meeting mine.  “I dunno.  I thought maybe you’d want it?”  He winces right after he finishes.  It’s like he’s not happy with the unsure tone of his voice or something.

WHAT?  I mean.  What the actual fuck?  Yeah, this must seriously be a dream.  Some really wacked out dream.  Maybe I drank another concoction from that sketchy potions shop?  But I haven’t been there in years.  “Wh-why in the hell would I want a random flower you’ve been carrying for who knows how long?”

The red on Arnold’s cheeks deepen.  “Phoebe said that you.”  His shoulders stiffen.  “I heard that it’s your, uh.”  His hand goes back to scratching his neck.  “I mean.  Don’t girls like flowers?”

Huh?  Did he seriously just ask me that?  I don’t know why, but I can feel my heart start to pound from something other than nervousness.  My hands ball into fists of their own volition, an involuntary reaction retained from my childhood.  I should probably get the hell out of here before I do something I regret.  “Why are you asking me?  When have I ever been classified as a ‘girl’?”

Before he can respond, I turn back to my locker.  With hurried and deliberate movements, I grab everything I need and shove them into my bag.  I hear him sigh from next to me.  “Yeah.  I guess you’re right.”  Another sigh.  “Sorry I asked.”

I take my anger out on my poor locker, slamming it shut with a clash.  He flinches when I glare up at him.  “You better be sorry, bucko.  Now get out of my way.  I gotta get to class.”

His shoulders slump, his mouth forming a slight frown.  “Whatever you say, Helga.”

Does he look so disappointed?  Why am I questioning everything lately?  Not wanting to stay and awkwardly stare at him, I force my legs to move, my shoulder smacking into his as I pass.  I pretend to ignore the grunt that leaves his lips.

But seriously.  What’s up with him lately?  Why is he acting like an alien invaded and snatched up his body?  I’ve never seen him like this.  Maybe I truly am stuck in an episode of The Twilight Zone.

Although I try with the best of my abilities to ditch any thoughts of him for the rest of the day, my mind always finds a way to guide me back.  Math class is pretty damn awkward, with me shunning Arnold by burying my face into my notes, as if I’m actually trying to focus on the nonsense spouting from the teacher’s mouth.

After that surreal experience, I bet Arnold will finally snap back to reality, and start acting like his normal self.

 


 

 …I guess I spoke too soon.  Again.

A couple of days have gone by since that out-of-body experience I had at the lockers, and Arnold – out of nowhere – decides to sit next to me in math.  What the hell?  Why isn’t he sitting at the front of the class, like the teacher’s pet he is?  Maybe if I ignore him, he’ll go away?

“Hey, Helga.”

Shit.  I knew it’d be too easy.  I don’t meet his gaze, afraid I’ll screw something up.  “Hey.”

Another beat of awkward silence passes through us (we seem to be having those a lot lately) as our classmates file in, conversing as they sit in their seats.  He clears his throat.  “So, uh.  How’s it going?”

“Okay, I guess.”

More silence.  I focus as hard as I can on my notes in front of me.  Come on, Helga ol’ girl, whatever you do, do not start doodling footballs and initials framed in hearts.  At least keep some of your dignity!

The sound of a zipper reaches my ears.  He must be opening his backpack.  “Anything new?”  He elongates the first syllable, as if he’s testing the waters.

“Not really.”

Arnold doesn’t have a chance to make any more lame attempts at small talk, because the teacher enters the room, commanding most of our attention in an instant.  Thank god.

The class runs its course, and I have to be taking the best damn notes I’ve ever taken.  If there’s even a slight chance to avoid the handsome being sitting next to me, I’ll take it in a heartbeat.  As I copy the equations from the whiteboard, my fingers twitch around my pencil.  It takes nothing but sheer willpower not to attend to my daily doodles.  Criminy, I’m acting like a fucking drug addict who’s been denied by the local dealer.  He hasn’t been good with paying back, and the dealer can’t take it anymore.  Maybe if he somehow steals the keys to the dealer’s RV by distracting him with spilling his favorite beans on the floor, the addict can-

A rip of paper echoes through the room from right next to me, making me jump.  Without turning my head, I strain my eyes so I can look at Arnold next to me.  He’s hunched over his desk, his hand twitching with how fast he’s writing.  There’s a crease in his brow, his teeth worrying his lip as he shows complete focus on whatever he’s writing.  Does he always look like that when he takes notes?

I return to boring holes in my own notes when I see him start to fold the paper.  Could the note from before have been from him?  No, that has to be a coincidence.  There’s no way-

It takes everything in me to not shriek when I feel a light tap on my arm.  Gripping my pencil so hard I can feel it crack underneath my fingers, I turn to see Arnold looking at me.  His face is decorated with so many conflicting emotions that my mind can’t comprehend a single one.  In one swift motion, he leans over and plops the folded paper on my desk.  The moment he finishes, he snaps back into his original position, arms tense and eyes toward the whiteboard.

I struggle to take quiet breaths, my lungs on the verge of hyperventilating.  My heart is giving round house kicks to my ribs.  I’m surprised it hasn’t broken out and flown away yet.  Now that would be a story too interesting not to make a documentary of.  I can see the title now: “GIRL’S HEART GOES SO FAR INTO OVERDRIVE THAT IT PHYSICALLY LEAVES HER BODY.”  I wonder if my parents would even care to watch it.

Okay, after managing to distract my mind from collapsing into an anxiety attack, I think I’m ready to open the note.  Fingers trembling, I open the folds.

Well, if I were afraid of having an anxiety attack before, it’s nothing compared to how I’m feeling now as I read the familiar handwriting.
 

Will you go out with me?
____  Yes
____  No
____  Maybe
               ~ From Arnold

Holy shit.  So he did write the note from last time?  Fuck.  That means I actually threw away something he had written.  Right in front of him.  Oh god, what an incredibly bitchy move.  I must have really hurt him, like the asshole I am.  No wonder he was so adamant about finding out why I did that!  I wouldn’t blame him!

But the real question is: who is the note for?  It’s obvious he wants to ask someone out.  That’s why he’s been acting so tense throughout the duration of the class so far.  I turn my gaze to him to see that he hasn’t changed his posture.  His back is straight as a rod, his shoulders squared.  His arms are crossed, his fingers drumming in an agitated rhythm against the fabric of his shirt.  Yeah, this note is for real.

I survey my surroundings, looking for potential candidates when my eyes spot her.  She’s sitting on the other side of me, her auburn hair twisted into delicate French braids.  A pleasant smile curls her lips as she takes her notes, no doubt trying her best to be the other teacher’s pet.

Lila.

I look back at Arnold to see that his head is slightly turned.  His eyes dart toward me for a moment before looking ahead.  It’s like he’s trying to look at me without being noticed.  He begins to fidget again, continuously transitioning from crossing his arms to raking his fingers through his now unruly hair.  His leg is jiggling, a clear sign that he can’t contain his nervous energy.  A sinking feeling fills my stomach at how antsy he looks.  Yeah, it’s got to be for Lila.

Once again, my fingers curl into fists, crumpling up the paper in front of me.  How could I have forgotten that she was even in this class?  I guess I was so focused on keeping my thoughts off Arnold that she was the last thing on my mind.  What should I do?  The love of my life wants me to pass a note to my sworn rival.  The ball is in my court; I have all the power here.  Maybe I should rip it to shreds.  Make a bold statement of ‘Don’t expect me to do all the dirty work for you.  Give it to her yourself, you big wimp.’  Yeah, that sounds like a good idea.

…at least to the nine-year-old Helga.  To the seventeen-year-old Helga, however, that’s a different story.  It’s time to act like an adult, dammit!  It’s like that phrase I learned when I was little, ‘If you love someone, let them go.’  It’s heartbreaking, sure, but it’s the only choice I have.  I take a deep breath.

Folding the paper as neatly as I can, considering how bad I had crinkled it earlier, I attempt to calm my nerves.  Before my brain or my body can give me second thoughts, I slide the note onto Lila’s desk.  Her eyes light up in surprise, her eyes flitting to mine in question.  I shrug in response before returning to the notes I should have been taking.  Should still be taking.

However, curiosity is a bitch, so I can’t help but steal a glance at Arnold to gauge his reaction and what the hell?  I happened to look at him right as he slaps his hand to his face.  What was that?  Did I do something wrong?  Was the letter not for Lila?

Before my brain can even give the command, I’m already looking at Lila.  Based on Arnold’s reaction, I just have to see what she’s thinking.  She’s still reading the note, her brow bunching together in confusion.  Why is she confused?  How could she not know Arnold still likes her?  He’s usually very obvious with his affections.  Finished with reading, she looks up at Arnold, her expression not changing.

Back to Arnold.  The instant he meets Lila’s gaze, his face turns beet red.  Whoa, have I ever seen him blush so much before?  He wastes no time before violently shaking his head, his golden hair whipping this way and that.  What the actual fuck is even happening?

Now to Lila.  Her furrowed brows have turned upward, showing the utmost worry.  She’s probably concerned about how Arnold will feel when she lets him down.  Again.  Because she ‘doesn’t like him-like him, just likes him.’  Seriously, how could Arnold have forgotten that?

To Arnold.  He’s still shaking his head, his hands subtly waving in front of him.  His mouth is moving frantically.  It’s not until I focus on his lips that I recognize he’s saying “No” at rapid speed.  He tilts his head, more like a twitch, like he’s indicating toward something.  But what?

Lila.  I didn’t know it was possible to look both puzzled and concerned at the same time, but I guess I was proven wrong.  For once, Lila and I might be in agreement.

Did I miss something?

Understanding that this is none of my business, and that I have eavesdropped enough for one class, I return to my notes.  It has to be about fifteen minutes before I realize I’ve actually been writing ‘What the fuck?’ over and over again.  It looks like this will be yet another unproductive class.

I welcome the school bell for the first time ever, embracing its din as if it was a choir of angels singing the Hallelujah chorus.  My body moves on autopilot, packing my supplies while my mind focuses on that weird exchange.  Should I think anything of it?  Why would Arnold say no like that?  Doesn’t he have the biggest crush on Lila?

I’m about to walk out when I see Arnold rushing out the classroom with Lila in tow.  My feet dash me forward on their own.  Well, I guess the class is over, so my eavesdropping quota has gone back up. Making sure that I’ve kept them in sight, I follow them until they take a sharp turn.  I lean over the corner to see that they’ve gone down an empty hallway.  Oh yeah, this is where we can go if we wanted to go up to the roof.  The door leading there is locked, so no one even bothers coming here, making it the perfect spot for having a hushed conversation.

I stay where I am, since it’s probably better to stay out of earshot.  That, and I would have been as obvious as a Red Sox fan amongst a sea of Yankees.  Using as much coverage as I can, I lean closer to get a good view of the tête-à-tête ahead.

Whatever they’re talking about must be intense, because Arnold looks mortified, his head hanging and shoulders slumped.  Eventually, it becomes too much for him as he buries his beet-red face in his hands.  Lila places a hand on his shoulder, her brows furrowed in concern, a small smile on her lips as she comforts him.  So is Arnold being rejected?  Again?

I should be downright ashamed for the lightness in my chest, the steadying of my stomach.  I love him, and someone who loves him should want to see him happy.  Whatever I’m doing…makes me undeserving of him.  Deciding that I’ve seen enough, I make my way toward science class.

At least Arnold shouldn’t be acting weird toward me anytime soon.

 


 

I should just learn to give it up already.  To not celebrate too early.  To not count my damn chickens before they hatch and all that.

It’s lunchtime, only a few hours since the math class debacle, and Arnold is still set on bothering me.  I almost choke up my chocolate milk as he approaches my lunch table, a bright grin lighting up his face.  He seemed to get over that pretty fast.

I focus on breathing.  Why does this have to be the year Phoebe doesn’t share my lunch?  I need her right now, so I don’t have to go through this alone.  Attempting to keep myself levelheaded, I roll my eyes at him.  “Okay, Arnoldo, I think I’m losing my patience.  What plant do you wanna bring to show-and-tell this time, you big bio nerd?”

The grin doesn’t leave his face as he shrugs, his hand digging into his pocket.  “Well, it’s nothing much to look at, but I guess I’ll show you anyway, since you asked.”

Why does he look so pleased?  I narrow my eyes at him.  “What are you talking abou-”

My voice dies in my throat as a thin piece of paper blinds my view, a familiar picture illustrated on almost every inch.  I lift my hands to rub my eyes, to double-check that this isn’t a mirage.  A gasp escapes my lips as the illustration of monster cars wrecking shit up becomes even clearer in front of me.  “Whoa!” I squeak.  In an instant, my hands are at my mouth.  Oh god, do I really squeak like that when I get excited?  “How the hell did you manage to get tickets for this?!”

Arnold raises an eyebrow.  “You mean, you don’t already have one?”

I can feel the word vomit already.  “What are you even talking about?!  It’s been sold out for weeks!  I tried talking Phoebe into going with me, but by the time I decided that I’d be better off going by myself, they were sold out!”  I blink at a sudden realization.  “Wait.  Do you even like monster truck shows?”

He shrugs, his smile picking up to one side.  Is he trying to look smug?  “I guess I’ll find out when I get there.  But actually, Helga, this isn’t what I wanted to show you.”  He searches his pocket once again before pulling out an identical slip of paper.  “I wanted to show you this.”

The air escapes my lungs.  How is this even real?  “Holy shit, Arnold, you have two of them?!”

Arnold nods.  “Yeah, somehow I got these and no one else wanted to go with me, so, uh.  You want to?”

As much as I want to shout ‘Yes!’ from the top of my lungs, something holds me back.  My mind is barking at me, forcing me to replay Arnold’s last lines in my memory.  The more I analyze every word he said, the more a hot rage boils in my veins.  Of course he wouldn’t want to ask me otherwise!  Just.  What does he.  I can’t believe him!  “So, I’m your last choice?” I ask, acid oozing from my voice.

All evidence of smiles melts away from his face in an instant, his brow creasing in bewilderment.  “Wait, I didn’t mean it like that.  I just wanted to know if you’d go with-”

Before I can stop myself, I’m already standing, my fists clenched at my sides.  “Why would I go with someone who obviously doesn’t want to go with me?”

Arnold places the tickets back in his pocket with care before raking his fingers through his hair, leaving it disheveled.  “But, Helga!  I do want to-”

“Save it for someone who cares!”  I can’t handle any more of this bullshit.  I need to leave right the fuck now, or I will do something I’ll regret later.  Grabbing my food tray from the table, I storm out of the cafeteria.  My vision is so blinded by my fury and hurt that I actually forget to throw away the contents from my tray.  I have to go back inside the cafeteria and return it to its proper place.

Then I’m able to resume going about my original plan.

I don’t even know what to think or feel as I stomp down the hallway, thankful that no one’s around.  Why would he even think that’s okay?  And to think how he looked so fucking smug about it all too.  I can’t believe him; it’s so out of character for him!

But, even more, I can’t believe myself, because I couldn’t compose myself enough to at least bum off a good ticket.  What was I even thinking?  Oh well, it’s not like I was planning on going to the monster truck show anyway.  Maybe Arnold can take Lila or some shit.

It’s not like I care or anything.

 


 

 Well, apparently, I care more than I let on, because I’ve had a really fucking shitty day today.  I couldn’t stop thinking about what occurred yesterday – the bizarre exchange in math, the rejection I witnessed, the taunting in the cafeteria.  With all of that shit going on, the idea of doing homework completely slipped my mind.  I had pop quizzes in almost every class, and I bombed a test in math.  Retaining my focus for an entire period was pointless as I was completely distracted, my mind fluttering toward the keeper of my heart sitting in the front row (he had returned to his usual seat).  I had no money for lunch, even after scavenging the house for hours before school today.  I knew I should have made Miriam hand me my lunch money last night!  Then, to top it all off, my math teacher also requested that I speak with her after school, because she was worried about me and my test grade.  By the time I could finally get out of the meeting, I only noticed a moment too late that I had missed the final bus.  And that I had forgotten my cellphone on my nightstand.

