Reposted with grammar edits on 1/2/2010.


A/N:

Hello HA! fandom! Man, I have missed you all so much lately—I've spent the last month or so immersed in tests and school papers, and then my sister and her family just moved in with us, and we got a puppy (ok, that last part hasn't been ENTIRELY difficult to deal with—he's SO cute, lol!) so I feel like I haven't written in ages. And now I can't believe it but it's Christmas again too! Speaking of which, here's a story I've been working on for the past week that I randomly got inspired with one night, and I hope you all really enjoy it. I also hope it makes up for the fact that the next chapter of Tutoring Arnold is…uh…going to be a little while in coming (I hate my writers block so much). Until then though, I hope you'll all have fun reading this story and in the future a sequel to my songfic Closing Time that I've been working on and a new fic that I'm actually going to be posting in the Danny Phantom section (I've never written a non HA! Fic, so I hope it comes out well and if any of you guys are fans of the show I hope you'll check it out :) ). So without further ado, here is my first Christmas fic—Enjoy!

This story takes place after "The Jungle Movie" but before "The Patakis."

Disclaimer:

I don't own HA!, but it would be a great Christmas gift. Until then, this show belongs to Viacom, Nick and Craig Bartlett :)


Helga Pataki's Christmas

(aka Another Excuse for me to put off finishing Tutoring Arnold)

Chapter 1:

Snow


"Bye Harold, bye Sid, bye Stinky!" called a smiling Arnold to the three friends now departing from his house.

The trio of boys stood in winter coats and wool hats, the blue cold night around them contrasting distinctly with the warm orange and yellow glow coming from Arnold's doorway, where our football-headed hero stood as he watched some of his classmates depart.

"Bye, Arnold!" called the three boys in unison as they headed down the sidewalk together.

"It was sure nice to see you and yer' parents again!" added Stinky before they all disappeared around the corner.

Arnold's already full smile couldn't help but widen at this last remark. Hearing it was something he had only been able to imagine for the last nine years of his ten-year-old life. That had all changed this past summer though, after he, his Grandparents, and quite a few of his friends had defeated the plot of the evil La Sombra and found his parents safely living in San Lorenzo, and as happy as possible to see their son again.

Stinky's comment about getting to see Miles and Stella as well as Arnold again was in reference to the biggest effect of Arnold finding his parents (besides his total elation); he was living with them now. However 'with them' meant staying in San Lorenzo, and staying away from his friends and grandparents. It had been a very difficult choice for Arnold to make but, after a family talk, all three had agreed to stay with the Green Eyes for only as long as it would take to make sure that there could be no more danger to their culture now that La Sombra was out of the picture (a few months at least, possibly a few years at most).

However, they weren't about to spend the most important time of the year not surrounded by friends and relatives, and so Miles and Stella had surprised Arnold with a plane tickets for all of them to spend Christmas on Vine Street this year. They had arrived two days ago and Arnold had been so looking forward to seeing all of his friends and the citizens of Vine Street that he had decided to have a big Boarding House Christmas Eve party for everyone. It was winding down right now. actually, and had gone quite well. In fact, practically everyone in Hillwood that Arnold knew had come to see him and his parents again on this night. Well…everyone except for one person at least…

'I just can't believe that my parents managed to save an entire culture of people…' Arnold thought to himself, closing the door to keep the heat in the Boarding House from escaping. At first, Arnold had had mixed feelings about the fact that his parents had chosen to help the Green Eyed people over returning to him in Hillwood all those years ago. Yet, after he had spent an entire summer bonding with the members of the civilization he had come to understand just why they had made their decision—to help save hundreds of families just like theirs, and hundreds of kids just like himself. 'If only La Sombra hadn't kept them from having any contact with the outside world…then at least I could have been talking to them and telling them about my life for the last nine years…'

Arnold sighed and suddenly found a frown on his face. Realizing though how dwelling on such 'what ifs' was only ruining the wonderful reality that his parents were finally here and that their family was finally complete, Arnold turned his thoughts instead back to the remains of the Christmas party currently inside of the Boarding House.

Looking around, it seemed Harold, Sid, and Stinky had in fact been some of the last guests to leave. Suddenly, though, he heard voices from the den and walked down the foyer in that direction, only to see Gerald and Phoebe, arm in arm, exiting from the aforementioned room.

Arnold smiled at his best friend (wearing a Santa Hat over his hair) and his best friend's current unofficial girlfriend (sporting a red Christmas sweater instead of her usual pale blue one). He wasn't sure exactly what had happened between them during the summer in San Lorenzo but, ever since then, he had been receiving letters from Gerald hinting at a relationship between him and the young Japanese-American girl. And now that Arnold had seen the two flirting and spending time together at the party, it only confirmed his suspicions that they were finally an item.

"…So, then I said to my man Fuzzy, 'Keeper of the Tales', I thought you said 'Eater of the Snails'! And there I was, all prepared and terrified to have to eat escargot and instead I get assigned as teller of urban legends for P.S. 118. Man, that was some sixth birthday!"

Phoebe giggled. "That was certainly a delightful tale, Gerald."

"Well, you were delightful company to tell it to—" Gerald began to reply smoothly.

He stopped, however, as Arnold averted his eyes and cleared his throat to alert the two of his presence, feeling slightly embarrassed at suddenly being in the middle of their intimate conversation.

Gerald looked away from Phoebe and instantly focused on the presence of Arnold. He blushed and his left arm separated from Phoebe's right one, and went behind his back bashfully along with its mate. Phoebe blinked upon noticing Arnold and held one of her hands in the other in the front of her body modestly, a pink tinge likewise coming to her face though she was smiling.

"Uh, hey man, what's up?" asked Gerald, innocently.

Arnold smiled and gestured toward the doorway. "I was just saying goodbye to Harold and Sid and Stinky."

"Mmm, mmm, mmm, man, I can't believe how many people you managed to fit in this Boarding House," Gerald remarked, looking around the place and remembering just how many guests had managed to be packed inside. He turned back to Arnold. "And I still can't believe you sent an invitation to Sheck's parole officer, and that the guy made him show up at the door to say Merry Christmas—that was classic, Arnold!" Gerald laughed. "You are still an undeniably bold kid."

Arnold shrugged. "I just wanted to show him that now is no time for grudges. Everyone deserves to feel welcome on Christmas. Besides, it's been over nine months since the FTi incident."

Phoebe smiled. "That's very admirable, Arnold."

Gerald smiled and removed a camera from the pocket of his jeans. "Yeah, and it's also pretty cool that I got photos of it. Man, after I use Jamie-o's computer picture program to edit in some elf ears or reindeer antlers on the guy, this is so the cover of next year's Christmas cards!" He grinned, displaying on the digital screen a photo of Sheck in handcuffs looking livid as he stood in the doorway of the Boarding House. A snowy street was in the background and in the lower left corner a Billy club could be seen casually poking him in the side, urging the arrested former business conglomerate to be nice to the polite ten-year-old party host who had invited him.

