King Cheetah: I'm planning on doing the same with Through the Compact Disc. The first few chapters definitely need it.
The JAM: Whenever I get to a good stopping point on my catch-ups, I'll be reading more of other people's that I've missed. I've got you and King Cheetah on the list, okay?
SkaterGirl13: Whoa, had to look that word up despite my so-called book-vocabulary. But thanks for the criticism; I'll try not to do that. Thanks for the comment as well!
Thought you all deserved a quick update. A note about the consciences: if anyone here is a Megatokyo reader, I'd just like to say right now that Connie and Connor are similar to Seraphim and the CEA. I didn't rip the idea off of them, but the conscience organization is quite similar, only Seraphim is physical and not mental.
Helga sat in her usual backseat, leaning one shoulder against the window and flipping through her old journal. She sighed dreamily, being caught up in the romance of her own wishes.
What was starting to annoy her was the constantly repeating theme of Arnold in every last one of them. Even she was getting bored reading the same things again and again. She flipped back a few pages to what she'd just written the night before in her emptied closet. Yes, there was nothing significant there, but she felt a sense of security in the cramped space. She excused it with habit.
She heard someone walk over to the seat next to her and just stand, waiting. Without looking up she said, "Take a seat Phoebe."
"Thanks," said Arnold, "but you got the wrong name."
Helga jumped up and slammed the book shut, stuffing it between her and the bus's wall protectively. Arnold sat next to her on the edge of the seat, so that he was halfway in the aisle. There was plenty of room between them, but Helga didn't point that out.
"What were you reading?" he asked.
Helga shrugged and squeezed the book further away from his reach. "Nothing. It's just an old favorite."
"Oh really?" Arnold looked at her suspiciously. It turned Helga's insides to jelly. "Can I see it?"
Helga glared at him. "I hate it when you do that. I always have."
"Aw, come on Helga," he pouted, trying with all his might not to laugh. "Please can I see it?"
"If you're trying that hard, there's no way you're getting it!"
God, will he just stop trying to get it!
"Why not?" he asked. He smiled cunningly. "It's not a book is it?"
Helga set her face in stone. "Duh," she said harshly. "And I'd appreciate if you would stop trying to get it."
Now Arnold wasn't in such a playful mood. He had been trying to play off his anxiety about Rhonda, of which he still hadn't told Helga about. Arnold arched his neck far enough to recognize the book beside her as one of the books he had seen in her attic. So that's why she didn't want him to see it.
"Sorry, Helga," he said. "I'll leave it alone."
For a moment Helga was silent, but then she exhaled and pushed herself against the bus seat. "No, I'm sorry. I need to stop acting like such a big jerk around you."
"I'm still sorry, though," he said.
A moment of silence washed over the two of them for a while until Helga took the book from its hiding spot, flipped it to a page near the back, and handed it to him. "That's the only one you get to see, too!" she warned. "Don't think I will give you special treatment, either."
"You're so funny, Helga," he said, taking the book and reading the poem quickly. He nodded in approval. "I'm not the best person to ask about poetry, but that's pretty good."
She smiled and took it back. "I wrote it last night, along with like three others. I haven't actually written anything for a while… ever since the whole Scheck thing."
The bus pulled to a stop and Arnold looked out the window. "Gerald is coming in now."
Gerald walked up the stairs to the passenger level and looked around for Arnold. It took him a while to find him, and even then Arnold had to wave frantically. He mad his way through the aisle to the seat in front of them. "Hey, Arnold my brother," he said, holding out his fist. Arnold hit is own against it and they did their thumb wiggle.
Helga smirked at the gesture. "Don't suppose you guys plan on sharing that with me, eh?"
"Some things a man keeps sacred, Helga," said Gerald, laughing. He stopped when he saw the looks he was getting form the other two. "What?"
"You either had too much sugar coated cereal this morning," said Helga.
"Or you're trying not to tell me something," finished Arnold.
Gerald looked at them with fright. "Okay, that's weird. You two are already finishing each other's sentences."
"Answer, Gerald," said Arnold exasperatedly.
Gerald grimaced but got to say it. "Well, I think that Rhonda's-"
"Yeah, I know," interrupted Arnold.
"Jeez, man!" Gerald cried, hitting the back of his seat. "Let people say what they want to say!"
Helga turned to Arnold and said, "What about Rhonda?"
Neither of them answered for a while. It was obvious what it would be though.
"Aw, Criminy," moaned Helga, hitting her head against the seat in front of her. "Oh, I swear if she does anything to tick me off today she's going to pay!"
"Arnold and Helga sitting in a tree! K I S S in a-"
"Shove it up your pie hole, Berman!" yelled Helga, rearing up against Harold in the hallway, her fist dangerously close to his nose. He smiled nervously and backed down.
Phoebe looked like she was ready to burst a vessel in her forehead. "Oh my goodness, I can't believe the immaturity!" she cried, twitching her hand a bit as her and Helga walked to class. "I mean he's what, fourteen now? Ugh, sometimes I just want to…" she made a small fist and started punching her book hysterically.
"Whoa!" said Helga, holding up her hands. "Calm down. Hey… Hey, Phoebe!" Helga had to grab her hand to keep her from breaking her fingers. "Phoebe, you're glasses were about to fall off."
Phoebe took a few deep breaths and relaxed her shoulders. "I apologize for my behavior, Helga," she said weakly. "I lost control."
"Oh, please, do it more often," she replied, clapping. "Just not in overdosed quantities, that's just unhealthy."
"Well, at least it's not as bad as yesterday, right?" noted Phoebe. "I mean Harold stopped talking with one look at Old Betsy."
"So he's not as big of an idiot as he looks," said Helga thoughtfully.
Phoebe giggled. "Oh, Helga, you're terrible!"
Together they entered the classroom, taking their seats in Mr. Packenham's class. Helga placed her books on a desk near the middle of the room, Phoebe sitting next to her. She watched people enter the class until she saw the familiar blond hair enter and sit in the front of the class nest to Gerald.
She cleared her throat quietly and looked down at her paper, starting on the math problem on the board for their daily warm-up.
That afternoon, during their lunch period, Harold sat next to Sid and Stinky, two rather forgiving friends when it came down to it. He was looking rather downcast, actually, and absentmindedly pounded his mashed potatoes into even more of a runny pulp with his spork.
"I just don't get it," he said softly, glancing toward the table where Helga, Arnold, Gerald, and Phoebe sat. "Why the heck would they end up like that? It's just so confusing!"
"Then how come you're always picking at them about it?" Stinky asked. He was confused, as well, but he had decided long ago to leave Helga in the peace of her decisions. Unless they were cruel or offensive in anyway, he just tried to let her be. It was the kind of person Helga was, something he had figured out after their little experience. In fact, recent events answered a lot of questions he'd had about that. Now he knew why he was hired on, at least.
Harold shrugged. "Because!" he snapped defiantly.
"Yeah, but it's kind of stupid," mumbled Sid. "Especially after what happened with you and Patty, you'd think you'd tone it down a bit."
Struck short of a comeback to that remark, Harold stopped talking for a while. Finally he sighed. "You guys just don't get it," he breathed, hitting his potatoes so forcefully that a blob flew out of his plate and splattered the table.
It was at that moment that the doors of the cafeteria banged open so loudly that the entire cafeteria simultaneously snapped their heads in the direction of the disturbance. Rhonda, along with three other younger girls and one sixth grader, stood in the doorway with her hands on her hips and a smug look on her face. Judging by her air of pride, it was apparent that she was about to do something that would change someone's life.
In the dead silence, the sound of a large head hitting a table echoed. "Oh, man," groaned Arnold, fearing the worst.
"What's her deal?" Helga whispered in an annoyed tone. She cast a concerned glance at Arnold. "And what was that for?"
"You didn't tell her?" hissed Gerald, bending toward Arnold. "Why did you not tell her?"
"Didn't tell me what?" growled Helga through gritted teeth. Her impatience for bad news would soon be rewarded.
Rhonda pulled a cart from the sixth grader's hands and pushed it toward the middle of the cafeteria. The cart was covered in a dark blue blanket, covering a pile of whatever it was Rhonda was so proud of. At this point there were whispers bouncing around the room. "Extra, extra, read all about it!" she said loudly, whipping back the blanket to reveal the first edition of the Weekly Word for that school year.
"It's just the stupid newspaper!" Helga said in angry confusion, whipping her head back to Arnold. His head was still on the table, as if he was trying to hide from whatever was bothering him. "What's the problem?"
"Do I have to remind you what part of the paper Rhonda's in charge of," Arnold said, "and what her recent target has been?"
Helga paused and then hit her head on the table next to him. "Mind if I join you?"
"Go right ahead," he said, his voice muffled.
"Wait a second!" Helga said, popping back up. "I have to see this for myself." She pushed her chair back and stood up. A crowd had already collected around the cart, busily the contents. Helga spied a look at the front cover and saw it was just a welcome back article the staff had undoubtedly encouraged. That was a small relief; whatever she had planned wasn't the first thing that came to attention.
However, as she walked to the cart, she realized there were eyes watching her. Glaring at her. Disgusted at her.
She swiped a newspaper from the cart, people still eyeing her. She scowled, and then turned to the page the gossip column was usually on. She read the headline, gasped, and yelled, "Get your butt over here, Princess!"
"What's the matter, Helga?" asked a familiar voice from behind. "Afraid that the truth be known?"
Helga spun around and tossed the open page onto the cart that separated her from Rhonda's innocent face. She pointed to the article and cried, "That is no where close to the truth!"
In large, bold print, about a picture taken of Helga and Arnold (neither of whom looked happy), read "BLACKMAIL, DECIET, AND LIES: FORCED INTO A RELATIONSHIP BY SCHOOL BULLY."
"Yes," said Rhonda with a strange calm. Her hands were behind her back as she read. "That seems rather truthful to me."
Helga growled, and only by warnings of her conscience did she keep herself from throwing the cart aside and knocking her to the ground in a fit of rage. "Brainwashing the whole school to your side of thinking through the press is pretty low… though not unexpected."
"I seem to remember you doing the same," Rhonda replied, a snarling grin on her face. "Might I recall the tree that I'm sure you wished you could've been?"
From a distance, separated from getting to Helga by the thickening crowd around the two girls, Arnold stood on his chair watching. "This really isn't looking good," he said to Gerald.
"I so do not play with dolls," muttered Gerald.
"You have no idea what has gone on with Arnold and me over summer break," cried Helga. She threw an accusing hand at the crowd. "None of you losers do! This crap about me forcing Arnold into anything isn't truth, just some stupid accusation!"
"How dare you!" Rhonda snapped. "I'm only trying to help Arnold. How many of you here would think that Helga and Arnold would actually agree to going together?"
Mumbles of uncertainty rose from the crowd behind her. But it was at that moment that someone stepped from behind Rhonda and said in a strong voice, untrue to her usual character, "I do."
Rhonda turned angrily to look behind her and then gasped. "Lila!"
Lila crossed her arms and looked at Rhonda with disappointment. "Rhonda, you're usually so nice. Why are you acting like this?"
"She's nice?" asked Helga with a frown.
"I am being nice," Rhonda said. The way she voiced it, it was apparent that she was convinced she was behaving nicely. "I'm trying to get Arnold out of another of his big mistakes."
"This isn't a mistake Rhonda," Lila argued. "You could ask him yourself right now if you wanted."
"Trust me, I'm not being forced into anything!" yelled Arnold from the other side of them room. He waved his arms to get attention and consequentially lost his balance, falling off of the chair.
"Arnold!" cried Helga, taking a step towards him.
And it was at that climatic moment that the bell decided to ring. Before the crowd would carry Lila away, Helga shot a grateful look to her former foe for trying to help in a fight with her new one. Lila smiled, and that was the last she saw of her before she left the cafeteria.
Helga looked up at the ceiling and begged whatever deity existed beyond it for a chance at peace as Rhonda walked briskly away. A few students made a point in pushing past her, only to be pushed with opposite but greater force by Helga.
She hung her head, feeling a bitter sensation of defeat by Rhonda. She felt a pressure on her shoulder and looked at it. It was a hand. She traced it to an arm and then to Arnold's face. They met eyes, and Helga said in a voice rarely heard from her, "Everyone believes her." Her voice actually sounded sad.
The sound of her voice struck through Arnold's heart. He wrapped his arms around her and hugged her, but she was limp in his arms, unwilling to hug him back. She was so sad, even her feelings for Arnold couldn't prevail.
"It doesn't matter, Helga," he whispered, trying to reassure her. "In time they'll learn they were wrong to listen to her."
Finally Helga grasped Arnold for dear life, her legs beginning to buckle. "It's not just that," she breathed through her teeth, holding back the emotion. "It's the fact that the way I acted towards you is what set us up for this crap."
"Well, yeah, we probably could have done without all of that," Arnold said. Stupid, said Connor in his mind.
"Exactly," she said, letting go of Arnold and standing up. "We really ought to get to class… where are Phoebe and Gerald?"
"They already went to class," said Arnold. "We're about to be late."
Together they walked out of the cafeteria, but not before Helga pushed the cart, newspapers fell all over a table, and they had to run away to not be caught.
So… tada? All right, listen, I'm expecting three to four chapters left here, including the prolouge I believe I've mentioned. I'm going to shoot for three, because I want to get this over ASAP so I can go to other ideas I've had. So, review, ask questions and you'll get answers, and I might be motivated a tad bit more.
You Gotta Love Me