So that’s where I am now.  Standing on the front steps, mulling over everything in my life that’s led me to this.  I guess I have no choice but to walk home.  It’s not like Miriam would answer if I tried to call home from one of the school payphones…or if I actually had money to do so.  Well, at least it’s good exercise.  I should try to be more like Arnold and look on the bright side.  I guess today could not possibly get any worse.  See?  I’m already being more positi-”

Something wet hits my cheek, a drop.  Then another.  And another.  And suddenly I’m sopping wet.  I look up at the dreary sky to see nothing but dark gray clouds.   Why do I even bother?

I stare at the bleak view ahead of me, letting the slosh of the rain hitting the pavement and the musk of wet concrete fill my senses.  A calmness washes over me, slowing my erratic heart rate.  It’s not unlike the feeling of being baptized, the water cleansing me of any sin.  Why would I feel this way?  Maybe it’s because I’ve already begun accepting my fate – that today’s only going to get shittier from here.  Maybe it’s because there’s always been something about the rain that humbles me, because it always reminds me of that fateful day when my life changed from dismal to hopeful – when I first met him.  Or maybe the rain is trying to tell me something.  What exactly, I have no idea.

All I know is my creative juices are bubbling from within; the rain always has been my muse, other than Arnold, of course.  Perhaps I should whip out one of my poetry books when I get home and pour out these frenzied emotions onto its pages.  Yeah, that’s good enough motivation to finally head home.  It’s been a while since I’ve been able to-

The cleansing ceases, blinking me out of my thoughts.  I look around, seeing nothing but rain and gray.  Huh?  It’s not until I notice the drumming of raindrops on plastic that I look up.  In place of the monochrome sky is a stretch of forest green.  An umbrella?  Why does this color seem so familiar to me?  I turn behind to see the person responsible and almost jump out of my skin.

Arnold.

His lips are curved into a small smile, his brows creased in concern as he holds out the umbrella toward me.  What is he even doing here?  It’s way after school; all of the buses have already left.  There’s no way he would have been waiting…would he?  “A-Arnold?!” I manage to spit out.  Wow, way to sound not like a basket case, Helga.  “What are you doing?”

The smile doesn’t leave as he shrugs.  “I dunno.  I’d just finished helping out my English teacher when I saw you wet and without an umbrella and, uh.  Figured you’d like some help?”

Huh?  What?  “But I.  How could.  I mean.  Why would I even want your help?  You’re just a dumb football-headed loser.”  Oh great, now I’ve devolved into my old petty insults.  I cross my arms, whether to block myself from him or to keep myself together, I have no idea.

Luckily, Arnold seems to take my words with a grain of salt, rolling his eyes as his smile fades into quite an indignant look.  “Helga.  Just take the umbrella.”

“But what about you?  You missed the bus as well.  I can’t in good conscience let you walk home in the rain.”

He sighs, rolling his eyes once again.  “You know you’re preaching to the choir, Helga.”

Well, he’s got me there, but I refuse to lose this argument.  “Why do you care so much anyway?”

His lips pick up a bit at the corners.  “I don’t want you to catch a cold.”

My eyes narrow at him.  “And what about you, Mr. Good Samaritan?”

Another beat of silence passes through us, not a single word spoken as Arnold’s emerald eyes stay locked with my own.  It looks like he’s not backing down either.  And why am I even fighting with him anyway?  He’s just being nice, as usual.

No different from anyone else.  My heart sinks to my stomach at the thought.

It then decides to flutter when his eyes light up with an idea.  “How about this?  I walk you home, and then I go home.”

Holy shit.  “W-walk me home?  But I live quite a few blocks away.  I don’t know-”

His smile widens.  He knows he’s won.  “It’s no different from when we were kids.”

Okay, time to admit defeat.  Did I even have a chance in the first place?  The answer is no, I never did.  I will always lose to him.  “Fine.  If it’ll ease your guilty conscience.”

That grin turns into a lopsided smile.  “You know it really would.”

Without another word, we’re walking down the front steps, toward my house.  Neither of us lead nor follow the other, our stride staying side by side.  How should I feel about Arnold remembering the location of my house?  He hasn’t been anywhere near that block in years.  We fall into silence for what seems like the millionth time this past week, but…something about it feels different this time.  Like it might be a more comfortable silence than an awkward one.

I can’t even remember the last time it’s been like this between us.  The only memory I can conjure is of a Thanksgiving so long ago, it seems like a distant dream – one that’s so vivid until I try to recall details.  Sitting together on the pier, watching as a recreation of a famous ship sank before us into the harbor.  Walking around town, hoping to find comfort in each other after being disappointed in both our families.  Watching Mr. Simmons’ dinner plans fall to shit as everyone starts arguing and shouting around him.

Wondering if Arnold is feeling the same way, I steal a glance up at him.  A small smile adorns his face, seeming content.  His eyes are half-lidded, like his mind is lost in one of his many daydreams.  How can he be so happy?  Clearly, he doesn’t feel the same way; his stomach not doing triple axel-triple Salchow combos, his heart not racing a mile a minute.  Does he not feel the electricity that sparks between us each time our arms brush against the other with each step?  What is he thinking about in that wonderfully wide head of his?

As if he were reading my mind, he lets out a sigh.  “Wow, this really brings back memories,” he murmurs from next to me, his voice barely more than a whisper.  It’s like he’s still in a daze, recalling a distant dream of his own.

My breath hitches at his words.  Could he talking about...- No, there’s no way he could possibly be thinking about that.  It was too long ago, too insignificant.  Yeah, for me, it was a big deal, since he introduced the concept of ‘hope’ into my life after years of feeling ignored and unwanted.  For him, though…he was just doing something nice for someone else.  Like he normally does.  Among all of the other more positive memories mixed in, Arnold would not remember something as stupid as holding an umbrella for an unfortunate soul covered in mud and rainwater.

Or could he be talking about the time I had, uh, faked having amnesia?  That was more recent, right?  Still a long-ass time ago, but still more recent than preschool.  I remember it rained for a split second while Arnold was walking me to school, and we had shared his umbrella.  At the time, it felt like a dream come true, for I had dreamt of nothing more than one day having that same experience with him.  But compared to how I feel now, that memory feels like nothing but a sticky note on a single page of the diary of my life.  I’m pretty sure it’s because, unlike last time, Arnold’s doing this out of his own free will, and he knows that I’m acting like my normal self.

Oh god, what could he possibly be thinking right now?  I look up at him, hoping for an answer in his face.  He still looks like he’s remembering something dear to him.  Well, here goes nothing.  “W-what memories are you talking about?”  Jesus, why do I have to stutter whenever I get even just a little bit flustered?

A soft chuckle escapes him his eyes meet mine, my heart skipping a beat when his lips pick up a bit to the side.  “Of when I first met you.”

Okay.  My heart has all but stopped now.  Criminy, with all the crazy shit my heart has been doing inside my chest, part of me is concerned that I should go see a doctor and get medical help.  This can’t be healthy.  It takes everything out of me not to place my hand to my chest, so I can check to see if it had indeed ceased beating.  He must be talking about a different memory, something stupider.  Something less meaningful.  He probably didn’t even notice that I was an actual person, someone to be afraid of, until at least kindergarten.

Feeling satisfied with the reasoning provided by my own self-doubt, I cross my arms.  Anything to keep myself grounded.  I perform my best snicker; no reason for Arnold to notice how weird I’ve been acting the whole walk home.  “Why would you think about the time I pushed your face into the drinking fountain?  That couldn’t possibly have been a good memory.”

That chuckle of his becomes a laugh, hearty and warm.  “Well, I wasn’t thinking of that particular memory, but thanks for reminding me of it!”  When his laughter recedes, his smile grows softer, his eyes now half-lidded.  Oh god.  “Maybe you don’t remember.”  He shrugs.  “I mean, it was a long time ago.”

What?  What the hell is he even talking about?  There was something before the drinking fountain incident?  I had always remembered that as the first time I decided to pester him in particular, as a way of getting his attention.  Did I do something to him before then, back when my teasing was more evenly split between all of our classmates?  Did I trip him?  Did I splash paint all over him?  Again?  The more I attempt to delve into the depths of my very subconscious, the blurrier the memories get.

I decide to just give up, my gaze dropping to my feet.  “What…memory are you talking about, Arnold?” I breathe.

The silence between us is so tangible, I could grab it and bend it into some origami masterpiece.  Phoebe would be so proud of the chef-d'oeuvre I could have created.  Luckily, it isn’t long before Arnold continues.  “It was during preschool.  I remember getting out of my grandpa’s Packard and seeing this cute little girl all sad.  She was completely drenched and covered in mud.  I couldn’t help but want to…protect her.”

Holy fucking shit.  He remembers.  But how?  It was easily over ten years ago; we were only three.  How could something as trivial as that stay in his memories?  Surely, it was just him being a nice kid, as his grandparents had taught him to be, right?  Right?

I swear I can literally feel the time passing us by as I attempt to move my mouth into the shape of a response.  It could have been minutes.  It could have been a goddamn millennia, as far as I’m concerned.  Come on, Helga!  Speak!  “You.  You remember that?”

“Yeah.”  He doesn’t even hesitate.

Even though I’ve been staring down this entire time, it is only now that I realize we’d stopped walking.  When did that happen?  Was the conversation so intense that we stopped being able to multitask?  I look up at him and my breath leaves me in an instant.  The way he’s looking at me; his half-lidded eyes sparkling with an expression I don’t recall ever seeing in him before, his brows furrowed in concern at the memory.  It’s like he’s trying to absorb everything he possibly can about me, like I could disappear any second…like he’s cherishing this moment.  But why would he?

I don’t know why, but a sudden urge burrows its way into the corners of my mind, trying to break free.  An urge to do something stupid.  An urge to tell Arnold something I never thought I would ever tell him…again.  Judging from the look in his eyes right now, I don’t think he would recoil like he did on top of that skyscraper eight years ago.  But can he handle the truth?  That it was not ‘in the heat of the moment’ like I’d claimed?

Whether I confess to him now or not, he does need to know something, even just a hint of what I’m thinking.  My hand grabs onto my other arm of its own accord, a nervous tick of my own.  I hope I’m not too obvious.  “Arnold, I.”  I gulp in an attempt to gather my nerves.  I need to sound sure of myself.  “There’s something I’ve been meaning to tell you.”

His eyebrows raise in what I’m sure is curiosity.  “Yeah?”

Is it just me, or does his face feel closer than before?  I decide to ignore it, my eyes never leaving his.  Our noses are touching, my skin tingling from where the skin makes contact.  “I’ve always wanted to say.”  Fuck, I’m whispering again.

“That…?”  Arnold’s voice is nothing but a whisper as well, matching my tone as he prompts me to continue.  His warm breath tangles with mine in the cool air.

The need to see his whole face winning over the numbness clouding my mind, I take a baby step back.  I mentally smack myself at how cold my face feels.  Gathering the courage to say what I need to say, I fill my lungs with as much air as I can in a deep breath.  “Thank you.”

Well, that wasn’t what I was originally planning on saying.  Arnold’s eyebrows bunch together even more, probably in confusion.  He looks like he was also expecting something different.  “For what?”

I shrug, a smile tugging its way at the corners of my mouth.  I don’t know whether I’m smiling at my inability to say those three words, or at the sincerity I’m feeling at this moment.  With nowhere else to take this conversation, I decide to just go with it.  “For protecting that little girl all those years ago.  You really changed her life that day.”

Arnold’s eyes widen, his lips parting as he holds my gaze.  His face is the picture of awe, and I have no idea why.  What is there to gawk at?  It’s just me.  A moment passes before he seems to recompose himself.  His hand darts to the back of his neck again to scratch it.  Is he as nervous as I am?  “N-no problem.  It was nothing!”  He stops for a second before dropping his hand, the tension leaving his shoulders.  A smile graces his mouth as he steps forward.  “Really.”

The look in his eyes proving to be too much for me, I look away.  How do I even respond to something like that?  As I try to look at something other than him, I notice how familiar our surroundings are.  When did we get to my neighborhood?  Even more, when did we get to my stoop?  As much as I wish this time with Arnold, and having a civil conversation with him, could last forever, I should take this as my cue to leave.  The last thing either of us wants is for Bob or Miriam to see us from the window.

I turn to face Arnold once again and shit how did we get so close again?  It’s like there’s some sort of gravitational force pulling us together.  Does he feel it too?  But I have to remember: Bob and Miriam, Bob and Miriam, Bob and goddamn Miriam.  “So we’re at my house,” I murmur under my breath.  When Arnold doesn’t respond right away, I continue.  “I should probably, uh, get inside.  You know, to get started on my homework.  And stuff.”

At the mention of homework, Arnold snaps out of his daze, his face as red as a stop light.  What is up with him today?  “Oh yeah,” he says in a rush.  “Right.”

I rake my fingers through my hair, only now noticing how much it’s dried since we started this journey.  “Thanks, Arnold.  I mean, for walking me home.”

Arnold smiles, but it doesn’t quite reach his eyes.  Maybe he’s lost in thought?  “No problem, Helga.  Anytime.”

Without looking at him again, I blurt out something that might have been a “See you tomorrow” before rushing out of the protection of his umbrella and into the rain.  My feet are on a mission as I make my way up the steps and into my house.  No longer caring if my parents are home, I dash up the stairs to my room.  I immediately collapse on the bed, my tired eyes already making shapes out of the cracks in the teal ceiling.

What just happened?  Was that even real?  I whack myself in the face at the realization that I never confessed.  Ugh, that would have been the perfect time!  I don’t know if an opportunity like that will ever rise again.

And was it just me or…did Arnold actually try to kiss me earlier?  That had to have been part of my overactive imagination, right?  I feel like I don’t know anything anymore.

…Oh great, I just realized things between us will be nothing but hella fucking awkward from now on.

Can I just call in sick tomorrow?  For only math class?

 


 

 The answer to that question is a resounding no as I trudge down the hallway and toward my math class.  Although I’ve tried my best to avoid him so far today, there’s no escaping this.  It looks like I’ll finally have to deal with- 

There he is.  But I don’t have to worry about him approaching me for right now, his full attention on the conversation he’s having with Gerald and Phoebe.  His shoulders are stiff, his brows crumpled in angst, a slight blush dusting his cheeks.  What’s wrong?  Is he okay?  Is he sick?  Oh no, does it have something to do with his grandparents?

That’s when I notice that, from the little bit I can see, Gerald and Phoebe don’t seem to be worried.  Gerald belts out a laugh, the sound loud enough to reach me over the hullabaloo of the crowd between us, as he slaps Arnold on the back.  A smirk colors his face as he says something to make the red in Arnold’s face deepen, to which Phoebe raises her hand to cover her giggles.

What the hell is going on?

Once again attempting to shove my concerns into the recesses of my mind, I continue on to class as if I’d never noticed.  As I sit at my desk and unload my backpack, I prepare myself for another day of intensive focusing on algebra.  I can’t let Arnold take over my thoughts like he has been for the past week or so.  I need to pay attention in class; it’s hurting my grades.

Arnold shuffles into the classroom later than usual and makes a beeline for my desk.  It’s only now I notice that someone has already taken the seats next to me.  Where does the football head plan on sitting then?  I hear a rustle from behind me.  Oh.  So he’s going to sit immediately behind me.  Just fucking peachy.

Oh well, it should only help me focus better.  As they always say, ‘out of sight, out of mind,’ I guess.

The lesson goes on without a hitch.  I’m more aware than I have ever been, even more than that time Arnold sat next to me.  I haven’t even had a single impulse to doodle anything revealing in my notebook.  That’s pretty good for me.  Maybe I can do this.

Nope.  I take that back with a vengeance.  I jolt at the sensation of something falling onto my lap.  I look down to see a piece of folded paper identical to the ones previously.  Why is Arnold so dead set on passing these to me?  Can’t he see that I am utterly clueless when it comes to things like this?

Hoping my anxiety won’t show through, I carefully unfold it, every movement mechanical.  What I read on the paper makes me drop the letter to its former place on my lap.

 
To Helga.  This one’s meant for you:

Will you go out with me?
____  Yes
____  No
____  Maybe
               ~ From Arnold
 

All means of proper breathing escape me.  I have to be dreaming, because surely this can’t be real.  In what world could something like this happen?  And why can’t I seem to get any air into my lungs?  Almost without my brain’s consent, I turn to look at Arnold for the first time since he sat behind me.  I raise an eyebrow at him, the only way I can appropriately ask him without having a full blown anxiety attack in the middle of class.

He shrugs, his mouth stretching into one of those uneasy toothy grins of his.  The kind I’ve only ever seen when he knows there’s no hiding.  No way.  This can’t be happening.  I clench my fists so tight I can feel the slight sting of my nails forming crescents into the skin of my palms.

Holy shit.  So this is real, then.

What do I do?  What could I possibly say in this sort of situation-

“Helga.  Could you give us the answer to number four?”

The teacher’s voice yanks me from my thoughts with the force of an Olympic tug-of-war team as I snap my body back into position.  Luckily, she didn’t seem to notice that I wasn’t paying any attention, her focus only now moving to me from the equation she’d just finished writing.  It looks like I’m safe for now, at least.

It’s even more fortunate that the teacher doesn’t call on me again, because all endeavors of concentrating on the lesson have been officially rendered futile.  As I absently copy my notes from the whiteboard, my mind doubles back to every moment I shared with Arnold over the last couple of weeks, every letter.  The way he seemed so upset when I threw away the first note, adamant in finding out my reasoning for doing so.  The way he facepalmed when I passed the second note to Lila, instantly denying any inquiry from her.  The way he looked at me when I questioned his intentions with the third note, his posture showing nothing but apprehension.  The more I piece together the puzzle, the more everything starts to make sense.

Even if I’d wanted to respond to him in any way, it’s not a possibility – not with the way the teacher’s keeping an eye on me.  She’s most likely concerned about the topics we discussed yesterday after school.  Or she’s worried about the grin stretching unbidden across my face, the sight probably unfamiliar to her.  But even if I could respond…what would I want to do?

The raucous clanging of the school bell meets my ears before I’m ready.  Knowing that Arnold is expecting at least some sort of response, I need to do somethingAnything.  Following my initial instinct, I quickly check ‘Maybe,’ crumple it into a ball, and throw it in his face before rushing out of the classroom.

It turns out that instinct was the correct one as I hear Arnold shouting from behind.  “Helga!  Wait up!”

Not wanting an audience, I head toward the secluded hallway where I saw Arnold talking with Lila forever ago.  Now that I think about it, I bet she was just consoling him for the misunderstanding.  I really should give that girl more credit.  She always has been on my side, for as long as I can remember; I had just been denying it this entire time.  My cheeks start to hurt with as much as I’m grinning.

When Arnold shouts at me again, I reign in all of my elation (because when does Helga G. Pataki ever smile?) and cross my arms as I turn to him with a scowl.  Oh wow, he’s closer than I had thought.  “What is it, Football Face?”

His green eyes are blazing with his frustration, his hands open in front of him in question.  “‘Maybe’?” he snarls.  “‘Maybe’?!  I mean.  What even, Helga?!”

Well shit, it looks like I actually made him angry.  No, as much as I want to give in, I can’t; it will be worth it by the time this conversation’s over.  “It means ‘maybe.’  Got a problem with that, Sherlock?”

Arnold growls as he runs his hands through his hair before glaring at me.  “Uh, yeah I do!  I’ve had it up to here, Helga!  I’ve tried everything!  The note so I could get your attention, the daisy because I heard it was your favorite flower, the monster truck tickets because you’ve been dying to go to that show for months…What can I possibly do to convince you that this is for real?!  That I know how you feel about me and I feel the same way!  Helga, you’re driving me insane with your-”

Unable to take it anymore, I reach my hands up to the nape of his neck and yank his face to mine.  The moment our lips make contact, we both gasp at the sharp, hot sensation that tingles from the sensitive skin.  His hands are already at my hips as our mouths brush against each other, some movements soft, others passionate.  My whole body’s trembling from the giddiness left over from his sweet words earlier.

That, hands down, is the sweetest thing anyone has ever done for me, or said to me.  So everything was for me.  Every moment between us I had originally deemed as strange was actually just him trying to impress me.  As if he needed to try.  No one’s ever cared for me like this before.  I can see it in my recollection of yesterday, with the way he looked like he was trying to ingrain my face to his memory before leaning in to kiss me.  I can see it now with the way his hand cups my face, this thumb stroking my cheek like he truly cherishes me.

As much as I want to just continue kissing him into forever, the need to officially give him my answer begins to override my system.  Holding his face in my hands, I pull away.  His eyes only open halfway, still in a daze from that kiss.  I guess it’s time.  “I was going to say ‘It depends on if you have those tickets’ to be a bitch, but what I got from you was even better.”

Arnold’s face splits into an ear-to-ear grin, illuminating my whole world.  “Really?” he murmurs with an eagerness of a child asking about the magic of Santa.

Blinded by the light of his smile, all I can do is nod, a grin making its way to my face as well.

Before I can open my mouth to say a verbal response, his mouth is mashed with mine once again.  One of his hands slides its way to play with my hair, his other arm curling around my waist to pull me flush against his chest.  I gasp at the sensation of our heartbeats thrumming together.  Arnold uses that to his advantage as he slips his tongue just past my lips.  He holds it there in silent question.

The only way I can answer is by opening my mouth more, tilting my head to give him more access.  I snake my arms around his neck and pull him impossibly closer.  He takes all of that as his cue to delve further inside me, exploring every nook and cranny as his tongue plays with mine.  I shiver in his arms, probably from the sheer amount of raw emotion surging through me.  Arnold only holds me tighter.

Way too soon, he backs off a smidge, his hot breath still mingling with mine.  “So…Is that a ‘Yes,’ then?” he breathes.  I shudder as his lips caress mine with its movements.

“It depends.”

I can feel his lips curl into a smile underneath mine.  “On…?”

My mouth mirrors his, our tenuous kiss tightening.  “If you still have those tickets.”

Arnold barks a laugh, his chest rattling against me.  The sound rings into the depths of my very soul.  “You’re so ridiculous,” he declares before drawing my mouth to his once again.  The way our lips move together should cause artists everywhere to cry at its perfection.

He pulls away too soon again, only the sounds of our ragged breathing reaching my ears.  He needs to stop that.  This time he’s far enough away so he can look at my face.  His smile picks up at the side, turning into a smirk I haven’t seen on him in years.  “And if I said I didn’t have the tickets…?” he asks, feigning hesitation.

Unable to help myself, I roll my eyes, pretending to be annoyed.  “Oh, well I guess I would have to say, ‘Yes,’ anyway, wouldn’t I?”

That smirk of his turns into another grin (have I ever seen it that wide?) as he leans in for another kiss.  I think I can learn to live with this-

The racket of the warning bell causes us to jump away as if the other were on fire.  Holy shit.  I actually forgot we were still in school.  I guess those kisses shared between us were so magical that they transported me to another world, one where nothing else existed but him and me.  The moment I look at the flabbergasted expression on his face, I crack, a laugh escaping me before I can stop it.  At the sound, Arnold breaks down too.  We hold onto each other in a vain attempt to keep ourselves steady.

When the laughter dies down, we make our way back to civilization without a word, now hand in hand.  Leftover giggles still make themselves heard as I keep stealing glances at my new boyfriend.  Holy shit in a bucket, I can actually call him that now.  Giving in to a new curiosity, I have to ask him.  “So…what do you have in mind for our first big date, Romeo?”

Arnold shrugs.  “Oh I dunno.  Maybe something to do with those tickets still in my wallet.”

Holy shit what?  “Oh my god, you mean you didn’t throw them away?!”

He smirks at my excitement.  I mean, I am jumping up and down.  “Well, yeah.  They were a lot of money.  I figured, if anything, I would sell them at the last minute.”

I match his smirk with one of my own.  “And you were betting on persuading me before then.”

He lets out a chuckle.  I don’t think I’ll ever get used to the sound.  Have I ever seen him so unashamedly happy?  “You got me,” he admits in defeat.

Unable to hold back anymore, I jump at him, my arms wrapping around his neck in a tight hug.  “Thanks, Arnold,” I squeal.  “I love you!”

Arnold stiffens underneath me for a split second before encasing me in his arms, holding me tighter as he presses a kiss to my temple.  “I love you too, Helga,” he murmurs into my ear, his voice dripping with a sincerity I’ve never heard before.

My heart stops at the sound of his words, my hands pushing him away so I can properly look into his eyes.  He’s beaming, his emerald eyes glittering with something I had only seen once before.  It was yesterday, under his umbrella, before he tried to kiss me.  I gasp when it finally dawns on me what that emotion was.

LoveArnold Shortman loves me.

Why am I so surprised?  He did say earlier that he ‘feels the same way.’  I’ve spent fourteen years of my life learning what love was.  Reciprocated love, on the other hand, is something I’ve never even dared to dream about.  I erupt into a fit of giggles before shouting, “Criminy, stop making me want to kiss you when we’re supposed to going to class!”

He smirks, his eyes going half-lidded.  “Okay, I’ll try to lay off the charm,” he responds.

The giggles only intensify.  “Oh shut it, you big dork,” I say through my chortles as I smack him in the shoulder, eliciting a laugh from Arnold.

What is this?  Is this real?

The tormentor of my very soul, the football head that haunts my dreams, the love of my life, just confessed that he returns my adorations and is now flirting with me.

With every squeeze of his hand in mine, every kiss to my hair, comes the proof that this is all real.  And I know that I will cherish each piece of evidence until the last day of forever.



~ Fin ~