"Gerald!" exclaimed Phoebe, looking angry and a bit surprised upon hearing what he was planning to do with this picture.

"Uh, well I-I mean…" Gerald began to backpedal.

Phoebe suddenly smiled at him, however. "Why use your brother's computer when you can easily come over and use mine? I can even make Sheck look like he's riding in Santa's sleigh if you'd like." She winked and Gerald grinned at her, pleasantly surprised at her response.

"I'd take a calendar of photos like that," Arnold joked.

Gerald shook his head, smiling. "You got it, man."

The three friends shared a laugh and then stood in silence together, just enjoying their company and their reunion after so many months that had felt like lifetimes because of their youth.

Finally, Gerald broke the silence, sighing with satisfaction. "Yeah, it seems like you got everyone from Hillwood that we've ever met here…Harvey, the Pigeon Man, even that old Mr. Bailey showed up!"

At this remark, both Arnold and Phoebe's faces fell slightly. Phoebe spoke. "Yes, almost everyone came…Speaking of which, perhaps I had better call Helga tonight and ask her if she's feeling well…"

Instantly, Gerald's eyes widened as though he was suddenly remembering something he had forgotten. He didn't say anything though but just glanced from Arnold to Phoebe, seeming to be in thought.

Arnold agreed with Phoebe in a distracted voice. "Yeah…maybe I will too…" The two preteens shared a look.

After a moment, Phoebe turned back to Gerald. "Well, I suppose we should be leaving, then." Her smile had returned.

"Huh? Oh yeah…" Gerald replied, seeming to come out of a thought he was having.

Arnold smiled. "Well, thanks for coming you guys, and thanks again for the gifts."

Gerald smiled. "Sure thing, man. I figured that two dozen pack of mosquito repellent would help you out down south." He winked.

Arnold rolled his eyes. "Yeah, it'll probably come in handy." He turned to Phoebe. "And thanks for the compass, Phoebe." He removed it from his pocket and glanced at the face. "It took me ten years to figure out how to get around Hillwood by myself and it has street signs. At least now I'll know what direction I'm going in while I'm in the jungles of San Lorenzo."

Phoebe smiled at his humor. "Dooitashimashite, Arnold." She turned to Gerald and held out her arm again. "Well, shall we then, Gerald?" she asked, smiling. (A/N: Dooitashimashite means 'You're Welcome' in Japanese :) ).

Gerald smiled back, loving how close they had become as fifth graders. Something made him hesitate accepting her invitation though. "Actually, I have to ask Arnold something, if that's okay? I promise it won't take long."

Phoebe looked from one boy to the other. She understood the occasional need to talk to a best friend in private (she had had more than her fair share of those with Helga), and nodded. "Of course, Gerald. I'll just go to the kitchen and see if I can get us some hot chocolate for our walk home." She went off down the foyer.

Arnold raised an eyebrow at his best friend. "Is everything okay, Gerald?" Arnold and his parents had only been able to stay in the city for a few days for the holiday and they were leaving tomorrow. As a result, if Gerald had a problem that he needed to talk to his best friend about, Arnold wanted to be there for him now while he still could.

"Huh? Oh sure, no 'major crises' to speak of," replied Gerald, much to Arnold's relief. "Sorry," he added with a sheepish smile, and the football headed boy couldn't help but give his friend a bit of a sarcastic look about this comment on his compulsions to advise and help other people.

Gerald reached for something in the pocket of his coat that was hung on a rack nearby. "It's just that what Phoebe said reminded me of something." He handed Arnold a medium-sized rectangular wrapped parcel, done in blue wrapping paper the color of late evening shadows on snow and topped off with a bow that was a very familiar and characteristic shade of pink, though Arnold couldn't quite place it at first.

A secretive look came to Gerald's face, and he made sure to check and see if anyone else was listening before he spoke up in a low voice. "Helga stopped by about an hour ago and asked me to give you this, but not until the party was over and not until no one else was around." He held up his hands defensively as a surprised Arnold turned the present in his hands. "I swear, Arnold, I wanted to tell you right away but she swore I would be using my intestines as a jump rope before New Year's if she found out I did anything but what she wanted."

Arnold continued to examine the simple but beautiful box, noticing the bow's classic color even more now that he knew whom the gift was from. Gerald continued. "I'm telling you, man, that girl did some cool stuff for you in San Lorenzo and you might 'like' each other and everything, but she is still the scariest person alive when she wants to be."

Arnold smiled at this last remark and shook his head, placing the present on an end table. He noticed that the card simply read. 'To A, Love H.'

Something else very significant besides finding his parents had happened to Arnold while he was in San Lorenzo. He had not only come to understand Helga Pataki's love for him, but he had found in his heart after all of the adventures and sacrifices and realizations a certain affection for her as well. In fact, the last thing he had done before her and the rest of his friends and family had boarded the plane back to Hillwood was to tell her his feelings and kiss her…though, much to Helga's annoyance and Arnold's embarrassment, Gerald had interrupted this tender moment, effectively ruining the ambiance as well as bringing him into the Arnold-Helga loop. To Arnold's surprise, his best friend had been cooler with the whole thing than might have been expected, and had even done a great job of keeping it all a secret from the other kids despite his obvious temptation to use the information to mock and ridicule Helga for the rest of her life.

Arnold came out of his reminisces and looked up at Gerald. "Did she say why she didn't want to come in? Or where she was going? I mean," Arnold glanced away, still uncomfortable sometimes with the subject of Helga, even with his best friend, "My parent's really wanted to see her again…and—and I…"

Gerald sighed and rubbed the back of his neck with one hand. "I asked here where I should tell you she was going, but all she said was 'Merry Christmas, Gerald,' and left."

Arnold's face fell at the sound of this news. In contrast, a hopeful smile came to Gerald's face as he added, "But I did notice though that she got onto a bus heading out of the city—looked like Murray's. Maybe you could call him up and ask him where he took her?" Murray had become a great friend after the FTi incident, often giving the kids free rides if necessary and even switching to the P.S. 118 bus route so that he could pick them up in the mornings for school. He couldn't thank them enough for reuniting him with his Mona.

Arnold smiled. "Hey, that just might work. Thanks, Gerald!"

Gerald smiled smoothly. "No problem, man!" The two did their secret handshake.

Gerald took a few steps in the direction of the kitchen. "Hey Phoebe! Do you need any help with the drinks?"

Hearing her cue that Gerald and Arnold were done with their private conversation, Phoebe instantly stepped back into the foyer with two Styrofoam cups of cocoa topped with whipped cream. "Right here, Gerald." She handed one to her new boyfriend.

Gerald took the glass and smiled, taking a big drink. "Thanks, Phoebe." The girl giggled as she noticed the whipped cream mustache now on his upper lip. "What? What?" he asked, confused. He turned to Arnold who made a motion for Gerald to clean away the mustache, which he did with a slight blush to his cheeks.

