Lonely Girls by King Cheetah

These Hey Arnold! characters aren't mine, but if they were, this is the sort of stuff I'd do with them.
Rated PG-13 cause I felt like it, and some characters might just end up nude later. We'll see...
Enjoy.

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Gritting her teeth, Helga G. Pataki cursed her reflection through tear swollen eyes. "Stop crying, dammit! Patakis don't cry over trivial crap like this! It's... j-just not a big deal... it's n-not..." she sobbed softly to no one in particular. She'd left pre-algebra on the pretext of going to the nurses office for her allergy shot, but the girl's bathroom down by the gymnasium was a much better place to fall to pieces in solitude. Gasping, she couldn't stop the tears from flowing and each one seems to have brought a friend.

First Phoebe, now Arnold. She would truly be alone for the rest of her time in high school, and the prospect terrified her. The word had reached her just before class. Arnold was moving to Texas; some manner of special education program for his math genius. Why now? While they were by no means close, they'd reached a comfortable truce and enjoyed a friendship which was reaching a point at which she was almost ready to confess her feelings to him after all these years.

Her head cleared just enough that it occurred to her that she might want to retreat into one of the stalls, lest the fates drop Rhonda or any one of the other bitches that bedevil her on a daily basis into the room with her. How could this possibly get any worse? As if on cue, Lila Sawyer sauntered into the room and caught Helga in mid blubber, who red faced, bolted into the nearest stall.

Oh god, no. Not her. Not little Miss Perfect. It was bad enough that Arnold did everything short of masturbating in public over her, but now she'd seen Helga at her absolute weakest. Trying her best stifle her choked sobs, she heard a gentle tapping at the stall door and Lila softly say, "Helga, can I come in?" Swallowing hard, she said, "The toilets only seat one, stupid. Wait your turn."

An exasperated grunt, and some foot shuffling, and Lila said, "Fine, I can wait until you're done..." and proceeded to tap her toe dramatically. Sighing, Helga realized that there was no bluffing her way through this, and slowly opened the door to admit the redheaded interloper. Sitting on the toilet, she looked up into the tranquil blue eyes before her, "Well, what're you looking at?"

Lila seemed less to be choosing words than discarding them, but finally said, "When we moved to Hillwood from Pleasantville all those years ago, I lost a lot of friends. And y'know, there were promises of keeping in touch with me, and they did for a while, but..." she paused to take a deep breath, "But people after awhile just have to deal with the life going on around them first, and trying to keep a phantom friendship going long distance is tough... both ways..." Helga just looked at Lila a second, and continued to try and collect herself. Lila went on, "I know you put on a brave face when Phoebe moved away, but... I could tell how much it hurt you..."

Helga was on her feet in an instant, "YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT THE HELL YOU'RE TALKING ABOUT!" she raged. Red faced, fists clenched she waited for Lila to misstep and give her a reason for violence. But the still, sad eyes of the redhead drained all the bravado from Helga in an instant. Here was indeed someone who understood exactly what she was feeling.

"Her name was Cleo, and she was closer to me than a sister ever could be. We did everything together, went everywhere together, and she knew me well enough to guess my needs and desires... like Phoebe used to do for you. I'd always see you two at recess or before school... laughing and hanging out and I'd see me and Cleo all over again. Knowing how I felt about her..., so I knew how you must have felt after Phoebe moved to Japan." Helga closed her eyes and thought of Phoebe's last words to her; don't let your life stop here. "You know Helga, I never did allow myself to grow close to someone again... I have friends now, plenty of them, I guess... just not a Phoebe."

Helga stared at Lila for several minutes as she considered what she'd heard. Bowing her head, she said, "I guess you're pretty broken up over Arnold leaving too, huh?" Lila knelt beside her and whispered, "Helga, you know he never meant anything to me. Look at me. Helga, LOOK AT ME. I've known about your feelings for him since we were in the fourth grade; have you ever, EVER seen me do ANYTHING to encourage his attentions?"

Helga just looked downward as Lila continued, "I knew who his true love was, and I certainly wasn't going to be the one to spoil that!" She reached over gently to brush Helga's hair from in front of her face, and was struck by just how clear her eyes were. Time had actually been kind to Helga, as she was graced with clear, fair skin and face of soft beauty, little needing cosmetics. Looking back into Lila's eyes, Helga thought of her history with this girl...

