Disclaimer: It's not mine!
It had been a few hours since Arnold left Helga at the Meteor Garden in an all-too-obvious hurry. He didn't want to leave her, but didn't know how to face her after their confrontation. He was sure she was playing him- she said so herself that it was only too easy to do so. If she wasn't, well, he didn't know how he'd feel about that, either. Since then, he had been walking the streets of Brookside: the town he was stranded in and knew very little about besides its name.
On the surface, Brookside looked very much like Hillwood with its old run-down buildings, small shops, minor conveniences, and lower middle to middle class inhabitants but it lacked the spirit of community that kept his own beloved city alive. There weren't any kids playing ball in vacant lots, or riding bikes in the steep hill he just passed. There weren't any elderly people playing checkers on the sidewalk or in the park. Several cars -none of which his, he noted- passed by from time to time. From a distance, Arnold heard a domestic disturbance taking place when back in Hillwood he always heard classical jazz or his grandmother playing piano on the roof.
Arnold's eyes widened. His grandmother! He slapped himself on the forehead. He was out all last night and it had been almost 24 hours since his grandparents last saw him. He didn't want them to worry.
He scanned his surroundings for a pay phone, spotted one further down the street and made a run towards it. He fished for some loose change in his pocket and dialed the number for the Sunset Arms Boarding House.
His grandfather picked up after a few rings. "Grandpa, it's me."
"Who is this?" Phil Shortman demanded. "I'm not buying anything."
"Grandpa, it's Arnold."
"Oh Arnold!" the old man exclaimed. "When did you get a job as a telemarketer?"
"I'm not a telemarketer, Grandpa," Arnold replied patiently. "I just want to call and say I'm sorry for staying out all night but don't worry about me, okay?"
"Aw, no need to explain, Shortman." His grandfather reassured. "It's normal to want to spend time with your friends. After all, summer vacation is ending and you already missed a couple of days because some old coot wanted to go camping with his favorite grandson."
"No, it's not like that, Grandpa. I told you, I had fun camping with you. I just needed to go somewhere for a while." Arnold felt guilty. He didn't exactly lie but he wasn't about to inform his grandfather that he was abducted by the awkward, angry girl he went to school with while he slept, either. Or that his car was stolen and was now stranded in the middle of a strange town, miles away from home, for that matter. He wasn't sure what that sort of shocking news could do to his grandparents. Sure, even at their age, they seemed like the very picture of health- physically, that is- but he didn't want to take any risks.
"Heheh. I'm just messing with ya, Arnold. Of course you can go out and have fun. Heck, I was young once, and caused a whole lot more trouble than you ever did."
Arnold was relieved. He was about to say goodbye when his grandfather cut in once more. "You're with a girl, aren't you?"
Arnold almost dropped the phone. He was about to scold his grandfather, but he didn't really know what else to say. In a way, he was right but he was also wrong. How was he supposed to explain things when he himself was confused by what was going on?
"Yes," he admitted.
"Well who is it?" Grandpa asked, sounding excited. "Is it that red-headed girl or your friend with the one eyebrow?"
"Helga, Grandpa." Arnold sighed and paused to think. Did Helga still only have one eyebrow? He couldn't imagine Helga bothering to shave or pluck or whatever it is that girls did to their eyebrow. All he knew was that unibows were supposed to be unattractive on girls.
There was nothing unattractive about Helga G. Pataki.
His thoughts were interrupted by the sound of his grandfather chuckling on the phone. "It's not what you think!"
"Well, who said I was thinking anything?" Grandpa countered. "Relax, Arnold. You're acting like we don't trust you or something. We all know better than that, so stop worrying and save your energy for more important things. Heheh."
"Bye, Grandpa." Arnold replied. He wasn't about to set the record straight with his grandfather. He was already uncomfortable enough at his grandfather's sly remarks. Was it just him, or did everyone's minds get dirtier overnight? "I'll be home soon."
Arnold hung up the phone and an idea occurred to him. Helga may have been bluffing when she threatened Ed earlier that day, but it actually wasn't a bad idea to let people back home know where to find them in case things went from bad to worse.
The problem was who to call. He still didn't want to get his grandparents involved. Enduring his grandfather's notions earlier was embarrassing enough, having his aged but ever sprightly grandmother break out the war paint would be too much.
On the other hand, he knew a set of parents who could stand to worry a little more about their daughter.
He picked up the phone once more to dial the Patakis home number. Amazing how he still had it memorized, despite not having had much reason to call Helga in a very long time. He never meant to lose touch with her, but she never seemed to be around so much anymore. Oh, they saw each other in school, and they were friends with the same people, but she was never as in his face as she used to when they were younger. He kind of missed it.
Until last night.
Suddenly, the old Helga he knew from childhood was back, calling him names, bossing him around, mystifying him in ways only she could.
Maybe it wasn't too late to reconnect with Helga. And maybe he could be the one to make her stay.
He found his own thoughts laughable. "Yeah right," he muttered.
The phone rang had been ringing for such a long time that he almost didn't expect anyone to answer.
"Hello?" the words were slightly slurred.
"Good afternoon, Mrs. Pataki. It's Arnold," he greeted politely. There was a pause on the other end, so he continued to talk. "I'm a friend of Helga's"
"Oh Helga!" Helga's mom half exclaimed, half mumbled on the phone. "Just a minute, I'll call her. Hel- GA!"
"No, Mrs. Pataki, she isn't there. She's run away." Arnold started to explain.
"She's not answering, Alfred. I think she went out." Miriam Pataki told him. "I'll just tell her you called, okay? Buh-bye now."
Arnold tried to get Helga's mother to listen to him, but she had already hung up. He sighed and dialed another number. No conversation with Big Bob Pataki had ever proved to be pleasant, but at least he could count on him to be more lucid than his wife.
"Big Bob's Beeper Emporium." A gruff voice answered. Over the years, the ever-enterprising Big Bob had, fortunately for his family, ventured into selling more contemporary and profitable communication devices but stuck with the name he came up with when he set up shop in Hillwood. Helga may have inherited her temper from her father, but her creativity-which Arnold knew she was noted for in school, but had rarely witnessed himself- had to have come from somewhere else.
"Mr. Pataki, it's Arnold. I'm calling about your daughter
"Olga?" Big Bob Pataki sounded worried. "What's wrong with her? Is she okay?"
"Not Olga, Mr. Pataki. Helga," he explained.
"Helga?" Big Bob repeated. "What's that girl done this time?"
"She's run away."
"She what?" the older man bellowed. "That little lady has some nerve. After all I've done for her. Well, she'll come home when she gets hungry."
"I think she means it, Mr. Pataki. You have to convince her to come home." Arnold was on the verge of begging.
"And how do you suppose I do that, Arthur, huh? " Big Bob challenged. "She's not going to listen to me."
"Just talk to her, Sir. You're her father and I think she needs you to act like it."
"Yeah right," Helga's father quipped. "Look, kid, you know what that daughter of mine is like. She's not into that kind of stuff. Okay, so maybe me and Miriam aren't as involved in her life as we are with Olga. Guess what? She wanted it that way."
"But Mr. Pataki," Arnold insisted. Sure Bob had a point. Helga was the sort of person to refuse to be meddled with, but that shouldn't be enough reason for anyone to stop reaching out. "This is different."
"Are you sure? All these years, she keeps complaining how I never take interest in her life but you know what happens when we try to get involved?" Big Bob ranted. "She yells at me to leave her alone or to get out of her room. She ruins Thanksgiving for everyone. But most of all, she loses the Spelling Bee on purpose!"
The last one must have slipped, thought Arnold. He remembered the Spelling Bee from fourth grade. He and Helga were the finalists and Big Bob offered him the exact amount of the cash prize to lose to Helga. He even considered it, but before he even had a chance to take a dive, Helga missed the word she was asked to spell and Arnold was instantly declared the winner. He couldn't remember what word caused Helga to lose the tournament, but he remembered being surprised at the time. It was probably the last time Big Bob had taken any interest in Helga's school activities.
Arnold wondered then, how much Helga knew about Big Bob's offer and felt ashamed.
"I remember you bribing me back then, Mr. Pataki. You must not have been that confident in Helga's abilities if you felt the need to do that. How do you know she did it on purpose?"
"Because," Big Bob interjected impatiently. "That last word was Olga's winning word and she's heard the story a million times. She thinks she's so clever, but I know she did it on purpose. To hurt me."
Patakis, Arnold observed, certainly bore grudges for a long time. No wonder she'd hated him all this time.
"You hurt her first, Mr. Pataki, by not believing in her." Arnold said quietly. He knew he was overstepping, but Big Bob was miles away and decided nothing bad could come of it.
"Hey!" Big Bob protested defensively. "I could see she was having a hard time and wanted to make things easier for her. I meant well. It's what any father would do, not that you would know.
Apparently, Patakis also went for the jugular in the exact same fashion.
"Ah er, well," Big Bob continued, sounding adequately sheepish. "I don't have time for this. That girl left on her own, she can find her way home on her own."
"Look," Arnold told the middle aged man on the phone before he could hang up. "This might be your last time to be there for your daughter. Do the right thing."
Arnold wasn't even sure Big Bob heard the last thing he said, but he hoped so. He had to admit Big Bob made some very valid arguments and Helga was not the easiest person to deal with. Heck, Arnold was the proverbial choir that Big Bob was preaching to on that matter, but he didn't think that was reason enough to let Helga go without a fight.
He had no doubt that, in their own very similar ways, Helga and her father loved each other. He just wished they would both stop being so stubborn and admit it already.
He then remembered that even though he had already talked to three people, he still had not accomplished his goal of making his whereabouts known. There was only one person he could count on. He dialed again.
Gerald Johanssen picked up after a few rings and Arnold had never been happier to hear his voice. "Gerald! I'm so glad you're home!"
"Arnold, my man, I haven't seen you in days! What's shaking, baby?"
Arnold chose to ignore Gerald's strange expressions. "Listen, Gerald, I need your help. My car was stolen and I'm stuck here in a town called Brookside and I need you to come get us."
"Whoa whoa whoa! Hold the phone, Arnold! Now let me see if I got this straight. You're in Brookside? Man, that's a lousy place to get stuck in."
"Tell me about it, Gerald" Arnold agreed.
"How'd you end up there, anyway?"
"Well, Helga wanted to rest and" Arnold began to explain.
"Helga's with you?" Gerald asked incredulously. "Man! How'd you manage to get yourself in that situation?"
"Well, she stole my car so she could run away and she brought me along for the ride." There was no trace of humor in Arnold's voice.
"So basically you're stuck miles away without any means of transportation all because of Helga?" Gerald summarized.
"Sounds to me like Helga's finally gonna try and do away with you, Arnold!"
"That's not funny, Gerald." Arnold snapped. Why did he ever think Gerald would be helpful?
"Well, it wasn't supposed to be. Think about it, Arnold. You're stranded in the middle of nowhere with someone who had never been shy about telling you she hates you. Can you just picture Helga in a hockey mask, wielding a chainsaw?"
"Stop it," Arnold warned. "Helga's not like that."
"Whatever you say, Arnold." Gerald sounded doubtful, but he just didn't know Helga that well.
Then again. Arnold had to admit, neither did he.
"So can you pick me up or not?" Arnold asked again.
"Can't, Man." Gerald at least had the decency to sound apologetic. "Jamie O's got the car and my parents are making me chaperone Timberly's slumber party tonight. You know, so nobody eats us out of house and home and all the lights are out by ten because you know how my dad is."
"Unbelievable. You're convinced Helga's plotting my demise and you're not gonna do anything about it? Can't you sneak out or something?"
"You gotta understand, Arnold." Gerald reasoned. "It's these junior high girls. Man! Why didn't they look like that when we were in junior high?"
"Sick!" Arnold said in a disgusted voice. It was official. The whole world had turned into perverts. Gerald had always been girl-crazy, but Arnold had never seen this side of him before. He had to wonder what was going on.
"Hey!" Gerald protested defensively. "You didn't hear me say nothing when you made my sister your girlfriend."
Arnold rolled his eyes. "For your information, your sister made me her boyfriend. And that was completely different from what you're doing now. It was completely innocent."
"Okay, okay. Anyway, just hitchhike back to Hillwood or something. Can't be more dangerous than staying there with Helga."
"I can't leave her here, Gerald." Arnold said sadly. He already knew that much. No matter how angry or confused she made him, no matter how much she lashed out at him or hurt his feelings, he just couldn't walk away.
"She'll be fine." Gerald reassured him. "This is Helga we're talking about. You know, Helga G. Pataki."
"No," Arnold insisted. He knew Gerald would never understand. "I uh, wanna make sure she's okay."
"Mmm-mm-mm!" Gerald made the noise he always made when he disapproved of something. "Then you already have it."
"Have what?" Arnold was confused.
"Stockholm Syndrome." Gerald said matter-of-factly.
It took a while for Arnold to answer. "That's crazy talk, Gerald. I do not have Stockholm Syndrome."
"Are you sure? You're having warm and fuzzy feelings for the girl who stole your car and is keeping you away from home against your will. Sounds like Stockholm Syndrome to me."
"Whatever you say, Gerald." Arnold suddenly did not have the strength to argue with his best friend. The subject was getting all-too disturbing and he needed time to process things.
However, he wasn't in his usual generous mood, either and did not want to let him off the hook so easily. "Just so you know, if Helga tries to torture me for any useful information, the first thing I'd probably let slip is what her best friend's boyfriend is up to this evening."
That got Gerald's attention. "You don't think she'll tell Phoebe, do you?"
"What do you think?" Arnold challenged. "So you better get here before that happens."
"Can I stay 'til 'lights out'?"
Arnold shrugged. "It's your funeral."
"Only if it isn't yours." Gerald quipped. Arnold had to laugh and the two best friends said goodbye.
Arnold was satisfied, even though Gerald did not exactly commit to anything. As far as Arnold was concerned he had accomplished what he set out to do, which was let someone know where he and Helga were. It was really just a precaution, anyway. He didn't really feel like he was in a life-threatening situation despite Gerald's notions.
"Stockholm Syndrome," he muttered in disbelief. Warm and fuzzy feelings, Gerald had said. Was it possible?
"Arnold?" A young girl's voice called behind him. He knew whose it was, but it sounded softer than he was used to, and the warm and fuzzy feelings grew exponentially.
He turned to face Helga, and he wondered to himself if Stockholm Syndrome had any physical symptoms. He was feeling feverish and kind of weak.
"Um, I've been looking for you," Helga told him in a hesitant voice. "Let's go back to our room."
Arnold's knees buckled.
Author's Note: I think my chapters keep getting longer and longer. Anyway, this story's almost over, just 2 or 3 more to go, depending on if any new ideas come along.
I would like to borrow a page from my favorite ffn authors and announce that starting with the reviews I get for this chapter, I will be using the review-reply function and thanking all reviewers personally. I'm sorry if I have offended any of you by not doing this before. That function had simply not been there the last time I was active here. It's a great feature, and I'm looking forward to getting in touch with all of you.
For now, I'd like to thank the ones who reviewed the last chapter (I don't want to send anyone messages out of the blue, especially if they commented ages ago.)
acosta perez jose ramiro
The Pink Bow and The Blue Hat
Also, I think I need a beta.