Phoebe's giggling subsided, leaving a smile in its wake. "Are you ready to depart, Gerald?"

Gerald grabbed their coats and handed her hers. "Your wish is my command." She couldn't help but giggle again.

"Merry Christmas, Arnold!" They both called back to their friend, and with that they left the Boarding House and Arnold behind them, arm in arm.

Arnold smiled at the sight of the happy couple leaving together. As the door closed behind them, though, the smile fell and he turned to Helga's present and sighed.

The silence now that the party was over was broken by the sound of some feet descending the stairs followed by the entrance of Arnold's now complete family.

Grandpa and Grandma in Santa and Mrs. Claus outfits stood with their son, Miles, in a green sweater and green elf hat, and his wife, Stella, in a red sweater and red elf hat.

"Heh, heh, heh—that's a good one, son!" laughed Grandpa, slapping one of his knees. "You tried to decorate a volcano to use in place of a Christmas tree one year and the thing erupted with lava on December 24th? Heh, heh, heh! That must have been some un-white Christmas!"

"Now, now, Santa," corrected Gertie, fully immersed in her Mrs. Claus persona, "You say 'Ho Ho Ho,' not 'Heh Heh Heh'—otherwise no cookies."

Grandpa rolled his eyes and swiped a cookie anyway from the plate she was holding, taking a bite. "Well, at least you can't have put raspberries into the cookies." He swallowed.

Grandma smiled and walked ahead toward the kitchen. "Nope…they were all in that fruitcake you ate a half an hour ago."

Grandpa's eyes widened as he swallowed the last of his cookie. Suddenly, his stomach gave a familiar and sick sounding rumble. "Oooh, 'twas the night before Christmas and Phil was stuck in the bathroom…"

Stella looked concerned. "Phil, would you like me to get you some seltzer or something?"

Phil smiled at his daughter-in-law. "No, thank you, sweetheart. This is just something that's going to have to work itself out the old fashioned way." Grandpa's stomach grumbled again and he looked in the direction that Gertie had gone and scowled. "At least she tries though, Pookie! I knew there was a reason I missed her!"

Stella laughed at the old couple and pulled herself closer to Miles, who kissed her on the forehead.

Suddenly, the two noticed their son watching the four adults interacting with a large smile on his face.

Miles addressed Arnold. "Hey, Arnold. Did all of your friends leave?"

Arnold approached them, nodding. "Yeah. Thanks again for letting me have this party—it was great to see them all again."

Stella smiled.= "It's always great to see your friends, Arnold. If it wasn't for them, we might never have been able to see you again."

Arnold smiled.

"Yeah," Miles glanced around the house, "Did Helga already leave too though? Your Mom and I wanted to thank her again. She did so much to keep you safe and to keep us together in San Lorenzo…" And it was true; Helga had genuinely gone above and beyond the call of duty last summer, practically throttling La Sombra for even looking at Arnold the wrong way.

Arnold's smile fell. "Actually…" he glanced back at the present on the table, "Helga had to leave…suddenly…and I never got a chance to give her her present." He turned back to his parents. "Is there any way you guys could drive me to meet her somewhere so that I could give it to her?" He looked up at them hopefully.

The two smiled at each other and then turned back to their boy. "Sure, son," said Miles. He turned to his father. "Dad, can I have the keys to the Packard?"

"Wait a minute," Grandpa looked to Arnold, "Is this one of those things involving your little girlfriend with the pink bow and the one eyebrow?"

"Grandpa?!" Arnold blushed. Despite the fact that he had admitted to Helga that he shared some of her feelings, the only outside person who knew definitely that they were more than friends was Gerald. This mutual, semi-intense boyfriend-girlfriend experience was still new to him and he was reluctant and a little embarrassed to talk about it at all, especially with his grandparents and parents.

"Girlfriend?!" Miles and Stella exclaimed in pleasantly surprised voices.

Arnold blushed and glanced away. "We're not…I-I mean, we're just…" He gave a defeated sigh. "Grandpa…"

Grandpa rolled his eyes. "Oh, come on, Arnold, it's so obvious! So did she have to tell you how she felt or did you finally end up figuring it out all on your own?" Along with not bringing up the kiss in San Lorenzo, Arnold hadn't mentioned the FTi confession much either.

Arnold blushed a fiery red and his eyes went wide with disbelief at his Grandpa's bluntness.

Grandma reentered the room with some fresh sugar cookies on her plate, answering for Arnold. "Ten bucks says Eleanor had to tell him—the men in this family have never been all that bright when it comes to figuring out women, right Phil?" She elbowed him and smiled.

Phil scowled and snatched a new cookie. "Well, if the women weren't busy perpetuating elaborate ruses right from the start, then maybe—"

"Grandpa, can we just please have the keys to the Packard?" asked Arnold, desperate to get off this subject of himself and Helga as a couple.

"Yeah, Dad," added Miles with a sly look in his eyes, "If she's his girlfriend now, she might get pretty mad if he doesn't give her a Christmas present." He ruffled Arnold's hair.

Though Arnold was getting pretty embarrassed by the razzing, somehow that fact that it was being done to him by his now complete family made it not the worst thing in the world.

Grandpa scratched his head and said in a concerned voice to Miles and Stella, "Oh, I think I'd better come with you if you two are just learning about Arnold and Helga. That girl's been working on him for seven years now and there's a lot to catch you two up on." He grinned slyly. "Pookie, you coming too?" He turned back to Grandma.

"Absolutely not, Santa." Grandma pulled out a bag of candy canes from her holiday apron. "I've got to be here to give goodies to all the yuletide trick-or-treaters."

Grandpa sighed. "Pookie, that's not…Oh, whatever, just promise me you'll try to unload some of those fruitcakes too so that I don't make another mistake."

Grandma smiled. "Can do, Mon Capitan!" And with a salute she marched toward the kitchen shouting, "Attention Gingerbread Troops, prepare to fall in from oven basic training and go to the front door frontlines along with your candy cane and sugar cookie brethren! Ha ha ha ha ha!"

Grandpa rolled his eyes as she finally left the foyer. "Crazy old bird…" He turned back to Miles and Stella. "Alright, gang, let's get going!" He held the keys up in the air. "I'm so full of eggnog and cookies that I'm about to pass out for one long winter's nap though so, Miles, you drive!" He tossed the keys to his son.

Arnold sighed, resigning himself to the fact that this private moment with Helga might be a little more public than he had hoped.

"Well then, let's get going, Arnold," announced his mother.

The adults began to don their coats. "Where is Helga's house anyway, Arnold?" asked Miles, assuming that's where they were headed.

"Actually," Arnold grabbed a jacket and a scarf, "I don't think that that's where she went. I just have to call someone to make sure…" He grabbed the phone in the hallway and began dialing Murray's number.

After a few rings, the receiver clicked, "Hi Mona, Merry Christmas! How are you?...Great! How's your new baby, Craig?...That's good. We're fine. Is Murray there?..."


"Well, here we are, Arnold!" announced Miles as he stopped along the side of the dark, desolate road, fringed with snow. "Are you sure this is the place?" he asked skeptically.

Arnold looked out the window at the bleak grey structure sitting before their car; a single piece of industrialization nestled almost unnaturally in this empty area on the outskirts of the city limits. He double-checked the familiar address printed on the nearby mailbox though just to be sure: 66613 Washington Street. He sighed. "Yeah, this is it…"

Arnold opened his back passenger door and stepped out of the vehicle. Stella, who had been sitting next to her son in the backseat and was looking particularly concerned about the place he wanted to go into, exited the running Packard as well.

She walked around the side of the car, and knelt down by her son, looking into his eyes. "Arnold, are you sure you don't want any of us to come in there with you?" She glanced at the building. "It looks dangerous…"

Arnold smiled. "It's okay, Mom: it's just the old FTi building. I know it looks big and scary, but I think I know where to find Helga." He glanced up to the top of the structure, and then turned back to his mother, smiling. "Besides, adventuring is in my blood, remember?" he added, referring to his parents' choice of profession.

Stella smiled and hugged him, then sighed. "Well…alright Arnold." She reached into her purse and pulled out a flashlight, giving it to him. "But if anything happens just turn this on at one of the windows and we'll come right in to help you." Arnold smiled and put the flashlight into a free pocket, happy to finally have an overprotective mom looking out for him.

Stella gave him a quick hug. "Now go!" She smiled.

Arnold returned the smile and headed for the FTi building.

"Be careful, son!" yelled Miles from the driver's seat. He turned to his father. "So, now, what's the deal between Arnold and Helga, exactly?" He raised an eyebrow.

Phil laughed to himself. "First, let me just take care of a little something." He fumbled in the pocket of his Santa coat (which he was still wearing) and pulled out a small holiday decoration. "Stella, could you move all the way to the left of the seat?" he asked.

Stella nodded and moved, curious about what he was planning.

With a sly grin, Grandpa reached back and used a Christmas ornament hook to fix the item in is hand just above the right passenger door. "Perfect, now when those kids come in here they'll have to pass under it together, heh, heh, heh!"

As Grandpa sat back down in the front seat, Stella and Miles noticed that he had put a large piece of mistletoe over the door.

"Phil!" exclaimed Stella, though she was trying to hide a smirk at the prank.

He laughed. "Heh, heh, heh! Just thought I'd give us a little yuletide entertainment when those kids come in the car! Oh, I'm such a wily old coot!"

Grandpa took a swig of cocoa from his thermos and turned back to his son, his laughter subsiding but his smile remaining. "So, now, you want to know the story between Arnold and Helga. Well, since young Arnold is gone and won't be able to 'die' from embarrassment," he rolled his eyes at his opinion of Arnold's overreaction whenever anyone brought up Helga liking him, "I'll can tell you both." He reclined back in his seat, stuffed to the brim with Christmas treats and dinner. "So, she's been teasing him and playing pranks on him and making his life generally unbearable ever since preschool…You know a bunch of obvious, young flirting stuff—"

Miles' eyes lit up. "Just like you and Mom?"

Grandpa smiled. "Exactly!" He took another drink of the cocoa. "So, anyway, according to your son it all started with some graham crackers when they were three years old…" And thus Phil commenced telling in detail his lengthy story about the misadventures of Arnold and Helga, much to the interests of Miles and Stella.


Inside the now abandoned FTi building, Arnold turned on his flashlight, making sure to keep its glow away from the windows so that his parents wouldn't think he was in trouble. He walked over to the elevators.

"I wonder if these still work…" He pressed the 'up' button a few times but nothing happened.

He sighed, a half-lidded, defeated look coming to his face. "I guess I'll take the stairs."

Arnold approached the dark stairway and, thankful for the flashlight to see by, began to climb the several dark flights to the roof. Helga's present to him was still unopened and still in his hands.


Twenty minutes later he finally reached the doorway to the roof, panting from the long climb. "If she's not up here, then I'm going back to San Lorenzo tonight—scaling mountainsides has got to be easier than this."

Arnold reached for the door handle but hesitated touching it as the idea that Helga might actually be on the other side fully hit him. He felt a twitch in his stomach and tried to plan something to say to her, though nothing came to mind. Finally he just took a deep breath and decided that the words would come to him…somehow.

He gripped his present firmly, took a breath, and pushed open the door.

He blinked as bits of snow began to blow into his eyes. Apparently, while he had been making his long walk up to the roof, it had begun to fall. Arnold allowed the door to close behind him.

Getting over his surprise at the change in weather, Arnold shined the flashlight forward and glanced around. Suddenly, he saw the girl he was seeking sitting down against a wall, facing away from him. She seemed to be deep in thought and was playing with her unusually loose hair, a warm purple jacket wrapped around her pink and red striped Christmas jumper.

He took a step forward, his foot crunching on the new snow. That plus the glare of his light on a wall opposite her made Helga whip around in surprise. "Arnold?!" He heard that familiar way that she always said his name when she wasn't expecting him somewhere—a mix of surprise and alarm and just a touch of excitement—and smiled.

"Hey Helga…" he said meekly but with a smile, hands behind his back in a show of shyness as well as to hide the fact that he had her present for him with him.

Helga blinked and stood up. Her hair was down and blowing a bit around her face, making her seem older and quite beautiful, in Arnold's opinion. Still, he couldn't help but wonder what had happened to her signature pink hair ribbon that she always used to nestle between her pigtails.

Arnold smiled at her with a half-lidded gaze as these thoughts passed through his head, and the familiar look made Helga blush. Instantly, she became very self-conscious of her hair. Despite the fact that her and Arnold finally had a mutual relationship, she still felt so giddy and so unbelievably elated whenever he seemed to think anything about her was beautiful that, in many ways, she still tried her best to tone down her appearance in an effort to keep her emotions from completely exploding inside of her when she was around him. Besides, she still somehow felt undeserving of so much attention from her beloved, though Arnold's encouragement at the end of their summer in San Lorenzo had started her on the process of realizing otherwise.

As a result of all of this, Helga automatically tried to put up her hair again minus her ribbon. However, between how damp the snow had made her locks, the slight wind, and the fact that her pigtails never held up too well anyway without the bow to secure some of her hair, she wasn't having much luck. Finally, Helga gave up and grabbed her red winter hat with the earflaps from her pocket, putting it on top of her head as a compromise and growling at her inability to resume her standard hairstyle.

Arnold blinked as he noticed her reaction, coming out of his thoughts. He approached her. "Helga, I'm going to think it looks nice with or without the hat, you know…" He smiled at her, causing her to blush a dark red. She tried to look like the comment annoyed her, though it was easy to see in her eyes that she was flattered, as usual.

Helga sighed and sat back down in her spot. "What do you want, Football Head?" she asked with a typical tinge of sarcasm in her voice, though it had lessened considerably since her pre-confession days.

Arnold sat down beside her. "Actually, I just wanted to know why you didn't come to my Christmas party?" he asked, turning toward her, a smile on his lips.

"Hey, I gave Tall Hair boy a present for you—Sheesh, I wouldn't have though if I'd have known it was gonna mean you'd be stalking me on Christmas Eve!" She looked at him, scowling. "Did Gerald spill the beans and tell you everything early, so now you're here trying to get me to go to the last few minutes of the party? If he did, I'm gonna—"

She punched her right fist into her left palm. Arnold interrupted her though, cupping her gesture of violence in his own two warm hands. "No, Helga, he didn't tell me until the party was over—believe me, I would have been here a lot sooner if he had. Have you really been up here all alone for an hour?" He looked at her, genuinely concerned.

Helga's scowl had completely fallen away at his touch, and now she spoke to him with a straight face and in her normal tone. She began with a sigh, looking forward. "I just needed some time away from my house—I mean, it's not like Thanksgiving or Olga's Birthday or something which tend to be really, really bad. Bob's actually at home right now whipping up tons of homemade eggnog, and Miriam's singing Christmas carols and playing the piano, and Olga's got the whole place decorated like something out of a magazine. So, it's nice, it's good for now…it's just annoying though for some reason because…I don't know, because how it is just isn't how I'm feeling, I guess."

She paused and Arnold continued to listen. She glanced at him quickly, and then looked down. "I just wanted to go someplace that….that reminded me of me and that felt like me…like here." She glanced at the building.

A gust of wind blew and Helga shivered. "Of course, I'm the genius who comes to an abandoned, heatless building on the coldest night of the year, and tells my ride not to wait because I don't know how long I'll be. And to top it all off, I was stupid enough to climb to the roof when it was still light outside and just realized twenty minutes ago that now that it's dark I have no way of getting down. At least you had the common sense to bring a flashlight." She gestured toward the light still in Arnold's hand.

Arnold silently thanked his Mom for the flashlight, turning it off and putting it back in his coat to conserve its power. He then instantly took off his scarf and placed it around Helga's neck. "Here, this'll keep you warm." Helga had been about to refuse the garment but the sudden feeling of something full of Arnold's warmth and scent around her had rendered her speechless. She allowed him to wrap it around her, the wooly layers briefly hiding the smile that had appeared on her face.

Arnold then inched closer to her as well in a continued effort to keep them as warm as possible. "Well, I understand why this place means something to you…it…it means a lot to me too." Arnold briefly recalled her confession in his mind. "But how do you and the old FTi building feel alike, exactly?" he asked sincerely, though something in his eyes suggested that he was only waiting for Helga to confirm an answer that he already had in his head.

Helga hesitated. Arnold was happy with his parents, and she didn't want him to understand just how much having him away was hurting her. She didn't want to spoil any of the time he was getting to spend with them with guilt over her problems. She continued not to answer.

However, Arnold had gotten very good at sensing Helga's moods ever since her confession and their time in San Lorenzo, and so he decided to hazard a guess. "You both feel a bit lonely and abandoned I guess, don't you…?"

Helga blinked and looked at him, not wanting to admit that it was the truth but finding it so hard to lie to him anymore. Why had all of his denseness seemed to vanish upon figuring out that she loved him and that he loved her too?

"Helga…" Arnold looked into her eyes, "You know, it's not for very long—who knows, I could be back next year, next Christmas. And I'll be visiting again in a few months…And you can always start writing me in the meantime…I gave you my mailing address in San Lorenzo before you left."

Helga swallowed hard at this comment and averted her eyes from his quite noticeably. She merely nodded and responded meekly, "I-I know."

A moment of silence.

Arnold grabbed one of her hands in his. "It's not enough though, is it?"

Helga still didn't answer. She didn't want to lie anymore but she wouldn't tell him the truth…she wouldn't tell him how the pain of spending her life without him was like an ocean wave of misery pounding dully but constantly against her every single day, slowly eroding her from the inside out. She wouldn't talk about how she couldn't write poems anymore…only those letters about her days that she shoved into boxes and couldn't send. The letters he seemed to want but that she couldn't seem to give him because somehow they would intrude upon his new life...and do something she couldn't quite express to her own existence. And she wouldn't talk about the sick feeling that washed over her whenever she went to her closet to get a dress each morning, only to remember how her Arnold shrine had once stood in there for so many years and was now locked tight away in the attic space above, unvisited for months. And she wouldn't talk about last October 7th when she'd taken out her Arnold locket to wish it a happy tenth birthday only to realize that for the first time ever she was looking at a picture of her beloved as he had been and not as he was (usually by his birthday each year the school photos were in and she would swipe one of his to update her locket). She had cried for hours that day…hours and hours and…

"Helga? Are you okay?" Arnold looked so concerned. Helga hadn't realized it, but as all of these thoughts had washed over her he face had grown sadder and sadder and her eyes had started to well with tears.

Arnold reached up and brushed one of the warm drops of water from her eyelashes. "Helga…I've missed you too, you know…"

And he meant it; he had missed Helga very much. So much happened to him each day in San Lorenzo that he wanted to share with everyone back home, but most of all with her…And the thing that made him want her there even more was that there were so many memories he could think of that he wanted to make specifically with her in his new home: watching the sunset together in the mountains, dancing at the Green Eyes' festivals, going for walks near the perfect waterfalls whose mists created rainbows that seemed to have no beginning and no end…

Still, Arnold knew somehow that this separation was harder on her than it was on him. She had loved him longer and (he could feel) somehow loved him harder. But he had to spend this time with his family…it was just the way things had to be right now…Of course, Arnold had written a few letters to Helga from his new home trying to comfort her and giving her information about his days (though he had omitted his fantasies about what they could do there together out of shyness). However, after receiving no responses he had figured that rather than making her feel closer to him, his letters might be making things even more difficult for Helga. As a result, he had stopped writing until he could come home at Christmas and figure out what she wanted.

"I know you do…" was Helga's simple reply to Arnold's statement. And indeed, she knew he must miss her, and hearing him actually say it was a great comfort…But, still, it was only a small relief in the midst of a very big sadness that had forced her to harden herself much more than in the past—not outwardly towards others but inwardly toward herself.

"A lot's been changing, hasn't it?" he asked half-rhetorically.

Helga answered anyway. "Yeah."

Arnold took a breath. "Helga, would it be any better if I promised you something?" He looked into her eyes.

Helga turned to him confused, an eyebrow raised.

He shifted onto his knees, facing her. Her eyes widened, lost in his. Arnold grabbed one of her hands. "I promise that I'll come back from San Lorenzo, Helga. And then we can be together everyday, just like we always used to be." He smiled and kissed her hand.

"Arnold…don't…don't say things...don't promise things that you don't know are going to be true…" Helga replied in a hardened voice, removing her hand from his. She looked downward.

Arnold put a hand to her chin and lifted her face up so that it was looking into his again. "It will be true, though, Helga. Because I promised it to you, and I've never broken a promise to anyone, have I?"

He waited for a response. She nodded reluctantly.

"Right," he continued, "…and I could especially never ever break a promise to you."

Helga couldn't help but start to smile, intoxicated as she was by his familiar optimism. She knew what horrible things would happen to her inside if she believed him and he didn't come back. Somehow, though…somehow she had always known she could trust Arnold, and she trusted him now. "I believe you, Arnold," escaped her mouth without a single hesitation.

He smiled. She continued in a much more forceful voice. "I mean, I really believe you, Arnold. And it means a lot to me." She wanted him to understand what would happen to her if he was just saying these things to be nice. "Because I ne—need you Arnold and I…" She felt herself falling over her words. All of the suppressed emotions over the past four months were just too much. She was starting to cry and she didn't want to.

Suddenly, Helga felt his arms around her. "I promise, Helga. I'll be back one day. For good."

For a few minutes the two just stayed like that, hot tears spilling silently from Helga's eyes despite her best efforts to keep them at bay. Arnold could feel the moisture sinking through his jacket, and he was happy she was finally able to let out what was inside of her.

After a little bit, Helga was done. Tears weren't enough to express everything, and so eventually she just stopped crying them. She slowly pulled away from Arnold and he let her go.

She sat with her back against the wall again, knees pulled to her chest, arms wrapped around them, closing herself up like an oyster seeking protection in its shell.

Arnold sat back against the wall as well. He picked up the blue package next to him. "Well, I guess now's as good a time as any to open my present…"

Helga's eyes widened as she finally noticed that he had her gift with him. "Uh…" She was about to protest. However, she just couldn't come up with any viable reason why he shouldn't open it here if he wanted to except that she just wasn't expecting it. Honestly, by giving it to Gerald to give to her beloved she had thought that Arnold would wait until he was in San Lorenzo tomorrow night to see what it was. "Fine…" she finally finished in a level voice, looking off ahead again and flicking some snow off her knees.

Arnold turned back to the gift, and slowly unwrapped it. It was a bit flat, and not so big or heavy that he hadn't been able to easily bring it with him to the building. It wasn't so small, though, as to be able to fit into one of his palms, and he was more comfortable holding it with two hands.

Finally, the bow and paper were gone and in Arnold's hands sat a small, beautiful leather-bound photo album. He opened it up only to find pictures of himself, his grandparents, and all of his classmates in chronological order from the time of preschool through fourth grade inside. He flipped through the book, smiling at all of the memories before him. "This…this is…wonderful…" He neared the end and flipped past a few newspaper photos of himself, Gerald, and Helga after the FTi incident, and finally turned to the last page. Here, filling the entire space, was a single photo of his grandparents, his parents, all of his classmates, and himself in San Lorenzo just before the plane had taken off to return all but Miles, Stella, and Arnold to Hillwood. He tried to recall the picture being taken. 'So that's why Helga got us all together and yelled, 'Look over there, free Yahoo sodas!' After not seeing one for three months, everyone had been desperate enough to actually look when she had said it, and the ravenous smiles on their faces attested to this fact. 'She must have had the camera on a timer…' Arnold smiled to himself.

Arnold looked to Helga. "But how did you get all of these old pictures?"

Helga smiled and pushed her hair out of her eyes. "Believe me, it wasn't easy. I had to sit through a make over session with Rhonda, a lecture on animal rights from Sheena, a dance recital with Eugene, a Mr. Fudgy eating contest with Harold, oh and your best friend made me sign a contract saying that I would never pound you…" She rolled her eyes. "Honestly, it probably would have all gone a heck of a lot easier and quicker if I had just told them all that it was for you, but then people would have asked questions, rumors would've been started…I do still have a reputation to maintain, Football Head." She winked.

Arnold was about to close the book when he noticed something wedged behind the final group shot. "What's this one of?" He slowly tried to slide out the hidden photo.

Helga's eyes went wide. She hadn't meant for him to notice that little extra addition until he was in San Lorenzo for a few weeks, casually flipping through the book one night only to stumble across it by accident. Seeing it right now, though, when she was right next to him on a frigid, dark roof in Hillwood had definitely not been part of her plan.

Arnold looked at the picture. It was a shot of Helga and him from preschool, actually playing together alone—a rare occurrence back then. Arnold studied the photo then turned it over. A message was on the back, a poem actually. The last poem Helga had been able to write since he'd left, though he didn't know it. He read it aloud. "Arnold: Meeting you was the best part about my life. Having you was the best part of your parents', I know. Please don't forget about Hillwood, or P.S. 118, or me, And I'll miss you while you're in San Lorenzo. Yours forever, Helga G. Pataki."

Helga blushed furiously and refused to look at him. Arnold slipped the photo back under the group shot and closed the album, placing it beside him atop the used paper. "It's the best present I've ever gotten, Helga. It's perfect."

"Yeah, well…you're welcome, Football Head…" she managed to mumble.

He couldn't help a slight laugh that escaped through his nose at her stubborn nature. "Would you like your present now too, Helga?" he asked.

Helga hesitated, then looked at him. "It's not something lame like 'the gift of friendship' or 'a handshake' or 'Christmas spirit', is it?" she joked.

He laughed aloud. "No." She still seemed skeptical. "I promise," he added with a touch of irony.

That addition finally caused her to crack a smile. In fact, just being near him made her feel so warm inside that she wanted to smile forever. That was actually one of the reasons she hadn't wanted to go to the party—she knew this good feeling inside was going to be sucked away the second Arnold returned to South America, leaving her empty and numb again. She just hoped at this point that the memory of what was happening here on the rooftop would tide her over until his next visit.

"It's two things actually," Arnold continued, in reference to her present. "Close your eyes."

Helga did as she was told. "If this is a yuletide prank," she began, " I swear I'm gonna—"

Suddenly, she felt something warm against her nose. It took her a second to piece together what Arnold must be doing, but then it hit her that he had his nose to hers. She shut up and swallowed hard, eyes still shut.

He placed an arm around her waist and placed his lips against her own, kissing her. Slowly but firmly, she kissed him back. It wasn't as passionate as the last kiss they had shared in that spot but, somehow, it was one of the most intense romantic moments of either of their two young lives.

The two remained like that for as many minutes as possible, finally separating when the physical contact after four months of separation was starting to make them both a little lightheaded.

Helga couldn't help the smile on her face, the half-lidded look of love in her eyes. "So…I'm guessing the kiss was part one of my present."

Arnold pushed against her so that they were leaning on each other, still sitting down. "Well, actually, the present was that Gerald didn't come along two seconds in to it with a look on his face like he'd just seen us having tea and cookies with La Sombra."

Helga chuckled to herself. "By the way, how's he been doing keeping 'us' under wraps?" she inquired, just to check up on how things were going with Gerald knowing.

Arnold raised an eyebrow. "Great, actually. He's still terrified enough of you that he would never talk. Kind of ironic since he's always telling urban legends and tales?"

"Yeah, a little," agreed Helga, nonchalantly. "I just better never walk in on him telling the story of the Lucky in Love Girl from San Lorenzo or I'll chop off that pile of hair on top of his head and use it to start the pilot light in my brownstone." She laughed to herself, and Arnold couldn't help the grin that came to his face at the colorful (if never-to-actually-be-carried-through) threats this girl always seemed to come up with.

A moment of silence occurred in which the two preteens relished the simple laugh they had just had—it felt so much like old times, in a way. Simple and fun.

Finally, Helga spoke up. "So…?"

Arnold blinked, coming out of his memories. "Huh?"

"So…where's part two of my present, paste-for-brains? Duh! Sheesh!" She playfully punched him in the shoulder though, with her strength, the gesture actually hurt him a bit. He tried not to wince, but she could tell that she had indeed caused a bit of pain in his arm.

Helga sighed and rolled her eyes. "Well, since your mom's not up here with us, I guess I'll have to 'make it all better,' Football Head." Before he could protest, she pecked a kiss on his upper arm where she had hit it.

Arnold couldn't help but blush at the affectionate gesture, feeling a little giddy inside as he always did at experiencing her caring nature.

She just looked lovingly at him as always. "Well, are we gonna get to part two or what, Arnold-o?"

He shook his head with a smile. "Fine, but you've got to take off your snow hat first."

Helga hesitated. "Fine, but it's still a little windy. And I'm not very good at putting my hair up without my…uh…my…" Helga had been hoping to avoid the topic of her ribbon but she knew she had definitely just blown it.

Arnold's eyes lit up. "Your ribbon?" he suggested all-knowingly.

Helga blushed.

"Where is it, Helga?" asked Arnold, curious.

She half smiled to herself and rolled her eyes. "It's good to know there are at least some obvious things you still don't notice, Football Head. It's one of my favorite things about you…" She picked up the photo album he had placed at his side and handed it to him with the spine facing up.

He glanced down at the area she wanted him to look at and blinked in surprise. The album wasn't something store bought, but rather a handmade gift Helga had put together…and the covers were bound at the spine with a very familiar pink ribbon done in patterns weaving up and down the height of the book.

Arnold looked up at Helga, surprised. "But, don't you want it back, Helga? It just seems like it's such a part of you…And if I remember right, I always thought it added something nice to your hair…" he added with a smile to himself, recalling the memory Helga had reminded him of about their first encounter at preschool so many years ago.

Helga looked forward, her face seeming serious yet again. "Yeah, well…you're the only one who ever thought that, and now that you're gone…" That dead, sad look was coming to her eyes again and she could feel it. She quickly put herself even more on the defensive, moving away from the issue at hand. "Besides I…I needed something to bind it together and it was the only thing that worked that I had on hand…" She turned away.

Arnold took one of her hands and placed its palm against the cool leather of the album which was now resting in his hand. "Helga, you don't have to lose who you are just because I'm not here…You're still Helga Pataki with or without me. If you still like wearing the ribbon, then you shou—"

"Arnold!" A touch of the old anger was back in her voice. She removed her hand from the object and pushed it toward him. "If you're that obsessed with the stupid ribbon being in my stupid life, then just take it for now and bring it back to Hillwood with the album when you finally move back into the Boarding House for good, okay? Crimeny, don't turn this into some kind of huge symbolic thing!"

Arnold blinked, a bit surprised at her snapping at him. He considered for a moment though and then glanced down at the album. Finally, he nodded to her with an understanding look and placed the gift into his interior coat pocket.

Helga was doing her best to hide it but, inside, giving him this ribbon really did mean something to her. In her mind and heart it increased the hope for her that he would come back because he now had something physical and significant to return to her. And, in addition, well…somehow the ribbon was the old Helga, the unrequited love Helga, the child Helga…and if she was going to have to be alone for a while she wanted a chance to explore a Helga beyond those things so that when Arnold finally returned permanently she would be ready to finally have a real relationship with him, and finally feel like a real and complete person within herself. Besides, however much she didn't want to admit it, a part of her was curious about what would come to fill the space left by Arnold in her life—what new pursuits and interests and passions that she had never considered before would she come upon? What kind of Helga would she become without Arnold?

Arnold broke the silence that had ensued as Helga had become lost in her thoughts. "I still need you to take your hat off, Helga. For part two of your gift…"

Helga still hesitated. Arnold did his best to lighten the mood. "Just take it off and leave your hair down for once, Cecile. If it makes you feel better I promise I won't find it too attractive."

Helga blushed considerably (she had told him the story of last Valentine's Day during their time in San Lorenzo, surprising Arnold quite a bit) but finally removed the cap.

"Now close your eyes," Arnold smiled mischievously.

Helga did as she was told again. "I'm getting some serious déjà vous here but whatever floats your boat, Football Head."

For a few seconds Helga didn't feel anything.

Okay, open your eyes.

Helga did so but, to her surprise, nothing was before her. She raised an eyebrow.

Suddenly, she studied her beloved very closely—there was something different about him. What was it though? He had on the same coat, and the same pants, and his hair was the same style…but somehow it looked different or…or it was missing something!

"Arnold?! Your hat?!" Helga leapt up and began to search around the cement under their feet. "It must have blown off your head!"

"Helga…" Arnold stood up as well.

"We have to find it!"

"Helga…" He was being patient.

"Here, you check that side of the roof and I'll check this one! I just hope it didn't blow off! Oh, if it ends up at the dump again, I'm just gonna—"

"Helga!" He was tapping his foot at this point.

"What?!" She looked at him in panic, surprised at how calm he was being about the fact that his signature blue hat was now lost.

Arnold just laughed though and replied simply, "It's on top of your head, Helga."

Helga felt the top of her head and sure enough the blue cap was there. She took it down and held it in her hand. She looked to Arnold in confusion. "But how did it get there?" she asked, genuinely curious.

Arnold took a step toward her. "Because I just gave it to you, Helga. It's part of that promise I made. If you don't think I'll really come back just because I said I would, or even to give you your ribbon back…" Helga swallowed hard at hearing how perfectly he'd figured out the full extent of her true motivation in including her ribbon in his present. Arnold continued, "You at least have to know that I'll always come back for my hat." He winked.

Helga felt like her legs were going to give out. She couldn't believe his words. "You're ki—you're kidding me, right?"

Arnold grabbed her shoulders in his arms to steady her. "Merry Christmas, Helga." He gave her one more quick kiss on the mouth, which they both savored. Helga just smiled as he separated from her; she was finally feeling alive inside after so many empty days.

He grabbed one of her hands. "Now, come on—I've only got one night left here and my parents and my Grandpa are waiting in the car outside. You can come to my house for some hot chocolate and San Lorenzo Christmas stories, and then maybe I can go over to your house for some eggnog and Christmas carols. What do you say?"

Helga just nodded, her eyes half-lidded and a pleased smile on her face. "Sounds like plan, Football Head…"

Arnold turned from her and began to walk toward the roof exit, pulling out his flashlight. Helga, however, hesitated. Noticing that he wasn't hearing her footsteps behind him, Arnold turned with concern in his eyes to see what was the matter. "Helg—" Suddenly, he felt a large snowball pelt him in the right side of his face. He brushed it off and saw a smirking Helga standing ten feet from him, her arms folded over her chest

"Hey!" he yelled jokingly.

She put his hat on her head, and then put her snow hat over it to keep the wind from taking it away. "Oh, come on, Arnold-not everything can change." She rolled her eyes.

Arnold shook his head smiling and began to head for the doorway again, knowing better than to try and best Helga in a snowball fight. He assumed she would follow him this time.

"But a lot is different now, isn't it?" came Helga's voice from her still stationary body, a note of sadness and longing in it again.

Arnold turned once more to see her looking at him with genuine concern and confusion in her eyes, a fading smile on her face. She continued. "And a lot's going to keep being different for a while, isn't it?"

Arnold considered how he should answer. "Sometimes when things are different it can mean a lot of good stuff can happen…" He walked back over to her and grabbed one of her hands in his. "Like you and me, for instance."

Helga's smile only mildly returned at his touch. "But it can also mean a lot of hard things have to happen before things can be good, can't it?" Again the painful memories of the last four months of secret letters, and no poems, and numbness, and tears flashed through Helga's mind and she shuddered at the loneliness that it all was.

Arnold could do nothing but speak what he felt was the truth. "Yeah, maybe…" He looked into her eyes, "But I think that the good that'll come will be worth it. And I think that we can do it as long as we know we have each other."

"You're so corny, Football Head," came Helga's listless reply, and she rolled her eyes. She sighed and without looking at him added seriously, "I'll try Arnold…I, I don't know if it's always going to be as perfect as you think it is…I think I might even forget sometimes what you're saying right now and just think of the bad things as being for forever…but I'll try Arnold." She looked him in the eyes. "Really. I'll try. I promise." She grasped his remaining free hand firmly with her own free hand and smiled. Arnold smiled back.

Helga suddenly broke her hands from Arnolds' and hugged him tightly. Arnold's look of surprise at the sudden gesture quickly melted into a smile at her warm touch on this cold winter's night.

The two remained like this for a few moments. Eventually, a cold gust of wind caused Helga to shiver and break apart from Arnold. As it passed, though, she looked to him with a smile on her face and a blush on her cheeks, and he smiled back at her with his familiar half-lidded gaze. He reached out a hand for one of hers and, with that, Arnold turned on his flashlight with his free hand and the two ten-year-olds went to open the door to exit the roof.

Arnold removed his hand from Helga's to grab the door handle and gave it a firm pull. "Uh oh…"

Helga's eyebrows shot up. "What do you mean, 'uh oh,' Arnold?"

Arnold pulled at the door again. "Um, I think it locked from the inside when I closed it behind me. It won't open."

"Let me see that!" A scowl came to Helga's face and she spit into her palms and grabbed the door handle with all of her might and pulled. However, all she succeeded in doing was ripping the handle off, effectively hurling herself backward onto the floor of the concrete roof.

"Oh that's just perfect—now it probably won't open from either side!" yelled Helga to herself, frustrated at her inability to open the door.

Arnold raced over to her. "Helga, Helga—are you alright?" He knelt down beside her and put his arm underneath her head, elevating it up.

She rubbed one of her temples. "Yeah, I'm fine, Football Head." She pushed herself up on her own and dusted her coat off. "But how are we gonna get down from here? It's freezing!" She looked around. "What I wouldn't give for one of those grappling hooks from Bridget right now…"

Arnold looked at his flashlight. "Well, my mom said if I needed help to just shine this down to the car and they'd come get me."

Helga grinned. "You know, Arnold, if we were talking about anybody else's parents making their way through a dark, abandoned office building, breaking down a steel door, and coming to the rescue of two ten-year-olds I would probably sooner jump onto the grassy, snowy lawn below and hope for the best." Arnold grinned, knowing well his parents' adventure and survival skills. Helga continued. "But if it's your parents, Arnold-o, I'm just disappointed this place doesn't have a moat or a lava pit or something to make it a challenge for them." She put an arm over his shoulder and the two shared a laugh.

Arnold and Helga walked over to the edge of the roof and could just make out the lights of the Packard parked in the street below. Arnold shone his flashlight beam down there and in two seconds Miles had beeped the horn three times to let his son know that help was on the way.

Arnold sat down with his back against a wall and Helga followed suite.

"So, I'm thinking…what? A half hour 'til we're finally warm and happy in the Packard?" guessed Helga.

Arnold shrugged. "Probably…Speaking of which…Helga, I think I should warn you before we get down there that while we've been up here my Grandpa's probably been filling my parents in on how we're 'boyfriend and girlfriend,' and 'in love,' and how we've been 'flirting for years.' Arnold blushed. "I don't know exactly what my Grandpa's cooking up, but I just wanted you to be prepared in case they say or do anything."

"Ah, so Gerald did tell someone after all," replied Helga with a sarcastic smile. "Perfect, I've been looking for a reason to kick his butt for seven years."

Arnold smiled and rolled his eyes. "Actually, my Grandpa figured it out all on his own. He even suggested that you might like me months before you told me that you did…"

Helga blinked. "Really? What…what did you say to him?" She couldn't help but ask the question.

Arnold paused, and then an uncontrollable grin came to his face. "I told him he was crazy."

The two of them stared at each other for a second and then burst into laughter.

After they had both calmed down, Helga swallowed hard and asked innocently, "So…any cute Green Eyes girls you've been going all gaga over since I've been gone?" A smirk threatened to appear on her face.

"Helga!" Arnold's eyes widened, and automatically he gave her a playful punch in the shoulder.

"Ow!" Helga rubbed the spot. "Hey, that actually hurt a little! And you can't hit nearly as hard as I can." Arnold rolled his eyes at this comment. Helga continued, "Is that really what I did to you before? Sheesh, maybe I should lighten up on you a bit?"

Their laughter filled the cold rooftop with warmth. Meanwhile, the snow clouds began to finally clear up leaving patches of dark, star-dotted sky amongst the static sections of grey mists above. And for tonight, at least, no matter what would happen when Arnold got on that plane tomorrow, this particular Pataki felt like she could be strong for years if she had to.


A/N:

That's all for now folks! I hope you liked it and please review if you have the chance :) And to everyone celebrating anything right now Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah, have a great Winter Solstice, and of course an Awesome Kwanza, plus anything else I didn't think of! I'm late for a Christmas Eve party myself so I've got to go now—Bye!