She had to admit, that despite all of her rage towards Lila over the years, it had never actually been over anything she'd actually done, only Arnold's fawnish behavior towards her. But good as her word, Lila had always kept him at arms length and constantly had to remind him of his place. She had indeed kept her promise to Helga to guard the secret of her feelings for Arnold and then some. They sat and talked quietly for the rest of the period, slowly sharing bits and pieces of each others lives, cautiously at first, but freely after a while. The time for tears had passed, and a few smiles managed to cross Helga's face as they talked.

Helga had never bothered to notice it before, but Lila really didn't seem to have any friends. She was well liked and well known amongst the students in their grade, but Lila always seemed to be eating lunch alone. In group outings, she was there, but as the group broke up, she was alone again. Startled by the end period bell, they both panicked and in the mad scramble for the door, vowed to meet after school to talk more. As Helga shuffled off to French class, she thought of Phoebe, and wondered what her life was like now.

The day finally complete, Lila trudged out to meet Helga at the bus stop. While still carrying the grade school reputation of 'Little Miss Perfect', she was for all intents and purposes a completely different person. She no longer seemed to so easily know the answers to questions, and while polite and demure, she encountered more and more people who weren't impressed by her. Every day now was a new struggle to keep up the facade of effortless perfection, and in truth, it was wearing her down.

All told, she cringed when she thought about her grade school self, and desperately wished she could just erase those years. What an annoying little Pollyanna she'd been. But with puberty came the stresses and self doubt that never seems to touch a fourth grader... well, Sid maybe, but he was the exception.

Slowly, she began to change her look and attitude. Less preppie, less finished as it were, and more... slack. She lacked the flair for fashion enjoyed by the likes of Rhonda or Katrinka, and as such was awkward in her clothing choices. She didn't want to dazzle or thrill with her clothes, she wanted to disappear. If she could just fade from view, just blend in, the pressure on her would be released. But reputations, earned or not, die hard and even with no evidence to back it up, she remained Little Miss Perfect to all eyes around her.

On the ride home, they sat in the very back of the bus and Lila let Helga do all the talking. Slowly at first, in fits and starts, she listened intently to all things Pataki in loud whispers from the animated girl before her. They both quickly became lost in the tale, to the point that they missed their respective stops and continued to ride and talk, the drone of the engine a greek chorus to Helga's tale. First they missed her stop, then Helga's, but neither cared much and rode the bus all the way downtown to the turn around... then outbound... then back downtown again.

"I had no idea that Olga was like that... whatta bitch." frowned Lila. Helga almost burst out laughing, but said, "I noticed that you only put up with that Big Sister crap for a few months before fleeing in terror!" Lila grinned, "Well, it wasn't quite as bad as all that, but I... I was getting the feeling that I was less a person to her and more like... um, an accessory. Y'know, something like a charm on a bracelet that she could show off to people."

Rolling her eyes, Helga said, "Yeah, welcome to MY world. Olga has no capacity to think outside her own head. She's almost a clinical sociopath, didya know that? She doesn't actually listen to anything you say, she just waits for you to stop talking."

They reached to outer limit of the buses route and were preparing to ride it back towards downtown yet again, when Helga's cell phone chrilled to life. Finishing up what passed for a conversation with her mother Miriam, Helga announced that she had to get off for real this time when they reached her stop. Looking a bit sullen, Lila said, "Tomorrow morning?"

Agreed.

Unspoken, they both boarded the bus an hour early, so as to repeat the long ride at least once before school. Lila's turn this morning and she filled Helga in on her own unpleasant home life and in particular, her stepmother. While not abused, she was ignore, which in some ways was a lot worse. Her father's new wife being nice enough, but never made even the slightest effort to get to know Lila or make any attempt at being a mother to her.

"It like she's just marking time til I graduate, or run away or whatever. We never really talk or anything like that. And my father just acts like I'm the one copping an attitude!" she said, and Helga was impressed with just how worked up Lila was getting.

Dinner conversation would follow a polite but disinterested round of Q & A, with no real enthusiasm on the part of either party. Holidays and especially Christmas were painful beyond all human reason. No gifts, but gift certificates or worse yet cash. Lila was expected to buy and wrap her own gifts and feign surprise Christmas morning for the benefit of the camcorder's glaring gaze. Her birthday had to be CLEARLY marked on every calendar in the house lest it pass unnoticed, the payoff being more cash and a sterile store bought cake sporting the wrong number of candles.

Helga was aghast at this. Sure, Big Bob and Miriam were no prizes, but even in their own inept way they tried to do parenting things with her. All things considered, they'd actually improved at bit over the years and Big Bob had even stopped calling her 'Olga'.

At school, they realized that they actually shared two classes together and with a few well placed bribes, managed to swap seats with other students so as to sit together. Not that this proximity afforded them anything tangible, but the idea of having a kindred spirit close was it's own reward.

A few notes were cautiously passed, but this was more for the risky thrill of it more than any sort of information exchange. Knowing looks, smiles, mugging, gestures, the class periods passed quickly and pleasantly. Lunch would grant them both more time for talk and confession. Both agreed that in the future, they'd brown bag it, thus not wasting any valued talk time in a lunch line.

"There's one!" said Lila, gesturing with her lunch tray to an empty table by the fire door.

"Great, we'll be trampled in the mad rush during a fire and probably won't even get to desert." smiled Helga.

Second lunch period never seemed to be as crowded as first (or so the saying goes) and there was less of a problem finding an open table as finding one that afforded a bit of privacy. They set up camp and got back to telling tales. Helga looked at Lila slyly, "Have you done any dating? I mean, real dating, not just a group thing."

"Hmmm... no, not really. I think a lot of the guys are... intimidated by me. The pressure of taking care of Miss Perfect and all that crap. Not that it bugs me or anything..."

"Oh come on! You can't tell me that you don't want to go out!" smirked Helga.

"Well DUH! But what am I suppose to do? I guess if the situation arises, I'd date, sure. But that's just not an issue right now..." she said with a slight edge in her voice. Helga thought for a moment about this. It's not like SHE was exactly a dating dynamo, but that was mostly because the one guy she WANTED to be asked out by was... out of reach. Lila could probably have any number of guys... if she wanted to... Lila looked thoughtful, "Not that my rep did me much good. You wouldn't believe the guys that DID try to ask me out..." Helga raised an eyebrow as Lila let the sentence trail off into silence.

Lila took up the conversational baton, "So... what is it exactly that you like about Arnold? I mean, why him and not say... Sid? Or Pea pod Kid?"

Helga gulped down the first of her three chocolate milks before answering, though she first turned the question around; why DIDN'T Lila like him? Predictably, this led them down the debate path of "why the hell does anybody like anything", but eventually Helga relented and finally told all about she and Arnold, from first meeting to the present.

"Since KINDERGARTEN! Oh god, that is SO sweet, and I mean that. That is storybook cool. But... why were you always picking on him?"

"He... he just made me crazy! Every time I was within ten feet of him, I'd just start to lose it. I WANTED to be nice, but... but I'd panic and just insult him or something like that. Then I'd feel like crap, but what could I do?" Helga sighed.

"You really should tell him how you feel, y'know." said Lila with a clinical air.

"Oh, no way! Not now. Not when he's about to leave! I... I just couldn't!"

Lila cocked her head to one side for a moment, then grinned, "But if you had told him, y'know, he knew how you felt... what do you think you two would do together? I mean, what would your days be like?"

Helga seemed caught off guard by the question, "Um, well... I think we'd skip riding the bus, 'cept on crappy days, y'know? We'd walk to school together and just talk about each other's day. He'd probably talk about the basketball team, and I'd tell him about my writing and stuff, cause y'know I'd really be filling up the notebooks with an inspiration like him always around. And, um... I suppose we'd still hang out with everybody and what not. Go to some parties and stuff, do homework together or go driving out in the countryside... I guess things like that."

"And you really think he'd be THAT great as a boyfriend?" she asked, raising an eyebrow.

"Ugh! Lila, I know YOU never really had a thing for him, but trust me, I KNOW Arnold, and you'd be hard pressed to find a sweeter guy in this whole freakin' school! I mean even now he treats me nice, and I'm just this girl he knows. I mean, I don't pick on him anymore and I try to stay clear of him, but he always does nice little things for me. If he knew how I REALLY felt for him, I bet he'd be the perfect boyfriend, y'know?"

"Huh... so then... what would you do if he asked you to put out?" said Lila with a wicked little smile.

"WHAT! LILA!" squeaked Helga as she tried to balance grinning and blushing at the same time.

"You heard me, blondie. You two are a tight couple, but he's gotta have you; what do you do, hmmmm?"

"Oh god... I... I don't think he'd ever do that. Arnold's WAY too sweet to try anything like that... I know him too well." she said with no small amount of pride, but all the same liked entertaining the thought.

"Fine... but let's just say he did ask... what would you say? C'mon now, it's Arnold we're talking about. Sweet Arnold... sexy Arnold... Arnold's warm, soft hands running up your back... what would you tell him?" she grinned slyly.

Helga was almost lost in the fantasy of the scenario, but grinning she sighed, "Oh... it would be tough, I mean REALLY tough... but I'd have to tell him no. I mean, I love him more than anything, but that's just too big a step to take til' we've known each other a really long time. wheeew!"

"But, you'd still love him, eh?" asked Lila with the oddest look on her face.

"Yes, yes I would. But it's all academic 'cause I know he'd never put me on the spot like that." beamed Helga.

Lila sat silently, sporting a look that Helga couldn't quite place. As if cross examining a hostile witness, she once again asked Helga about her feelings for Arnold, as if checking details for inconsistances. More into it this time, Arnold's onetime tormentor gleefully recounts all his fine points and just how sweet their romance would be. Through it all, the redhead sat placidly, sporting a grinchy grin as Helga's description becomes more detailed and florid in the telling.

"H-Helga..?" a voice said from behind her... a familiar voice... spinning about in her chair she looked straight into the startled green eyes of the topic of conversation... Arnold.

He had been seated at the table just behind her, and from the looks of it, had been for quite a while. Helga froze with terror, then spun back around to look at Lila, who's face was a complete blank save for one raised eyebrow. She turned back around to face Arnold as he spoke, "Is.. is all that true? What you said about me and... us?"

Helga stammered a moment before yelping as Lila kicked her under the table. "Um... y-y-yes." she sputtered. He was all smiles now.

Standing, Lila smiled, "Arnold why don't you join us? I'm going to trot over and get a strawberry milk. I shouldn't be more than a moment." And she was off despite Helga's look of panicked doom.

Milk in hand, Lila watched from across the cafeteria as Arnold and Helga had the talk that was only three years late. Hesitant at first, Helga finally began to loosen up and by the end of the lunch period, Arnold's hand was across the table on top of hers.

Smiling to herself, Lila thought, "Helga, I promised you that I'd keep your secret, I never promised you I'd stand idly by as you made a critical mistake." There might just be a little hell to pay for this, but she regretted nothing...

After school, she caught sight of the two of them walking hand in hand across the courtyard, not towards the bus queue, but rather in the direction of their respective homes. Spying her, Helga excused herself from Arnold and trotted over to her.

Grinning, she said, "I bet you think you're pretty clever don't you? Quite the little matchmaker, aren't you? How'd you set that up?"

Lila just smiled, "As I recall it, you were doing all the talking. As much as I'd love to take all the credit as the crafty schemer, I just happened to see him sit down behind us. Everything good?"

Helga closed her eyes and nodded, "He's only going to be gone a little over a year, but them he's coming back. We're gonna spend as much time together as we can til he takes off, and I think I can do the long distance thing for just a year. That's not so bad."

"Reconsidering that whole 'Puttin' Out' thing?" asked Lila in mock innocence, which earned her a laugh and playful punch from Helga.

"I... um, thanks a lot Lila. I really mean that. You really are perfect... in all the right ways."

"Nah, I just sat there and listened, you did all the work." and gave a little grin.

"So, uh... wanna join us? We're headed home, them out for calzones." Helga looked hopeful.

"Ooooh, sorry. I'm gonna be SUPER busy the next few weeks or so, so I'll have to take a rain check. Tell ya what, why don't you two have fun, then you'n I'll hook up after he takes off. Sound good?" said Lila with a musical lilt.

Nodding, she turned and scurried back to Arnold. Treating herself to one last look at them, Lila headed off for the bus stop.

"This one's for you, Cleo." she sighed and shifted the weight of her book bag as she walked.

To Be Continued oooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooƊƊ