Title: Living Like Pookie

Disclaimer: This is non-profitable fan work. The characters do not belong to me. No copyright infringement intended.

Author's Note: Hi, everyone! I got the idea of this fic from shortakitrash on Instagram. For Shortaki Week 2020, she posted an AU drawing of called "Switch" of Arnold and Helga in switched roles at the April Fool's Dance, with Arnold pretending to be blind instead. It was posted July 29, 2020. Seriously, if you haven't checked it out, stop reading this right now and go look at it. It's amazing, and it really sets the tone for this fic.

Anyway, I saw that drawing and I couldn't stop thinking about it for days afterward. Arnold's expression in the photo is just perfect; he's subtly over-the-top, if that makes any sense. He's being melodramatic and it's hilarious. Over the course of a few weeks, ideas about these two starting floating around in my head. I wanted to write about this universe.

It turns out I wasn't alone. Over the past 4 months, her drawing inspired many other HA! fan artists to do their take on this AU, and the results didn't disappoint.

Thus, Living Like Pookie was born. Why the oddball title? Instead of making Arnold a bully in this AU, I decided to make him more like his grandma: kooky, dramatic, always down for an outlandish costume, doesn't back down from a fight (for what's right), stands up against the establishment, and goes on wacky adventures. Oh, and insanely in love with Helga. Her character in this story will be a lot like Arnold in the original series.

All other characters will be close to whom they were in the original series, with some exceptions.

So thank you, April, for your amazing art and the lovely inspiration.

Without further ado, here's Living Like Pookie!


Chapter 1

Friday night, 6pm

Tonight was the night he would strike. He had been sitting on the idea all week, and he felt ready. On occasions like this, it had become his routine to blast his Mission Impossible soundtrack to get him hyped up. Arnold was a sucker for instrumentals. Jazz owned his heart, but not even his big band jazz albums could put him in the mindset the current task required. He needed something to get him in an audacious mindset, and lo and behold, Mission Impossible put him in that place. It felt cliché as heck, but he didn't even care.

Feeling the music and warming up his body, he started leaping back and forth, pretending he was dodging land mines, on the way to his closet. He slammed his back up against the closet door, as if he were hiding from the enemy. He did a few theatrical eye movements, pretending he was checking if the coast was clear, before he swiftly opened the closet door and slammed the door loudly behind him. A minute later, he emerged from the closet in all black clothing, what he deemed to be his Justice Getup.

The phone rang. He did an acrobatic roll on the floor on the way to his stereo system to turn it down before answering his call. On his way to the phone, he made some "Swish! Swish!" sound effects with his mouth to dub his movements as he pretended to dodge the imaginary enemy reinforcements in his head before making a dramatic leap onto his bed, grabbing his phone in the process, and answering with a confident, "YO."

"You're playing the Mission Impossible song, aren't you?" the voice on the line asked, unamused.

"Can't fight the opposition without it, Gerald," he answered matter-of-factly.

Gerald sighed loudly into the phone. "Arnold, you gotta cut this out, man. This is insane."

Engaging his defensive mode, Arnold groaned as his body shot up out of bed. He started pacing. "No, Gerald! Seriously, screw that guy. He's getting exactly what he deserves." He fervidly began to point a stern finger in the air as he made his next point. "And you know what? I'm gonna continue to give this guy what he deserves until he changes his behavior."

Another sigh from Gerald. "Sure, buddy. Whatever you say."

Arnold's angry pacing gave way to a more nervous one. "I'm flying solo tonight."

"You know Grandma isn't gonna like that."

"Oh, I know. But this mission is an easy one. I don't think I'll need her anyway. She just slows me down."

"Because you're impulsive."

"You've been talking to her again, haven't you?" Arnold asked, as he went rifling through his underwear drawer looking for his eye black stick.

"She invited me in the house a couple weeks ago when I came by and you weren't home," Gerald said. "She offered me some chocolate ice cream. We complained about you the whole time. It was nice."

Most people would be insulted by Gerald's insolence. Not Arnold. Arnold knew people considered him a pain in the butt, but he was confident. Smug, even. Most insults rolled right off his back. He butted heads with his friends and family quite often, but confrontation didn't bother him in the slightest. In fact, much to the chagrin if his friends and family, he welcomed it, and even felt entertained by it.

As Arnold found the eye black stick, his eyes stared off in thought. A proud smirk swept across his face as he remembered the event Gerald had mentioned. "Oh, right! You must have come over when I was on my latest mission, when I put Gorilla Glue in his shampoo bottle." He snickered and shook his head as he closed his underwear drawer. "Classic."

"But she doesn't even know you're doing this," Gerald pleaded. "It doesn't get you any closer to her."

Her, Arnold's mind cooed. He didn't even have to hear her name. As the conversation shifted toward the girl of his dreams, one Helga G. Pataki, his mind began to feel mushy. His mind imagined her standing on a fluffy, light pink cloud. Behind her, rays of sunlight shone upward, and the angels sang a euphoric chorus in her honor.

He heard Gerald's voice in the background faintly, as if he was a far distance away. His voice got louder. He realized Gerald was calling his name. "Arnold. ARNOLD. HEY ARNOLD!"

"Huh? What?" Arnold said as he remembered where we was and what he was doing. This wasn't a peculiar feeling in the slightest. Thinking of her frequently had this effect on him.

"You're pathetic, man," Gerald said in a defeated tone.

Remembering what Gerald said, Arnold got back on track. "I don't do this for her to notice me, Gerald. I do this to avenge her." He set down the phone and put it on speaker. He stepped in front of his mirror, uncapped the eye black stick, and started smearing some under his eyes. "The way I see it, he won't ever treat her the way she deserves to be treated until he gets knocked down about 500 pegs."

"And then what? His ego will be so bruised that he'll stop treating her like dirt? Wake up, man."

"Something like that. I haven't reached Phase 2 yet," Arnold answered, oblivious to Gerald's sarcasm.

"Phase 2? Good Lord, Arnold. How long is this going to go on?" Gerald asked.

Arnold looked off in the distance dramatically. "As long as it takes, Gerald."

Gerald sighed. "Well, I'll let you get to it. I'll come over in a couple hours with some popcorn. I wanna be there when Grandma reams you out for excluding her."

"You bet, dude. I love when you come over afterward. Maybe you can play mediator."

"Godspeed, my friend."

Arnold hung up the phone. He grabbed the styling mousse located near the mirror, squirted the foam into his palms, and ran the foam through his unruly locks until his hair was slicked back. With Arnold hiding behind objects and peering out from behind corners, his hair can't be the thing that gives him away. He looked at his reflection and chuckled. The slicked back hair, his Justice Getup (a black ensemble, including a black turtleneck), and eye black made him look like a drama student trying out for a football team. He looked awesome, as usual.

Before heading out, he remembered his weapon of choice for this particular mission.

A thumbtack.

He played with the thumbtack in his hand for a second, thinking about what he was going to do with it. He placed the thumbtack carefully into his pants pocket, took a deep breath, and put his game face on.

Arnold bounded down the stairs as Grandpa noticed him, but didn't look up from the newspaper he was reading. Arnold opened the door. "Going out, short man?" Grandpa asked.

With a look of determination and moxie in his voice, Arnold looked over his shoulder and said, "Don't wait up."

Arnold continued his way out the door as Grandpa, unperturbed, replied, "Alrighty. I'll save you some supper."

Arnold felt a little hot in his Justice Getup indoors, but as soon as the cool outdoor air hit him, he felt invigorated. He headed down the street, looking dead ahead and not making eye-contact with any passersby. The shop owners near the boarding house had stopped asking questions about Arnold's scheme outfits and destinations long ago. In fact, they expected a blond kid with a football-shaped head to pass by their shop window donning a bizarre outfit at least three times per month.

Once he got to the block of his destination, his behavior became more stealthy. He made his body flush with the wall of the outside of the buildings as he scooted and slithered his way under windows and around stoops. He finally reached his destination: a blue three-story house with a green door. His heart started pounding just looking at it. He stood behind the tree in front of the house and looked up toward the second story window: Helga's bedroom. She wasn't home. When she was home, she'd always turn on the salt lamp that sat on her windowsill. It was off, just as he wanted. He didn't want her around on his missions. He wanted her to have an alibi so none of his dirty tricks could be pinned on her.

Arnold snuck his way back toward the front wall of the house. It was a beautiful spring afternoon, so the windows of the house were opened. Already, Arnold located his prey as he heard him barking at his wife from the living room: "Criminy, Miriam, when's dinner going to be ready? I'm freakin' starving over here, for crying out loud!"

Arnold's body contorted in disgust as his victim's voice reached his ears.

Big Bob Pataki.

"About 20 minutes, B," a lazy voice replied in the distance. Miriam Pataki. Arnold hated her too, for much different reasons. He didn't know yet how he was going to wake that woman up, literally and figuratively, to step up and be a good mother to his beloved. That was another thought for another day. Tonight, his focus was first on the big oaf of the house.

Sneaking into the home was always the biggest challenge. It required a distraction of some kind, and part of the challenge was coming up a new distraction every mission so the Pataki parents wouldn't catch on. Doing missions with Grandma has taught him that the best type of distraction is in human form. Today, without Grandma around, he'd have to figure it out on his own. Arnold looked around for a poor sap who could either be duped into helping him or bribed.

The answer to his predicament was covered in chocolate.

Chocolate Boy was on the other side of the street, his hands and face glued to glass, staring longingly at something in a store window. Arnold recognized the shop; it was that fancy-pants chocolatier shop that was way out of Arnold's he could afford to use this situation to his advantage, he quickly glanced down the street for cars before jogging across the street jay-walking style.

Not wanting to appear desperate, Arnold took a deep breath and cleared his throat before casually approaching Chocolate Boy. He saw that Chocolate Boy was staring at the chocolatier mixing chocolate on a huge tray with a giant wand. Without making eye contact and looking straight into the window, Arnold stood next to him, arms crossed and hands resting in his armpits. "They make it look so good, don't they?"

Chocolate Boy looked at Arnold through the corner of his eye, but then shifted his gaze forward. "What do you want, Arnold?" Chocolate Boy said with a sigh, as if he already knew he was going to get roped into yet another one of Arnold's crazy schemes.

Arnold maintained his demeanor, ignoring Chocolate Boy's displeasure. "I can get you some of this here chocolate," Arnold did a quick head tilt toward the shop, "if you help me with something in return."

Chocolate Boy now gave his full attention to Arnold. "Really? You mean it? This chocolate?" he asked with hope in his voice. "Most people just offer the cheap stuff at the convenience store."

Hook, line, and sinker, Arnold thought with pride. However, he felt a pang of guilt with Chocolate Boy's latter comment. He wondered how many others have asked Chocolate Boy for favors. Does he even have any friends? Arnold made a mental note to invite him to Slausen's one day to get to know the kid, but for now, it was business as usual. "Of course! Anything for my favorite third grader. Come on," Arnold said, opening the door and gesturing Chocolate Boy to walk in.

The sickly sweet smell of chocolate and other sweets punched Arnold's nostrils as they entered the shop. Chocolate Boy, on the other hand, took in a giant whiff in absolute bliss. As Arnold and Chocolate Boy approached the register, the other shop owner seemed agitated upon their arrival. "For the last time, Joshua, we don't have expired chocolate we're throwing away. Get lost!" he said to Chocolate Boy, exasperated.

Arnold stopped, held his hand out to stop his accomplice, and looked at Chocolate Boy in shock. "Joshua?" he asked, stunned. Chocolate Boy shrugged sheepishly in response. Arnold took a moment to create a new neural pathway in response to this astonishing new piece of information before he regained his composure to get back to the task at hand. "No, sir, you have it all wrong. We're paying customers," he said to the shop owner, putting his hands on Chocolate Boy's shoulders. Chocolate Boy tensed up under Arnold's touch. Arnold removed his hands awkwardly.

"Oh," the shop owner said, shifting his weight uncomfortably at his knee-jerk reaction. "Okay, then. What can I get for you today?"

Arnold dug into one of his pockets, avoiding the pocket with the thumbtack. He realized that the two of them must have looked quite a sight: two boys, one with a football head with eye black, and the other with chocolate smeared all over his face, shirt, and hands. He inwardly chuckled at the thought as he pulled out the content of his pocket: a couple bucks, a few coins, a piece of string, a yo-yo, and a dog toy. The shop owner started tapping his foot impatiently as Arnold quickly counted the money he had. "What can two dollars and thirty-five cents get me?" he asked genuinely.

Chocolate Boy looked at Arnold in disbelief. "Two dollars and thirty-five cents?! I thought you had money for this place!" Chocolate Boy's face met his palm in embarrassment.

The store owner's scowl intensified. "NOTHING," the shop owner replied. "GET OUT!"

"Wait, wait!" Arnold said, holding out his free hand in a stop motion. "Surely two dollars and thirty-five cents can buy us a taste, right? Like..." he looked around desperately, "... like these little chocolate balls right here, sold by the pound?" When Arnold went to the store with Grandma to buy groceries, Grandma preferred to shop in the bulk section over buying off the shelf. He knew all about how to pay by the pound.

The shop owner squinted his eyes in annoyance. Without saying a word, but expressing irritation through his body language, he grabbed a plastic baggie, put one nickel-sized chocolate ball in the baggie, and set the baggie on the small scale next to the register. The scale spat out a number. The shop owner made a few clicks into his calculator. "There," he said. "One chocolate ball. That'll be 2 dollars."

"Two dollars for one freaking chocolate ball?" Chocolate Boy asked.

"It's fresh!" the shop owner said, sounding defensive. "Plus, it's fair-trade. That means the cocoa farmers are paid fairly, it's good for the environment, and no children were forced to make the chocolate."

Arnold and Chocolate Boy looked at each other, surprised. Arnold handed his two dollars over to the shop owner. "Hey, it's for a good cause," he shrugged, and the shop owner gave him the pathetic baggie of a single chocolate ball.

The two walked out of the shop. Arnold handed the baggie to Chocolate Boy. "Here ya go, Joshua," he snickered. "Enjoy the best chocolate ball of your life. Savor this one."

"Yeah, yeah," Chocolate Boy said, popping the chocolate ball in his mouth. He stopped, first with wide eyes. Then, he fluttered his eyes closed and craned his neck back, enjoying this. Arnold widened his stance, put his hands in his armpits, and smirked. For a minute there, he thought Chocolate Boy wouldn't agree to help Arnold for this measly return. Now, he knew Chocolate Boy would hold up his end of the deal.

Chocolate Boy came to. "Wow. That was the best chocolate I've ever had," he admitted. "Thanks, Arnold."

Arnold stood next to him and placed his hands on Chocolate Boy's shoulders. "No problem, buddy," he said. Arnold shifted Chocolate Boy's body to face the blue house across the street. "You see that house there?" Arnold asked, pointing. Chocolate Boy nodded.

Arnold continued. "All you gotta do is knock on the door. Someone is going to answer the door. You want to talk to Bob Pataki, so if a woman answers, tell her you wish to speak to Bob."

"Wait, Bob Pataki? You mean Bob Pataki of Big Bob's Beepers? The Beeper King?" Chocolate Boy asked with interest.

Arnold flinched at the nickname and rolled his eyes. "Yep, that's the one."

Chocolate Boy gave an enormous smile. "Well, why didn't you say so?! I LOVE that guy! His commercials are my favorite!" He put his arms out and started kicking his legs like the Vegas show girls in his commercials do. "Big Bob's Beepers! BWOW!" he sang, ending with a pose on the final sung note.

A deadpan expression painted Arnold's face. "... yeah. Remind me to introduce you to my friend Eugene when this is all over," he said. Suddenly, excitement flooded his body as a plan came to him. "Wait, this is perfect! Go up to Bob's house and ask him for an autograph. That guy's ego is so inflated, he probably has printed headshots just waiting to be signed from poor saps – I mean, huge fans – like you."

Chocolate Boy seemed too star-struck to notice Arnold's dig. Arnold explained the details of his plan. "I'm gonna go. Wait here for 2 minutes. Then, knock on the green door of that blue house and ask for Bob's autograph. And here's the most important thing: you don't know me, I didn't tell you to do this, and this conversation? It never happened. Now repeat it back to me."

Chocolate Boy scratched his head. "Knock on the blue door of the green house. Ask for Bob's autograph. Wait 2 minutes. And tell him that Arnold sent me."

Arnold looked at the homes behind him, then back at Chocolate Boy, dumbfounded at how badly he messed that up. "Not green house with blue door. Blue house," he said, pointing to Helga's house, "with the green door," pointing to her front door. "First, wait 2 minutes. Then, knock on the door and ask for Bob's autograph. And whatever you do, don't mention me. Now you say it."

"First, knock on the green door of the blue house. Then, wait 2 minutes. After that, get Bob's autograph. And mention you if he asks."

"Oh, come on! That last sentence wasn't even close!" Arnold shouted. Arnold pinched his nose in frustration, trying to think of a new plan to get this kid to remember 4 basic directions.

"Okay," Arnold tried again, peeved, but trying to stay patient. "I'm going to say one sentence at a time. You repeat it. Got it?"

"Okay."

"Wait 2 minutes."

"Wait 2 minutes."

"Great! Knock on the door."

"Great! Knock on the door."

"You don't have to say 'great.'"

"You don't have to say 'great.'"

"Just! –" Arnold yelled, loud enough to show that he was at the end of his rope. Chocolate Boy flinched, unaware of what caused Arnold's outburst. Just like his Grandma taught him, he took a breath, and tried again more quietly, "Okay, I'm going to try this again. Wait 2 minutes."

"Wait 2 minutes."

"Knock on the door."

"Knock on the door."

"Get the autograph."

"Get the autograph."

"Don't mention Arnold."

"Don't mention Arnold."

"Okay, good! Now repeat it back to me."

Chocolate Boy starting listing off the tasks with his fingers. "Wait 2 minutes. Knock on the door. Get the autograph. Don't mention Arnold."

Arnold lit up. "Yes! Keep saying it!"

"Wait 2 minutes. Knock on the door. Get the autograph. Don't mention Arnold."

Arnold started backing up. "Okay, keep repeating it. I'm going to go. Two minutes starts now!" Arnold turned around and quickly looked both ways before crossing the street. As he started running down the street, he had heard Chocolate Boy recite the steps correctly several times. However, before he was out of earshot, he heard Chocolate Boy say, "Knock on the door for 2 minutes. Get Arnold's autograph. Don't mention chocolate."

Arnold looked ahead. "That's it. I'm doomed," he declared.

Nonetheless, he was going to continue with his mission. She started running as fast as he could.

The Pataki house didn't have alleys on either side of the house, but it did have an alley behind the house where the trash was picked up. To Arnold's advantage, there was a downstairs bathroom with an easy-to-open window that he usually used to get in the house. He started to slow down when he was entering the back of the Pataki property. He peeked around the corner of the cracked-open gate. Through the back window, he could faintly see Miriam walking around in the kitchen. He saw her turn around and walk toward the front door. Arnold figured she took the bait as he ran across the yard, grabbed the trash can, and turned it upside down in front of the bathroom window. It was already open today, which made things a lot easier as far as getting in, but he made sure to make his movements silent just in case the sound carried.

Arnold climbed on top of the trash can. He stood up slowly with his arms out, balancing himself. When he was steady, he peeked his head through the open window, just to get a scope of the room and to see if the door was open.

What he didn't expect to see was the most disturbing, nauseating sight his young eyes had ever seen.

Arnold witnessed his sworn mortal enemy, Big Bob Pataki, holding a newspaper while sitting on the toilet taking a dump.

Arnold's hurled himself backward, launching himself away from the repulsive view. He lost his balance. He was able to save himself from hitting the ground, but instead, the trash can landed on its side while Arnold landed on top of it on his stomach. He knocked his chin hard, and it hurt badly enough for him to want to yell out in pain. He was able to suppress the urge, however, the worst part about falling was the loud boom that came from the trash can. With the window open, there was no doubt that Bob heard it.

This is it. This is how I'm gonna die, Arnold thought as he hugged the trash can. Strangled to death by Big Bob Pataki with unwashed hands and with his pants around his ankles. He couldn't think of a more humiliating way to leave this world.

Just then, he heard Bob's booming voice. "Mother Hubbard, Miriam, do you have to knock so loudly?! Scared the daylights out of me! I'm on the can. Can't it wait?"

Arnold was trying to wrap his head around what just happened and why he was still alive as he continued to listen. "It's... a fan of yours, B," Miriam answered on the other side of the door, surprised. "A little kid. He... wants an autograph."

"An autograph?" he asked, much softer than before, even with excitement in his voice. "Miriam, it's happening! Go in the trophy room and grab a headshot and a sharpie out of the drawer. I'll be there in a minute!"

Arnold, who was now sitting on the ground with his back against the house, listened to the entire exchange with his mouth agape in surprise, his eyes darting back and forth in full concentration. As soon as Arnold heard Bob's response, his eyes went wide as he emphatically mouthed the words, "I KNEW it!" to no one in particular. Who carries a stack of pictures of their own head just in case someone asks for it? What a clown, he thought, feeling the hate radiate through his body. This was mission fuel. He was even more ready to make Bob feel the pain.

He heard the toilet flush and was surprised to hear the sink turn on. He didn't seem like the type of guy who would wash his hands after a bowel movement. That, or maybe just Arnold painted him in every negative shade possible.

Waiting for Bob to get finished and leave the bathroom, Arnold started putting the pieces together. Luckily for Arnold, Bob didn't see Arnold take a peek at Bob, as he was reading a newspaper unfolded, blocking his entire face and Bob's view of Arnold, too. As for the trash can falling down, that moment must have happened at the same time Miriam knocked (loudly, apparently) on the door of the bathroom. Arnold took a moment to be grateful before he heard the water shut off and Bob open the bathroom door.

Arnold re-balanced the trash can, climbed on top of it, and started to stand up. He peeked in the bathroom again, much slower this time. The coast was clear, although Bob didn't shut the door completely behind him, leaving Arnold somewhat exposed. With Chocolate Boy distracting Bob and Miriam either watching or in the kitchen, he felt like he could climb in undetected.

As he had done many times before, he grabbed the windowsill with both hands and hitched his left leg on the windowsill. He pulled up his weight using his three limbs. Eventually, he got his stomach on the windowsill. He began to shift and scoot his body so his feet were dangling down in the bathroom while his head was out the window. He slid his body down slowly until his right foot touched the toilet. Finally, he allowed his body to relax as he lowered his body onto the floor.

Taking in a breath of relief, nausea and disgust hit him like a tidal wave again when the scent of Bob's crap hit his nostrils. Arnold began to silently freak out, eyes wide in panic and waving his hands and arms frantically as he desperately searched the room for something to mask the smell or cover his face. He started gagging. At least there's a toilet I can puke into, Arnold thought. Arnold grabbed his turtleneck and pulled the extra fabric over his nose and mouth. Alright, Karma, I hear you loud and clear. Now shut up and get out of my way so I can get even with this jerk.

Needing to get out of the bathroom faster than he previously thought, he listened for the location of the Pataki parents. He heard Bob near the front door, gloating on happily about something Arnold didn't care to know the details of. He slowly peered out from behind the corner to look for Miriam's location. Miriam was standing behind him, obviously proud, marveling at the sight of Bob giving his autograph to a hopeful child. Arnold scoffed silently and rolled his eyes.

Despite his disgust, this was the perfect moment to execute his plan. The bottom floor of Helga's house had no dead ends. The long hallway from the front door connected to all the rooms, and the living room, trophy room, and kitchen all connected to each other. Arnold often used this to his advantage by moving where the Patakis weren't; he often traveled a room behind them instead of staying hidden in one spot.

This was the main reason Arnold didn't like involving Grandma on his missions. He preferred entering through the bathroom window and hiding behind and under objects to get around. Meanwhile, his nutty Grandma preferred crawling around through the air vents. Sure, there was less risk to get caught, but at what cost? Air vents are disgusting, he can't breathe correctly for the next day after, and he feels claustrophobic in them. Besides, he really didn't enjoy having Grandma's butt in his face when she was leading.

Although, funnily enough, he'd rather breathe in the dust of the air vents behind his Grandma's old keister than Bob Pataki's lingering poop particles. Maybe later, he'll admit that her plan had some merit to it. Maybe.

With the Pataki parents distracted at the front door, Arnold made his move at the other end of the hallway by crossing into the trophy room. He removed the turtleneck from his face and savored the short moment as he took in his first poop-free breath. Feeling renewed, he got down and crawled army-style through the door until he was in the kitchen, where the dining room table sat in the very middle. Bingo. He made a beeline for the table, going under it, where he was ready to finally execute his plan.

His body fully cloaked under the long tablecloth under the dining room table, Arnold took the thumbnail out of his pocket and carefully placed it in Bob's usual seat.

Throughout this whole endeavor, Bob has been chatting with Chocolate Boy, who was inflating Bob's ego so much that Arnold thought his head might explode. This thumbtack should deflate his ego quite a bit, he thought with a silent snicker.

"Alright, Mr. Pataki, I've gotta get home to eat dinner," Chocolate Boy said. "Thanks so much for the autograph!"

"No problem, kid!" Bob replied. "Oh, and tell your friends to come down to the Emporium for the big sale this weekend! Wear sunglasses and get a free pen!"

Nobody wants your freaking pens, especially a bunch of third graders, Arnold thought under the table and rolled his eyes hard as Bob shut the door. "Nice kid," Bob thought out loud. Miriam hummed half absentmindedly as Bob eagerly clapped his hands and rubbed them together. "Alight , Miriam, where's the roast?"

"Umm," she stuttered out. "Hmm, well, it should be done," she continued, in that way she spoke when she was in a good mood, but sounded like a space case.

Bob's encounter with his only fan must have brightened his mood a bit, because for once, he didn't bark a response at his scatterbrained wife. "Let me know when it's on the table. I'll be catching up on my soaps," he said. Arnold, still hiding under the table, heard Bob's heavy feet stomp into the living room. Miriam didn't say anything in response as she rounded the table, getting back to her tasks in the kitchen.

Arnold didn't want to stay hidden under the table, especially at the moment when Arnold's poor thumbtack kissed Bob's grimy posterior. He wanted to be out of sight and near the means of an exit. He thought about hiding out in the bathroom again, but he unconsciously gulped, holding back the memory-induced vomit that attempted to creep into his mouth. No, anything but that god-forsaken deuce room.

His only other reasonable option was quietly creeping out the front door, which was out of sight from the kitchen table. It could work. Arnold's mind startled reeling, thinking of how he could get to the front door without anyone noticing. He figured that he could hang out in the hallway unseen while Big Bob made his way from the living room into the kitchen, and while the thumbtack did its job. After that, he'd tiptoe his way out the front door, making sure to hold the doorknob open to where would be no clicks from the door opening and closing.

Beneath the bottom of the tablecloth, Arnold could see Miriam's lazy feet shuffling about. He waited (and hoped for) the moment she'd go to the sink, which faced away from the table and the adjacent hallway. From there, he'd be able to slip out from under the table into the hallway to concealed safety. He quickly began taking off his shoes. His socks wouldn't make any noise on the floor during this quick transition like his sneakers would.

As if on cue, her feet muddled their way to the mat on the floor right in front of the sink. He held his breath, waiting to hear the running water begin.

The water turned on.

Arnold quickly crawled out from under the table. As soon as he was able to, he stood up, crouched down as low as he could possibly stand. He turned the corner into the hallway to a semblance of safety, hoping that Miriam's silence meant that she hadn't noticed a thing. He breathed out air he didn't know he was holding. As he started quietly putting his shoes back on, he heard Miriam turn off the water. He started to hear the sound of plates and bowls clanging onto the table. "Dinner," Miriam announced weakly.

"Finally!" Bob exclaimed, turning off the TV and getting up immediately from his chair, leaving the rocking chair to bump back and forth with Bob's sudden departure. Arnold heard his weighty feet tramp from the living room into the kitchen. Arnold could tell exactly where the man was at all times based on his constant noisy commotion. Does that man do anything unobtrusively? Arnold thought, seething with pessimism.

Arnold's annoyance gave way to eagerness as the moment he had been working toward was about to arrive. A grin began to creep across his face as he slowly rubbed his hands together, careful not to make any noise. "This looks great, Miriam!" Bob declared as Arnold heard him pull out his chair. Arnold put his hands over his mouth to stifle his impending laughter as he waited for Bob to howl in pain.

Instead, he heard Bob plop down and scoot his chair in. After a beat, silverware began to clink against the ceramic plates as the couple began to dig into their meal.

Arnold's body went from tense in anticipation to limp with disappointment. His eyebrows scrunched in confusion. Why am I not basking in Bob's agony right now? Something went wrong. In an attempt to figure out what happened, and with great intention to stay silent, he lay his body chest-down on the floor. He slithered himself forward just enough to peek around the corner, perfectly blocked by a fake indoor plant, wondering if he'd see the thumbtack on the floor. Sure enough, there it was, lying on its side in the middle of the floor right between Bob and Arnold. In all of Bob's clamoring, he must have pulled the chair out too hard, causing the thumbtack to fall out of the chair.

Arnold needed a distraction. He didn't have a cell phone of his own, but he borrowed Grandma's during his missions in case of emergencies. Maybe this wasn't a real emergency, but he was in need of a distraction, and he couldn't think of anything else that wouldn't give him away. He pulled out Grandma's phone. He had Bob's cell phone number saved on the phone; he wasn't a total amateur, after all. Making sure the phone was on silent, he found Bob's name and dialed his number. He turned down the sound and placed his fingers over the speaker to make sure the ring on his end couldn't be heard by the Pataki parents. He hoped that the phone was in the living room and not right beside him on the table. If the phone was right next to him, he needed a plan B.

Bob had been rambling on about a sale he made that day when the Big Bob's Beepers theme song filled the home, putting a halt to their pointless conversation. For what felt like the 30th time that evening, Arnold rolled his eyes and put his face in his palm. What a turd, Arnold thought. The Big Bob's Beepers song as his ring tone. STILL? To Arnold's luck, the corny song was coming from the living room.

"Mother Hubbard," Bob groaned, standing up. The chair screeched against the floor in response. "Can't a guy sit down to eat with being interrupted by some scammer?" Bob said, his voice getting more faint, indicating he was leaving the room.

Arnold quickly peeked around the corner to check on Miriam. As he might have guessed, there was Miriam, nodding off with her head resting on her hand. He used her baffling behavior to his advantage as he went straight for the thumbtack. Staying low, he grabbed the thumbtack and did a roll under the table, once again seeking refuge under the table with the hefty tablecloth. He hated that he had to be here, but he had no other choice at this point.

Without even so much as a hello, Arnold heard Bob answer his phone. "Who in their right mind calls someone in the middle of dinner?!" Bob barked into the phone. Arnold ended the call as soon as Bob began to speak, hoping that Bob didn't hear an echo of his own voice through the phone. Arnold quickly put the thumbtack on the seat of the chair and retreated under the table.

"Yep, you better run," Bob said smugly upon seeing that Arnold ended the call. As Arnold saw Bob's feet approaching the table, Arnold felt that familiar surge of adrenaline return. The chair was already pulled out. The thumbtack wasn't going anywhere now. Here, his hard work was about to pay off. Arnold covered his mouth with his hands to muffle any noises of brewing laughter.

"I'm telling you, Miriam, those telemarketers are pieces of – AAAHHHH!" Bob screamed. "Mother of –!" Bob cursed and jumped out of his chair, bumping the table.

Before Arnold had a chance to enjoy Bob's pain, shock ran through Arnold as the piercing sound of broken glass rang out. Arnold turned toward the sound in horror. A glass bowl of mashed potatoes had fallen off the table and smashed onto the floor, only a mere two feet away from the very spot where Arnold helplessly sat.

Well, crap.


A/N: Uh oh. Arnold's a sitting duck. Will he finally be caught by the Patakis, or will a miracle happen? How will Gertie react to Arnold's predicament? When will we get to meet the incomparable Helga? All that, next time!

By the way, I'm just going to warn you now that the updates on this aren't going to be super quick. I'm writing this and another HA! fic simulatenously, and I bounce back and forth between the two, depending on when the ideas hit.

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed. Please rate and review. Also, if you want to geek out HA style or if you have any ideas for this story, PM me! I have this story very vaguely outlined, so ideas are welcomed. If you've gotten this far, thanks for reading!