Okay, we're now on the eight chapter. Ug, this is the shortest chapter of the story, and it also (unfortunately) seems to be the last. I've exhausted my ideas for this fic, so I've tried to write the best ending I could, keeping in mind that this fic was not meant to be mushy. Hey, I warned you from the start that this wasn't going to be a mushy gushy fic, so don't complain now!
Before we go any further, I'd like to apologize for the enormous and ridiculous amount of time it has taken me to post this last chapter. I'd also like to say a huge THANK YOU to every single one of my wonderful reviewers and to the following people:Sylvia Sylverton
DarthRoden (aka. Carl)
And of course, my best friends, evilmayo and Q.o.U. (don't ask about the names, it'd take too long to explain.)
All of these wonderful people read my last chapter and gave me great feedback. I couldn't have done this without you guys, so thanks again!
Love forever and ever:
PS. Disclaimers still apply, and so on and so forth. Another blah to you.
A Rainy December
Chapter Eight: Friends?
Tuesday morning came far too fast for Helga's liking, and it came despite her wishes. The sun peeked over the edge of Arnold's skylight ceiling, hitting her directly on her face, and of course waking her. She grumbled to herself angrily as she opened her eyes drowsily and rolled over away from the sunlight. She was sleeping on the floor in the thick blue sleeping bag Arnold had found for her, with Abner curled up beside her. As she moved, he gave a sleepy grunt and lifted his head to give her a glare.
"Oh stuff it, piggy." She said softly as she buried her face in her pillow and tried to go back to sleep. Unfortunately, she was now awake and she pushed herself up with a faint 'hmph'. Abner stood up and stretched as Helga moved to a kneeling position, but then he made three small circles and curled back up into a ball. "Sorry for disturbing you, your majesty." She whispered sarcastically as she started working out the kinks in her neck.
I can't believe that it's actually Tuesday . . .She thought, part of her saddened by this fact. She sighed to herself as her gaze landed on the sleeping Arnold and a smile brightened her sleep-rumpled features. He really was the most amazing person she'd ever met, there wasn't any doubt there.
After their little discussion that stormy night, things had changed quite noticeably. Sunday had been spent in essential silence, with an occasional meaningless conversation. Both of them were clearly thinking, trying to understand everything that had happened and everything that had been said. Helga herself could barely believe it; she'd actually admitted to him about the way she hid from everyone, and he hadn't . . . well, he hadn't flat out rejected her. That in itself had made Helga one of the happiest people on the planet.
Sunday night, as they had fallen asleep, Arnold had said something to her that had completely broken the ice. Right before she'd drifted off, he'd called her name softly, and when she blinked up at him, he'd smiled, his face shining silver from the moonlight.
"I'm glad, Helga, that you trust me enough to have been so honest with me yesterday." And with that, he had rolled over.
Helga had been so stunned by his statement that she hadn't been able to think up a proper response until well after he'd fallen asleep, but that didn't stop her from telling him the next morning. After that, things had been incredible. She and Arnold had spent the entire day just talking, talking about things neither one of them had shared with anyone. She explained to him everything about her family, how they looked down upon intellectualism, and art, and . . . well, true emotions. She'd never really been told that she'd been wanted, that she was honestly and truly loved by them. As Arnold had said, the only person who really seemed to give a hoot was Olga.
And he told her about himself. Things he'd kept locked away forever, and she finally understood how much not having parents ate at him. The back to school nights, with all the other kids proudly displaying off their finger-painting or their newest sculpture, and Arnold left with no parent to congratulate him on a drawing well drawn, or a star well won. His grandparents rarely came to school events, not because they didn't care, but because . . . well, they'd never given him a reason why.
Helga sympathized with him on that, and told him so. She'd never have a parent come willingly to a school function; if she wasn't up to win some big trophy, they didn't care at all, what with Miriam fast asleep half the time and Bob too busy yelling into his phone about the business. Parent teacher nights, school plays, field trips . . . not one thing did they come to or chaperone. Other kids had parents who baked cookies, helped them with their projects, and encouraged them. Helga's mother often forgot to pack her a lunch.
He told her how jealous he felt when he saw parents and their children happily playing together on swing sets or in the sandbox or at the ocean. Sure, he'd smile and be happy for the child that he or she had such loving parents, but part of him also hated the child for having something, for having an experience that he couldn't ever have. He'd laughed a little bitterly then, Arnold, him, hating someone? Was that even possible? Helga had told him that it was, after all, he was only human, and he'd admitted to it himself.
They'd talked on and on, about different experiences they'd had and how they'd really been affected, deep down where no one saw. Helga had suggested something to Arnold, after they'd landed on his blind desire to help anyone who asked. He'd said that he couldn't understand how he could be so . . . so naïve when a person he knew wasn't really going to change at all asked for his help with something that was clearly hopeless . . .
"Why can't I ever say no?" He'd said with frustration and he'd sighed.
"You may think this is total bull, Arnold, but I read this somewhere and maybe it'll make sense to you." She'd said and he'd looked up at her. "It said that people tend to do the things they do in response to their inner most feelings." He'd frowned a little. "Think about it, you're always trying to help people, but why?" She watched his frown deepen.
"Because it makes them a better person? Because it makes them happy?" He'd said as he rubbed at the back of his neck.
"Exactly." She said and he blinked. "From everything you've said today, Arnold, you sound just as miserable and lonely as I am, but you simply hide it better than I do." He stared at her. "And how does this relate? Well, hear me out. If your innermost feelings are sad and depressed, then maybe every time you try and help someone out, perhaps you're trying to make yourself feel better." He blinked a second time. "Maybe you're trying to fill the void in yourself by trying to live through everyone else's happiness." He shook his head slowly.
"That's . . . that's way too deep for me." He'd said and he smiled a bit apologetically. "Forgive me, but you're right. It does sound like a bunch of bull." She grinned.
"Hey, I warned you, didn't I?"
Monday night had come quickly, as their conversations had made the whole day just fly by, and now it was Tuesday morning. Helga sighed slightly as she tore her gaze from a sleeping Arnold and stood, stretching and suppressing the yawn. Her eye caught a glimpse of the clock and she grimaced; it was only seven. Heaving a heavier sigh than before, she decided it would be best for her to get dressed and ready to go. Arnold's grandparents would be home soon, and she wanted to be packed so she wouldn't have to stay.
Sure, she wanted to stay, but for some reason she felt odd staying in the house once his grandparents where back. This was what saddened her; it was as though she was being tossed aside after all that had occurred. As she began to walk to the bathroom to change from her pajamas, she tried to shake the thought from her head. No one was tossing her out, she was the one making herself feel that way.
Eight rolled around, and Arnold was still fast asleep. By now Helga had everything in one neat little pile in the living room and was sitting in the kitchen with Abner, eating a small bowl of cereal. She finished it quickly, most of her mind never registering the corn flakes or the milk as she ate, and then washed her bowl without thinking. It had sort of become habit after all.
A few moments after she put her bowl back in the cupboard, she heard the front door open, and her heart sank. They were home.
"Hello there, Eleanor! How're you faring?" Gertie called as Helga walked out into the hall. She was carrying in one hand her suitcase, and the other arm was wrapped around Arnold's grandfather, who had a sullen pout on his face. Helga smiled a little as she took the suitcase from Gertie and accepted the hug from the older woman.
"I'm just fine." She said softly. "So is Arnold, but he's still sleeping." Gertie nodded.
"That boy always loved to sleep late. I think we ought to let him, don't you? Just this once?" Gertie winked as she shut the door and nudged the still silent old man. "Well, aren't you going to say hello?"
"I'm not a baby, Pookie, I can walk just fine now! You heard what the nice doctor lady said, I'm nearly one hundred percent better." He said with a small glare at Gertie, who rolled her eyes. Helga smiled slightly and his attention shifted to her. "Ah, I know you now. The kid who is always pestering short man, right?" He said with a scrutinizing look.
"R-right." Helga stammered and set down the suitcase. "Look, I'd really love to stay and all, but I'm supposed to be home in a few minutes. My sister will be expecting me, and she gets worried when I'm not on time. I wouldn't want her to have to come looking for me." She said nervously as she ducked into the living room and snagged her duffel bag.
"Can't you stay for breakfast, Eleanor? I'll make pancakes in honor of Phil's triumphant return." Gertie said as she returned to the hallway, but Helga shook her head sadly.
"I'm sorry, but I can't. My sister promised to take me out this morning, since she just came back from college and wants to see me." She lied smoothly as she secured her gloves and pulled her hat down over her ears. "Maybe some other time, okay, Gertie?" She said and the older woman gave her another, bit firmer, hug good-bye.
"Don't be a stranger, you hear, Eleanor?" Helga couldn't help but smile as she opened the door.
"I won't, I promise." And with that, she left.
Arnold awoke slowly to the delicious smell of eggs being fried, ham sizzling in the pan, and pancakes. He opened his eyes with a small smile before pushing himself up and stretching with a loud yawn. He blinked and rubbed his eyes as he took a good look around his room and he frowned. Helga's sleeping bag was rolled up neatly and was sitting on the couch with the spare pillow. He slipped his legs over the side of the bed and put on his slippers.
She must be the one cooking.He thought with a smile as he stood up and stretched again. She's actually pretty good; her cooking is better than Grandma's, that's for sure. He pushed open the door to his room and walked down the stairs.
"Oh my darling, oh my darling, oh my darling Clemintine…" Arnold froze as he neared the bottom of the stair; he knew that off-tune singing voice anywhere. "You are lost and gone forever, oh my darling Clemintine!"
He bolted down the rest of the stairs and raced through the hallway to the kitchen, where he stood wide-eyed in the doorway, trying to verify if the voice he heard truly meant what he thought it meant.
"Grandma!" Arnold all but yelled as the singing stopped and a bright grin leapt to his face. Sure enough, his grandmother stood by the stove in her cooking cow-boy outfit, her boots tapping gently against the linoleum as she hummed. "Grandpa!" His grandfather sat at the table and looked up at him from a large bowl of cereal.
"Well hey there, short man! Thought you'd never get up, though I suppose your grandma's singing had something to do with it!" His grandfather said with a smile as Arnold rushed forward to embrace him. "Whoa now, do you want to send me back to the hospital with bruised ribs?" He said in response to Arnold's fierce hug.
"Sorry." Arnold said as he eased off sheepishly. "I'm just glad that you're alive and home."
"And you have every right to be."
Arnold looked up to see his grandmother setting a tall stack of pancakes on the table. She gave him a broad grin and pulled out a chair for him. "Eat up, Tex. I understand you've been sick for quite a while." She said as he slipped into the seat and poured himself some orange juice. "How did you and little Eleanor make out? She left before I could ask her much."
Arnold froze for the second time that day.
"She . . . she left already?" He stammered around his orange juice, a small sinking feeling filling him as he realized that Helga wasn't in the kitchen after all.
"Yup, said something about her sister expecting her." His grandmother said as she transferred pancakes to his plate. "She seemed sorry to go, though. I told her that she'd always be welcome here, and that I expect to be seeing more of her. Now eat up, Tex. You'll need your strength to get rid of the last bits of that fever out of you."
"Hm." He replied as he absently began eating a pancake. He supposed Helga's story could be true, as Olga could've called when he was asleep . . . but for some reason the story didn't sit well with him. In fact, he almost had the impression that Helga had bolted.
"Something bothering you, short man?"
Arnold looked up at the concerned expression of his grandfather and gave him a smile around his glass of orange juice. "Not really. I was just thinking about something." He said after he swallowed the juice. "Grandma, I think that I'd like to ask you a favor . . ." He trailed off as he frowned in thought.
"Well then, ask away Tex! I'll see what I can do." His grandmother said brightly as she set a couple of eggs in front of him, which Arnold did his best to avoid. Helga's cooking had ruined him; he could no longer stomach Grandma's eggs. He was already having enough trouble with the pancakes as it was.
"I was thinking. I'd like to repay Helga for everything she's done for me, but . . . I'm not sure . . ." Arnold began, biting his lip in thought. "I'm not sure what I can do for her. Nothing seems like it'd be enough." At that, his grandmother smiled mysteriously and took a seat across from him beside his grandfather. "I was wondering if you had any ideas."
"Now that you mention it, I may have one or two . . ."
Helga lay on her back on the top of her bed, the purple comforter wrinkling around her and her white ceiling becoming more and more interesting as the moments ticked by. She'd draped an arm across her face so it pressed against her forehead while her blue eyes roamed aimlessly across the surface of the ceiling, absently memorizing each little nick in the paint. How long had she been lying here, staring? How long since she fled like a coward from Arnold's house, unable to even stay long enough to say good-bye?
She heaved a heavy sigh, which had been one of many that day, and rolled onto her side. She curled instinctively into a ball, her hands clutching at the fabric of her comforter before her face. Her eyes began examining her hands with the same scrutiny they'd given the ceiling, memorizing blemishes and old scars. Oh, what was she doing, lying here, acting like some weepy heroine from those cheesy romance novels? She should just go out and pretend like nothing happened! Pretend Arnold didn't exist, pretend she'd never helped him, or saved him, or . . . or . . .
Helga gave a small groan and curled more tightly into a ball. How could she even consider trying to forget what had passed between them? Arnold had single handedly reduced her masks to dust, revealing the softer, kinder inner-self she rarely showed. Of course it had frightened her, to be so very vulnerable around him, yet it had felt relieving, to finally show him her true self. And, miracles of miracles, he didn't hate her.
But . . . but it couldn't be possible! She had to admit, the whole thing seemed pretty unreal. Did she dare believe that Arnold, her one and only love, actually liked her true self? No, whom was she kidding? He was just being simple, polite Arnold, who wouldn't say a mean thing, even if it killed him. Best to assume nothing happened. Best to assume that he still thought of her as mean old Helga G. Pataki, the bully who tormented him every chance she got.
She lifted her head slightly as she heard Olga call out her name from downstairs. Miriam and Bob were out somewhere; Bob was probably at work and Miriam was probably getting wasted on smoothies, leaving the two sisters home alone with each other.
"WHAT?" Helga yelled back as she pushed herself up slowly. "What is it? What do you want?" She said as her door opened and Olga came into view.
"Are you still hiding out up here?" Olga teased lightly, her lips quirked in a small smile. "Such a silly sister I have."
"I'm catching up on missed sleep." Helga snapped grouchily. "Now what did you want?"
"You have a guest." Olga said as her smile widened. She moved aside and Helga froze in shock. Arnold stood behind her older sister, looking a little sheepish with his hands clasped behind his back. "Shall I leave you two alone then?" Helga caught her sister's wink and couldn't help glaring as Arnold entered and the door shut behind him with a soft click.
"Um . . . hi." Arnold said around a cough, trying to break the silence that had settled upon them. Helga just sat there, staring at him, her mind trying desperately to pull itself out of shock and back into reality. Stay calm, she had to keep saying mentally, stay calm. There is a perfect reason for Arnold to be standing in my bedroom . . .
"Uh . . . hi." She began when her mouth finally began responding to her brain. "So what are you doing here?" She winced inwardly, what a way to be blunt. And from the looks of it, Arnold seemed a little stunned by her tone. "I'm . . . I'm sorry that I didn't say good-bye to you, but . . . well . . ." She trailed off, searching for a way to tell him without hurting his feelings.
"I knew your sister hadn't been expecting you." He said and she looked up at him with a small amount of surprise. "From what my grandma said, it sounded like you'd run away as fast as possible." Helga shut her mouth with a small click, unsure of how to respond.
"I . . . I just . . ." She began while drawing a deep breath. "I just found this past weekend to be somewhat of a surprise. I mean, it didn't seem like it possibly could've happened, and . . ." She trailed off again with a small grimace. Their eyes met briefly, but Helga trained hers on her carpet quickly.
"And you couldn't believe that I would actually want to be friends with you outside of my home." He finished for her and she nodded a little. Helga refused to look up as he gave a small sigh. "Helga, I thought we talked about this. Now that I know who you really are, there's no way I'm going to take all of your pranks just lying down. I'm going to bug you until you decide to show your true colors again."
"But . . ." Helga clasped her hands together and began to concentrate on them fiercely. "I can't just change overnight. People will talk."
"People are going to talk no matter what happens. I thought you promised to start off little by little."
"But what if . . ." She trailed off yet again as the floor creaked and Arnold's footsteps drew close to her. Looking up, she saw him standing right in front of her, his hands on his hips and his eyes narrowed into a small glare. "Arnold, I can't do this! I just . . ."
"Yes, you can Helga! You promised, and I'm going to hold you to it, understand me?" Arnold said sternly and the only thing she could do was nod mutely.
"But listen . . ." Abruptly his voice softened and Helga blinked as she found one of his hands clasped around hers. "You won't be so alone anymore. Once you throw off your bully persona completely, you'll be free of everything holding you back!" He was smiling now and she felt a faint flicker of hope, banishing the darkness of doubt within her. "And Helga, I'll be there. Not only will you have Phoebe, but you'll have me too. And both of us will support you."
"You always know what to say, don't you, football head." Helga said, a faint smile tugging at her lips. "You know exactly what to say in any situation, whether it means lifting someone's spirits or keeping people calm." She shook her head absently before standing and hugging him.
" . . . Helga?!"
She'd clearly shocked him with her impromptu hug, part of her mind thinking it was about time he received a dose of his own medicine. She gave his stunned frame one last squeeze before stepping back and grinning. "That's my way of saying thanks, Arnoldo. What you said means a lot to me."
"Glad that we've reached an understanding then." Arnold said before handing her a small package. "Here, it's from me and Grandma. It's our way of saying thank you for everything you didn't have to do for me."
Helga stared at the gift box for a moment or two, but after Arnold's insistence that she open it, she went right ahead and did just that.
"Wow . . ." She breathed as she removed a small heart-shaped locket made of gold. "This . . . this is for me?" She asked softly, and when Arnold nodded, she slipped it around her neck. It was clearly antique, as it looked extremely old.
"It was my grandmother's." Arnold said, answering her thoughts. "She thought that you'd like it."
"I love it."
"Good." Arnold said with a grin and extended his hand. "Now there's one more piece of your 'thank-you' gift, and that's where you get treated to some of my grandmother's cooking." She took his outstretched hand somewhat reluctantly and he began to pull her from the room.
"I have one question before we go, Arnold."
He stopped pulling her and turned to fix his green-eyed gaze on her. "Sure, what is it?"
"We're friends now, right? I mean, after everything that we went through, you would call us friends, wouldn't you?" Helga asked, her nervousness leaking into her voice. She watched Arnold blink a little but soon he was grinning from ear to ear.
"Of course we are, Helga." He said, his voice full of happiness as he gave her hand a squeeze. "I'd say this is the beginning of a wonderful friendship, wouldn't you?" She returned his smile and the squeeze, enjoying the feel of their fingers intertwined.
"That's what I was hoping for, football head. I didn't save your life for nothing, did I?"
Wow, this fic took me FOREVER. I'm so very sorry to everyone that it took so long, but I got burnt out on it after a certain point and then nothing seemed to come out right. Well, hope you enjoyed it! Hope to hear from you and what you thought of it. And thanks again to each of my proofreaders, you guys are the best, you hear?
Love forever and ever: