Wow, hello everyone! Yes, that's right, it's a new story from Azure129 based on what we all hoped so hard for and finally got—THE JUNGLE MOVIE! I hope you all enjoy this little one shot, and please review if you can. It's so nice to be writing Arnold and Helga again!
Homebound (A TJM Story)
Late in the day after the Green Eyed people had been saved and La Sombra had been vanquished, a plane arrived on the runway of a small tropical airport to take home all of the kids and adults desperately looking forward to their return trip to Hillwood. The adventure was over, and all that remained was this easy flight back to the city before life could return to normal…
More or less.
As the pilot announced that it was time to board, most of the passengers immediately approached the stairway from the tarmac to the plane. A worn out Mr. Simmons, the Pataki parents, and a crying Olga led the way. The kids then approached in sets of two—Nadine consoling a frazzled Rhonda, Curly rolling a still-swollen Eugene forward, Sid and Stinky smiling proudly about their heroics, and finally Harold scratching his head while beside him Brainy continued to play some kind of weird pan flute and walk with a giddy spring in his step.
Meanwhile on the ground, a particular group of four adults and one football headed kid lingered happily together for a few more moments, hugging and talking and laughing…while a certain blond young lady hid behind some luggage watching them.
Gerald and Phoebe were the last pair of students to finally ascend the stairway, chatting with smiles as they entered they plane door. A pair of empty seats up front caught their eye, but just as they went to sit together, a familiar blond female friend suddenly raced inside the plane and lightly caught Phoebe by the arm.
Phoebe turned and blinked: there stood Helga, panting and with her eyes wide and a faint rosy blush on her features. "Phoebe…I-I need to see you…at the back of the plane…now. Please."
Another dead give away that something strange was going on: Helga rarely ever said 'please'. Still Phoebe hesitated for just a moment as she glanced back at Gerald. "Gerald, I—"
He just smiled and gestured toward the back of the plane. "Hey, go do what you gotta do, babe. There'll always be a seat for you next to me." He winked.
Phoebe smiled warmly again and giggled. "Okay, handsome…" she whispered back.
Gerald blushed and smiled more.
Suddenly sounds came from just outside the open plane doorway: the familiar voices of Arnold's grandparents, Arnold's parents, and Arnold himself talking as they climbed the steps up into the cabin.
Helga cleared her throat, and her voice rose in pitch slightly. "I'll, um…I'll give you two a minute. You know where to find me, Pheebs." Then she promptly bolted for the back of the plane.
Phoebe watched her go with an eyebrow raised…until Gerald came close and whispered something into her ear.
When he pulled back, Phoebe was beaming, her eyes bright as she looked at him. "Gerald! Really?"
He nodded. "I know—about time, huh?"
Just before the Shortmans all got aboard, Phoebe glanced to the back of the plane then quickly replied to Gerald, a gleam in her eye, "You take care of Arnold, I'll take care of Helga? And then perhaps we can find a seat together?"
He nodded. "You read my mind, beautiful." He winked at her and then sat down to wait for his friend.
Phoebe quickly dashed down the aisle of the plane and finally found Helga hiding in the back row, arms crossed over her chest and eyes still a little wide…and fingers lightly touching her lips. She jumped when Phoebe appeared then quickly lowered her hand from her mouth. "Phoebe!? Uh, good, great, sit down!" She pulled her friend down into the seat next to her then started playing desperately with her hands.
Phoebe just smiled all-knowingly. "Is there something you need to talk about, Helga?"
"Oh, yeah—big time yeah… Heh. I…that is…" Helga blushed so much. "I…Oh darn it, Phoebe, this one's a big one. Whew. I…He…we…"
"Are you trying to tell me that Arnold kissed you Helga?" Phoebe's eyes hazed.
Helga flushed completely. "How did you—"
"Gerald." Phoebe shrugged. "We've developed a very close relationship—we tend to tell each other everything."
"Phoebe, Arnold KISSED me!" she hissed desperately, features flushed. "And I…I don't…I mean—what does that mean? He barely said anything—just told me a bunch of stupid stuff I did then looked up at me with those eyes and closed them and held my hands and tilted his head and… I-I don't…" She tried to scowl but failed miserably. "He said…and then we… Crimeny, Phoebe, we almost died and then everything worked out and somehow he wanted me at the end of it all. And I don't know what it means!"
Phoebe blinked—Helga's eyes were actually shining a little in her panic. "Helga…" She put a calming hand on her friends shoulder. "Shh, it's all right. And I think you know what it means…"
"That I need to lie down?" Helga let out a deep sigh and rested her forehead in her hand.
Phoebe smiled and couldn't help herself. "Wonderful. Should I ask Arnold if he would like to go with you?"
Helga sunk low in her seat, though the corners of her mouth turned up like she was holding back a smile as she added, "Phoebe, that is not funny."
"It was hysterical, Helga," Phoebe replied simply as she pulled back slightly to see her friend almost smiling a little. "And it made you feel better, so that's an added bonus."
"Shut up." Helga was definitely smiling by now. She finally moved from Phoebe's grasp and sat up in her seat again. "But…I don't know, I guess I'm okay. It's just…Pheebs, if I could turn into a basketcase around Arnold before, how do I know I won't get completely lovesick from now on whenever he's near me? Because there's a chance, Phoebe, there's a real chance that we…I…he…"
"That he could fall in love with you…if he already hasn't," Phoebe finished softly.
Looking down, Helga nodded. "Yeah…that." She let out a deep breath and closed her eyes. "It's going to be months before I can even look in in the eye again, let alone function around him anymore. I'm just glad there's no school to deal with once we get home: avoiding him should be easy enough for the rest of the summer."
"Oh please, Helga—like Gerald and I would let you do that."
"Huh?" Helga blinked and looked to Phoebe.
Phoebe grinned at her. "You and Arnold have already taken too long to get this far in your relationship. Gerald and I simply refuse to let either one of you stall any longer. You can handle this, Helga, you just need a push—starting right now."
"Phoebe," some of Helga's usual scowl returned, though there was a tremor of fear in her tone, "Don't you dare…"
But Phoebe was already out of her seat and giving a high sign to someone at the front of the plane.
Helga's eyes went wide. But as she made a motion to bolt from the seat, Phoebe stood firm to block her path. "Helga, I'm afraid this is for your own good."
"No, not now!" Helga insisted with a blush. "Arnold needs to be with his family now. After the plane ride, Phoebe—after the plane ride, I swear I'll talk to him then! Really, I—"
"I'm afraid you really don't have a choice either way, Helga," Phoebe interrupted calmly. "There are two seats in each row. Arnold parent's are sitting together, Arnold's grandparents are sitting together right behind them, and Gerald and Arnold are sitting together across the aisle…but I'm afraid Gerald and I really were looking forward to sitting together ourselves for the trip home. So we'll take the seat up there for now, and you and Arnold can sit back here and talk everything over before you both convince yourselves to avoid doing so."
Helga opened her mouth, about to speak again, but then suddenly Gerald appeared with Arnold beside him.
Helga's eyes turned forward and her mouth closed.
Arnold swallowed. "Um…hi, Helga. Can I sit here?"
"Free country," she managed to stammer, still not looking at him.
Gerald grinned. "We'll leave you guys to it then. Phoebe?" He took her hand.
She smiled and nodded. "Gerald." And with that the pleased pair walked up the aisle together.
Arnold took the seat beside Helga. And then a period of long silence began.
Helga finally swallowed and spoke as the plane's engine started up. "Uh…listen, Football Head, I know you'd rather be with your parents right now so…you can go up there. I'm sure if you just insist or tell Gerald I'll sock him that he and Phoebe'll let you have your seat back."
"Thanks, Helga," Arnold replied simply, looking down a little with a small smile. "But it's okay. I'm…still kind of in shock about all of this, and my parents are a little overwhelmed too. And I think my grandparents really want to talk to them for a bit anyway. It's actually kind of nice to be back here for a moment, out of the limelight. And it's nice to have another moment alone with you."
Helga's hand was resting on the armrest. Arnold's hand came up and rested beside it.
Helga swallowed. "I, uh…I don't know what to say. Thanks, I guess, Football Head."
"Is your locket okay?"
Helga glanced at him, blushing. "My locket?"
"Yeah." Arnold nodded. "Being the key didn't hurt it or anything, right?"
Helga shook her head. "No, no…a few scuffs but nothing too bad."
"Good." He smiled softly. "I'm glad your heart's all right."
Helga's features burned. "Yeah, well, you know, it…y-yeah…"
Arnold chuckled lightly.
Despite her blushing, Helga managed an annoyed pout. "What's so funny?"
"You're cute when you're embarrassed." He shrugged.
The comment made fireworks go off inside of Helga's chest and brought her from a pout to a swoon. "I-I…"
He gently laid his hand over hers on the armrest as he added softly, "But it's okay—I'll try not to embarrass you anymore if you don't like how it makes you feel."
His touch sent calming warmth through her heart. "I like everything about how you make me feel," left Helga in a whisper.
Now it was Arnold's turn to blush.
Helga glanced at him, her voice very quiet. "Arnold? If…if you only did it…if that kiss was just an impulse in the heat of the moment, I'll understand, but I need you to tell me right now, all right? Because I'm very confused and a little lightheaded. If what you did was a mistake, it's okay." She almost smiled a little. "I know I'm not an easy person to…I mean—"
She stopped talking—his arms were around her in a tight hug now, his chin resting on her shoulder.
"Helga…nothing about this was a mistake or in the heat of the moment," a blushing Arnold managed. "I think you already know this about me but…I'm not a very impulsive guy. And…maybe you still haven't figured this out about yourself, but you're an amazing woman."
"A-Arnold…" Helga barely managed, her eyes wide and her features rosy as she remained stiff in his grasp.
Arnold just swallowed and went on, still holding her. "I can't promise I'll be very good at, um…at sharing these feelings with you at first. But I'll do my best, and maybe we can learn together. So you can let me know when I'm being 'such a Football Head' and I'll let you know when you're being a little too hard on yourself—like right now. Is that okay?" He pulled back slightly to look at her with his adoring half lidded gaze and a small smile.
"I…" Helga felt herself turning into a pile of lovesick mush inside. And then she did something she'd wanted to do ever since the first time Arnold had ever hugged her: she hugged him back. Her arms instantly wrapped around him in a tight squeeze. "Y-yeah, that could work," she whispered, holding in a swoon.
Arnold smiled warmly.
But before he could say anything else, Helga bit her lip and pulled back to look at him again. "But, Arnold, okay, maybe I can accept that that kiss wasn't just a delirious accident, but I need to know something else. Is there any chance that the reason you think you…feel differently about me now is just because you're grateful that I helped so much with your adventure to save your parents? Because if it is, maybe you should give yourself at least a few days to process. You might be taking thanking me way too far. I mean—"
She was cut off when he put his hand over her mouth. He looked into her eyes. "Helga…if I hadn't felt anything different for you until that moment that your locket worked, I'd take your advice and take some time to think about things before I went any further. But…I've been feeling differently about you in little ways for a while now." He blushed. "It just took me seeing you be brave enough to help me save my parents for me to finally be brave enough to tell you the truth and to stop worrying so much about what would happen next. You have my word, Helga: I know how I feel." He removed his hand.
She stared at him, dumbstruck. "You've been…for a while…huh?"
His gaze softened as his eyes went down shyly. "I always thought something was a little off about our friendship. I used to think the problem was that we were too different for you to be happy being my friend, so I tried to give you your space. But after FTi, I realized the problem might be the opposite: maybe we're so different that we need to be close…or maybe we need to be even more than close." He blushed deeply. "My point is, there's no way this is just about my parents, Helga… It's about you and me." His eyes came up to meet hers again.
"You and…me?" She just stared back at him with her blue eyes almost as wide as they had gotten when the two of them were hanging from the broken rope bridge.
"Yes, Helga." He sighed. "I still don't understand why you won't believe me. Would I lie to you?" His smile picked up on one side.
Helga swallowed. "I…" She blinked a couple of times then shut her eyes and scowled a little as she tried to think again. "Okay, okay, wait, but…maybe this isn't about the heat of the moment or thanking me, but you could still just be overwhelmed by the zaniness of this entire adventure." Her eyes opened, and she flung her arms up in a dramatic gesture. "This whole trip has been traumatizing, Arnold! We were attacked by river pirates and lost in the jungle and kidnapped by a crazy artifact thief with WAY too much time on his hands, and we discovered a freaking lost civilization and cured a major disease! We've practically been through an action movie! So maybe you're just caught up in the idea of getting the girl at the end or something." She put on the best scowl she could manage as she looked at him. "But just because I was in the right place at the right time when the day was finally saved doesn't mean anything. So before you act like that wasn't a factor in what you did, you need bed rest and a hot meal and fresh clothes and probably therapy after all of this or at least a few good double chocolate ice cream sodas from Slausens when we get back home." She crossed her arms in determination.
Arnold frowned and tilted his head. "Do you really think I would have just kissed any girl if she was there with me at the end of this, Helga G. Pataki?"
Helga's scowl melted.
Arnold went on, an eyebrow raised. "Actually, the better question is do you really think any other girl would have been there with me through this the way you were? Or that I would have wanted any other girl to be part of things so much?"
She blushed lightly.
He smiled a little again. "The answer to both questions is no. And as for just kissing you because you're a girl and you were there, I can prove that's not true. After all, you weren't the only girl there, Helga: the Princess of the Green Eyes was there too."
Helga glanced away with a glare. "Oh gee, I hadn't noticed."
Arnold's eyes hazed playfully. "In fact, there were a lot of Green Eye girls right nearby."
"Yeah. I saw," Helga replied through gritted teeth
Arnold went on, trying not to chuckle. "But the princess was the one I spent the most time with. She even hugged me."
"Oh you had better have a point, or so help me I will throw you out of this plane into the mouth of the next volcano we fly over…" Helga grumbled.
Arnold leaned a little closer to her. "My point is, I chose you, Helga. I chose you over a princess…over a whole tribe of girls." Helga blushed deeply and her features softened as Arnold finished in a lower voice, "And if I hadn't been able to see you right after our adventure ended, I wouldn't have even looked at another girl until I found you again."
Helga's eyes met Arnold's again. "Really?" she asked softly.
"Yeah…really," Arnold replied softly as well.
Helga blinked a few times in wonder.
Arnold swallowed and smiled sheepishly. "I really thought kissing you would have let you know all that. I guess I'm not very good at it yet…"
"You're pretty good…you know, for a football head," Helga replied with a swallow.
Arnold blinked and blushed, eyes a little wide.
Helga cleared her throat, her own eyes still wide too as she stammered out, "H-How was I? I-I tried to be gentler. I think I got way too carried away last time. I…"
"Oh! You were great…" Arnold smiled shyly as his eyes came up to meet hers.
Helga smiled a little too as she let her eyes meet his as well. Then she took a deep breath. "Arnold, I won't try to talk you out of whatever's going on inside of your head anymore for now. But I just have one condition for the future about us being…closer."
His smile grew. "Yes, Helga?"
She promptly pulled back from him only to grab his collar and scowl down one more time at his suddenly surprised looking face. "Now that we found your parents and there isn't a thing on earth more important that you could want to do, don't you ever put yourself into so many life threatening situations again!" The scowl faded into a worried frown, and her tone became full of desperation. "Do you realize how many times you almost got hurt on this trip, Football Head? Do you know how hard it is to keep you safe when you get carried away like that? Do you have any idea what it felt like to see you locked up or to see La Sombra attack you or to see you hanging off of that bridge…" Her eyes started to shine.
Arnold's eyes shined too as they looked into hers. "Did it feel like you couldn't stand not being able to make everything better? And like your heart would break if anything bad happened to me? And like thinking about going on alone was the worst thing in the world?"
Helga, eyes wide and part of her brow raised, just nodded dumbly. "I…but how—"
"I felt the same way every time you were in trouble, Helga," he replied, almost laughing. "I realized it when we were hanging from the bridge—I don't know what I'd do without you, Helga G. Pataki. And I don't want to know." He blushed very much as he added, "I-I'm not sure if that's love, but I think it's something close…right?"
They just looked into each other's eyes for a moment, searching.
Then their eyes hazed and their lips met in a simple kiss that lingered as Helga pulled Arnold close by his collar and Arnold let his hands rest on her shoulders.
The pulled back a few seconds later, both smiling gently with dreamy gazes. Helga swooned as a wide grin bloomed on Arnold's face.
"We are cleared for takeoff…" the captain's voice suddenly announced over the intercom.
The plane lurched forward, gaining speed to lift into the air.
Needless to say, the unexpected forward motion jostled Arnold and Helga quite a bit, and as the plane started to gain altitude both kids realized that now Helga was in Arnold's lap and Arnold was holding her.
Strangely, instead of being able to secretly savor the moment as she usually did, Helga found her heart racing and her face heating up with blushing.
Arnold went wide-eyed and blushed darkly as well.
"Heh…" Helga quickly cleared her throat and shifted off of him. "Forgot to buckle in the seatbelt."
"Right, yeah…" Arnold managed looking down at his own seatbelt. "If we're going to be sitting here, we should definitely take care of that…" He blinked then his eyes lit up and his smile brightened.
Then Arnold took Helga's hand and stood up, guiding her down the aisle with him.
"Arnold!" Helga exclaimed in surprise as she quickly stepped forward to keep up with him. "What are you doing? We're supposed to stay in our seats during takeoff, and everyone's gonna see us together if we're standing up walking together like this, a-and who said you could touch me anyway, and—"
She quieted as he looked back at her with his familiar warm smile. "Gerald and Phoebe can take the seats back here. We're going to sit up front. I want to introduce you to my parents properly."
"Wh—huh?" She blinked a few times, her jaw fallen open.
Arnold proceeded to guide her along the aisle. "And I know everyone can see us," he whispered, "but I think they're all too busy celebrating to notice much." And indeed, the other kids were chatting and looking out the windows, all caught up in their own affairs for now. "And I'm sorry for touching you without asking, but I have a feeling that if I don't pull you along I won't get you to come up here with me."
"I…well…f-fine," she put on he usual scowl as best she could for a moment, "I guess if you want to insist on dragging me to meet your p-p-parents!" Just as they got in sight of the seats at the front of the plane where Gertie, Phil, Miles, and Stella were, Helga lost her scowl and whispered to Arnold, "Wait a sec. Do I look okay for this?"
Arnold turned and raised an eyebrow at her. "What?"
She glanced down at her stained tank top and wrinkled shorts and ripped pink shirt, and then touched one of her matted pigtails. "I-I just…I don't know. Aren't you supposed to gussy up to make a good impression or something when you meet a guy's parents?" She flushed red. "I mean, not that we're…not that this is…not that this means…Oh crimeny, Arnold, how do you put me through these dilemmas without even trying?"
"You look fine, Helga," he assured warmly. "The well-worn hero look suits you."
"Hero?" she almost squeaked. "Oh for Pete's sake, you're such a sap, football head." Helga rolled her eyes. Then she bit her lip. "But, wait—I don't have anything to give them. You should at least bring a Bundt cake or some cliché domestic dish to these things, right? Maybe we should really do this once we're home. I can have Olga whip up something."
"The plane has plenty of food, Helga," Arnold merely replied, still pulling them along, "and believe me, you gave my parents their son back today—that is more than enough."
"I-I just…well, I guess." She blinked—they were so close now. "But what do I say to them? What do I even call them? Ugh, and what if they don't like me once they get to know me? I'm difficult on a good day."
Arnold chuckled. "Yeah, you are…" he glanced behind him to see her scowling again as he went on, "but that's just because you're a very complex, passionate, opinionated person, Helga. And if my parents are as like me as my Grandpa always told me, believe me—they'll love you."
Her eyes went wide and her blushing burned.
Arnold raised an eyebrow then realized what he had said and cleared his throat, glancing forward with a shy smile. He squeezed her hand. "It'll be okay, Helga."
She squeezed in return as they reached the front of the plane and finally whispered back, "Okay, Arnold."
"Ooo, say, there you are, Shortman! And you've got your little 'friend' with the pink bow with you, heh, heh…" Grandpa Phil suddenly announced as the kids came into view.
"Aww, that sweet little girl reminds me so much of myself…" Gertie added with a smile.
Arnold's parents just looked on with interest.
Arnold smiled at Phil. "Yeah, Grandpa, Helga and I thought we'd sit together up here." He glanced to Gerald and Phoebe in the pair of seats across the aisle. "Gerald, Phoebe, would you guys mind taking our seats in the back?"
"Not at all, man." Gerald grinned and stood up then bowed low to Phoebe and held out his hand. "Shall we, babe?"
"I'd be delighted, Gerald." She took his hand, shot Helga a special smile (received a small one in return), and then the pair departed.
Arnold and Helga took their seats across the aisle, then Arnold addressed his parents as he gestured to Helga. "Mom, Dad, this is Helga. She's, um… a very special friend of mine." He blushed. "She actually worked really hard to make sure I could come on this trip and helped me a lot with escaping from La Sombra and she even, uh…found something to use to wake you guys up when we didn't have the Corazon." He finished with a sheepish smile. "Anyway, I just wanted to introduce her to you guys formally. You'll probably see us together a lot, after all."
Helga swallowed and managed a somewhat confident wave in the Shortman parents' direction. "Uh, hi." She cleared her throat. "Nice to meet you."
Arnold's parents shared a meaningful look them turned their smiles to Helga.
"And it's very nice to meet you too." Miles held out his hand and gave Helga's a light shake. "It seems you've played a big a role helping us and the Green Eyes, and we're very grateful."
Stella touched Helga's shoulder for a moment. "We're very excited to get to know such an important friend of Arnold's. And we hope you'll enjoy getting to know us too."
Helga's smile relaxed a little. "Yeah, well…actually I already know a ton about you. Football Head hasn't shut up about you guys for the last week." She blinked and then looked away sheepishly and shrugged. "Heh… It, um, it's great to finally see you in person though."
Miles and Stella grinned.
"Football Head?" Miles raised an eyebrow.
Arnold cleared his throat. "It's a nickname."
"Sorry, that just slipped out," Helga quickly added.
Stella laughed softly. "It's okay, Helga. Arnold doesn't seem to mind and neither do we." He smile picked up on one side and she lowered her voice to a playful whisper. "You know, I used to call Miles 'slip and slide' because of how often he'd slip on things out in the jungle and slide right down a mountain ledge or something and need me to bandage him up."
Helga's smile brightened. "Really?"
The two ladies shared a laugh.
Miles chuckled too then looked to his son. "You know, Arnold, I had the excuse of being half way across the world, but I still think it would have taken me months after your mom and I got together to find the courage to bring her over to meet my parents. That's pretty impressive of you, son."
"Dad…" Arnold blushed (as did Helga) and looked down, though he kept smiling.
Phil chuckled. "Ooo this is great—now all of us can embarrass young Arnold together about his boyhood shenanigans! Speaking of which, Miles, Stella, what led you two to know so quickly about just how 'close' these two little 'friends' are?"
Miles grinned. "Well, you see, after the kids woke us up, we found them back at the main temple of the Green Eyes, and they were—"
"NOTHING!" "Nothing!" Arnold and Helga shouted at once, holding up their arms, eyes wide.
They both blinked then blushed completely and immediately stammered out excuses as calmly as they could manage.
"I-I mean, crimeny, we don't have to go into all that, right?"
"Helga and I were just catching up after everything…"
"Pfft, not even worth getting into, heh…"
"There are a lot of other parts of the adventure we could all talk about…"
Arnold and Helga looked at each other, shared a nod, then cleared their throats and looked sheepishly back at the adults.
Phil just burst into laughter while Stella gave Miles a dry look with a smirk.
Miles scratched the back of his neck and shrugged. "Heh, well, maybe you're right—we can hold off on that part of the story until now. Sorry, kids."
Gertie clapped her hands together. "Aw, but isn't that cute—Arnold and the little blond girl were almost finishing each other's sentences, just like you and me used to, Phil." She leaned over and kissed him on the top of the head.
"Heh, heh," Phil chuckled, "right, and you still got it, pookie." He kissed her cheek. "I'm sure we'll hear all about the embarrassing parts of Arnold's trip later."
Though they were blushing, Arnold and Helga breathed sighs of relief.
"Oh, and I can catch you two up on all the embarrassing stuff that's happened since you were gone," Phil went on, looking to Miles and Stella. "Especially with these two. Known each other since preschool, you know."
Stella looked closely at Helga then blinked and smiled. "That's it! That's where I've seen you before!"
"Huh?" Helga blinked and raised part of her brow.
Stella laughed. "Oh, not in preschool, of course. But thinking about how you must have looked at that age, it made me remember." She touched Miles' arm. "Miles, she's the little baby girl who pointed Arnold out to us on the top of the slide that day in the park."
Miles looked at Helga for a moment then his eyes lit up. "Oh yeah! I remember the pigtails and the pink! That's how we found Arnold and got him down before he hurt himself."
Helga's jaw fell.
Arnold, eyes wide, glanced at her…and then a wide all-knowing grin spread across his face.
She looked at him and held up her hands. "Hey, whoa, whoa, whoa, I can't take credit for that—we were one year old! I was going on instinct. Oh, stop with the sappy look, Football Head, sheesh! Always reading way too much into everything."
Arnold just put his hand atop Helga's on the armrest and looked to his parents. "Helga has a habit of doing a lot of nice stuff for me. She just doesn't like to talk about it. But she's really good at it; and a really good person."
Helga felt her scowl melting under the compliments. "Yeah, well…I-I have my moments, I guess." She shrugged. "Just glad you've got your parents back now so they can be around to save your scrawny butt instead of me. I could use the free time." She cracked a smile and gave him a nudge.
Arnold chuckled, his smile growing a little dreamier.
His parents leaned close to each other and got that warm look again just like at the Green Eyes temple—watching their son and his very special lady friend. Phil and Gertie looked on at the young couple warmly too.
And then the peace of the moment was broken by a few of the kids calling out to Arnold. The seatbelt sign was off now and suddenly all of Arnold and Helga's friends were approaching the front of the plane with smiles and questions.
"Arnold, tell us how you and Gerald and Madame Fortress Mommy saved those Green Eyed guys!"
"Yeah, I reckon it's gotta be a crazy tale!"
"Boy howdy, what I want to know is what happened to La Sombra!"
"Yeah, even I thought that guy was nuts! And speaking of nuts, Rhonda baby, I'm nuts for you and this new look of yours. You've practically gone as native as me."
"Arnold, tell me you learned what induces sleeping sickness so I can use it on Curly. Please. My hair is already ruined—haven't I suffered enough?!"
"I want to know if you guys saw any cool bugs in the land of the Green Eyes!"
"And Eugene and I want to hear all about the final moment when you and Helga and Gerald saved the day!"
"Yeah, I—whoa! I'm okay…"
Helga was overwhelmed to say the least as all the kids started to crowd them, fishing for details. Putting off filling in Arnold's grandparents about the intimate truth of the end of their adventure was one thing; finding a way to explain saving the day without mentioning all of the romantic moments along the way was quite another. Indeed, a task almost worthy of a professional storyteller…
"I…uh…" Helga stuttered and swallowed. Beside her Arnold blushed with wide eyes and attempted a smile that he couldn't sustain.
And then: salvation.
"Hey, everyone, cool down. I'm the keeper of the tales of our class, and I was also there with them, so I'll tell the story." Gerald suddenly stepped forward with these words and finished by giving Arnold and Helga an all-knowing grin and wink.
"Indeed," Phoebe added as she came forward now too, "Gerald really is the best one to ask. Let's leave Arnold to bond with his parents."
"But what about Helga?" Harold pouted. "Why does she get to stay up here with Arnold?"
Helga, after thankfully having a moment to compose herself, didn't miss a beat as she scowled and replied, "Because I'm the one who motivated us to do the escape plan to save us, because I've just spent hours traveling through the jungle to save even more people, and because now I'm tired. Also, I'm not going back there and dealing with that." Helga pointed down the aisle of the plane; near the back Olga could be seen having a dramatic sob about Che as Bob and Miriam tried in vain to console her.
The other kids all looked back at each other then to Helga with dry looks and made replies along the lines of, "Okay," and "Fair enough," and "Point taken." Slowly the kids now retreated down the aisle of the plane to resume their seats and hear the tale told by their legend keeper.
Gerald and Arnold did their secret handshake. Helga just gave Gerald a dry look. "I'm sure I don't even have to ask, but this is going to be the abridged version of events, right?"
Phoebe smiled and nodded, her hand on Gerald's arm. "Don't worry, Helga, Arnold—your secret is always safe with us." She hooked arms with Gerald as they headed toward the back of the plane.
"Wanna be my backup storyteller? You know, add colorful observations as I go along?" Gerald asked Phoebe smoothly.
"I'd love to, Gerald." Phoebe giggled as they joined their classmates.
The crisis averted, Helga gave Arnold's parents a grin. "Well, those are the wacky group of characters that make up your son's friend circle. Hope you're prepared for us when you get back home. Whoo, the stories I could tell you about those lovable chuckleheads…"
Miles and Stella smiled brightly at each other and then turned back to Arnold and Helga. "Actually," Stella started, "we'd like to hear them all."
"Really?" Arnold and Helga said at once, both blinking.
Miles nodded. "Of course. We've missed a lot, after all." His gaze warmed and he put a hand on Arnold's shoulder. "So what better place to start than with learning about your friends, Arnold, and all the good memories you've made together?"
Arnold's smile beamed.
Miles moved his hand back to hold Stella's. "Oh, but first, Helga, is that your family at the back of the plane you were pointing to? Maybe you could take us to meet them."
Stella smiled sheepishly. "I hate to put you on the spot, Helga, but I'd like to meet them too and thank them for all they've done with coming here."
Helga felt her face pale and her formerly soaring heart plummet into her stomach. "Oh…well, uh..."
Phil leaned over his seat toward Miles and Stella and cleared his throat. "Oh, the Patakis are a colorful crowd, but why don't we let everyone get home and get some rest before we start fully mixing the families together? Kids, that plan to tell stories about your friends sounded like a good idea—why don't you go along with that? And Arnold, your Grandma and I will interject with embarrassing anecdotes where necessary."
Arnold smiled and nodded. "Okay. Thanks, Grandpa."
Helga breathed a deep sigh of relief. "Yeah, thanks—truly." She smiled gratefully at Phil. Then she glanced at Miles and Stella again. "Yeah, stories about our friends I can do."
Arnold nodded, his smile brightening. "Yeah, and when we get back you could even watch some of the stories for yourselves. Helga actually put together a whole highlight reel of videos she took—that's how I won the contest that got us here."
"Oh, are you interested in film, Helga?" Miles asked with interest.
Helga's eyes widened then she glanced to the side. "Uh, not really. Just…a hobby of mine that happened to get me a few good shots of Arnold and his do-gooder ways." She blushed.
Arnold glanced at her with an eyebrow raised at first but then blushed too as some things about Helga's 'film hobby' started to click into place for him.
Phil looked on with a smirk, trying not to chuckle.
"Anyway, Football Head," Helga cleared her throat and did her best to quickly resume her normal confident and casual demeanor, "what kind of story should we start with? Hilarious? Risky? Completely loopy? Dramatic?"
"Why don't we start with one about you and me?" he suggested, his blushing under control now too. "That'll probably cover everything."
Helga nodded with a grin. "If you insist. But nothing too mushy."
He nodded in return, trying not to chuckle. "Deal."
Then they turned back to Miles and Stella to start their storytelling as the first way for Arnold and his parents began the process of bringing together their lives again (much like Helga and Arnold were clearly going to start doing once they got home).
The plane ride home was a long one, which meant that as night came the passengers had settled in for a well-deserved peaceful sleep before they would see Hillwood in the morning. But one boy with a football-shaped head tossed and turned in his slumber, his eyes cringing.
Suddenly Arnold's eyes popped open and he sat up in a cold sweat. He looked around almost in panic as his eyes adjusted to the dark. Then finally his gaze turned to the seat across the aisle with an almost pained expression.
At the sight of his parents smiling as they dozed peacefully leaning against each other, Arnold let out a deep sigh of relief and turned forward again, slumping down in his seat.
"Mmm…Football Head, sheesh…" Helga, now awake, turned toward him and squinted her eyes open with annoyance as she pulled a blanket more tightly around her shoulders. "What are you doing—dancing the flamenco? Settle down."
"Sorry, Helga…" he managed.
But his 'sorry' wasn't one of his usual warm, caring, or even slightly teasing apologies. Helga heard a slight shake in his voice, and it seemed like he was trying to catch his breath. She opened her eyes more, then sat up a little when she saw him gripping the ends of the arm rests with a troubled look.
"Arnold? Are you okay?" Her voice was a tender whisper. In this moment alone in the dark with everyone sleeping around them, she had a rare occasion when she felt no need to hide her concern for him.
Arnold took a deep breath then hesitated and finally swallowed. "No…not really. I had a bad dream."
"Oh." Helga shifted and swallowed. "Do, um…do you want to talk about it or something?"
Arnold looked down a little. "I dreamed that going to San Lorenzo was all a dream—that I woke up in the boarding house and none of it was real: this place, my parents, you." He closed his eyes. "And when I woke up I couldn't see anything, and I thought maybe…" He opened his eyes and let out a deep breath. "It's okay. I know we're on the plane and that it was all real. I'm better now." And yet his eyes drifted back over to his parents, and he bit his lip.
Helga watched him curiously then scowled. "No you're not." He looked back at her with an eyebrow raised. "You're horrible at lying and even worse at covering up your emotions. Now spill—what's still bothering you?"
Arnold blinked. Then he finally frowned and added, "They're asleep over there. And this is the first time they've been asleep since they woke up from the sickness. What if they have trouble waking up again?" He blinked a few times, and the moonlight showed a glint of moisture around his eyes.
Helga blinked, then her features softened in tender concern. "Arnold…"
He took a deep breath again. "I know they're okay. But I really want to go and wake them up to prove to myself they're fine. But…they've been through a lot: they deserve to rest. It'll help them heal and make it easier for them to readjust to Hillwood in the morning." He looked down. "I just want to make sure I'm not alone." He rubbed at his eye with the heel of his hand and quickly glanced away from Helga.
Helga watched him with a sad frown for a moment. Then she took her blanket and laid it over his body. When he glanced at her she put on a weak scowl and shrugged. "Your parents wouldn't want you up all night worrying about them. You'll be able to relax and sleep better if you've got something wrapped around you making you feel safe. And as for your mom and dad, just watch them until you doze off again. The smiles on their faces and how they move in their sleep will remind you that they don't have the sickness anymore."
Arnold blinked a few times as he took all of that in but then frowned again. "I'm not sure if I want to fall back asleep though. What if I have that dream again?"
"So you're just never going to sleep again?" Helga rolled her eyes but let her look soften a little. "Arnold, I know you've just been through multiple major life events at once, and it's going to take time to process. But the more you let the changes freak you out, the harder it'll be to let your head accept them all. Besides, if you have another nightmare, I'm right here. Just wake me up to talk again. But don't say I never did you any favors, okay?" She settled back against her seat with a determined look, though her eyes hazed a little in sleepiness as she added, "Now, get some rest. You need it. I insist."
Arnold looked back at her then gradually settled under the blanket. "Helga?"
"Hmm?" She yawned.
"I'll try. But…here," and then he moved half of the blanket to cover her as his half covered him, "I don't want you to be cold."
Helga's eyes widened and she blushed a lot. "I…"
"I want to share, Helga. Really." He looked down shyly for a moment. And then he settled in to watch his parents until he fell asleep.
He heard Helga settled in as well.
"Helga…there's something else…"
Arnold blushed a lot though he didn't take his eyes off his parents. "Will you hold my hand until I fall asleep?"
There was silence. But then Arnold's heart lightened when he felt Helga's hand take his under the blanket. "Thanks," he whispered. "I feel a lot better…"
She was quiet, and after a moment Arnold thought she had fallen back asleep. But then he heard Helga whisper gently, "Arnold? I had a couple of bad dreams too…about your feelings for me just being some kooky dream of mine after too many pork rinds before bed. So I kind of understand. And I'm here for you Football Head. Always. No matter what."
He smiled a little. "I'm here for you too, Helga."
He squeezed her hand, and she squeezed his back.
The plane ride continued in silence as Helga then Arnold slowly drifted back asleep.