*Peeks out from under rock*
*Blinks in the daylight*
*Tosses out crumpled paper*
*Retreats back under rock*
Chapter 17 - Burying the Lede
"Helga, you're worrying me!"
Despite her surprise, Phoebe had quickly complied with Helga's suggestion, retaking her previous position on the Freak-Out Chair. But then her friend, rather than offering up an explanation, had spent the time that followed glancing nervously in any direction but Phoebe's, fretting at the hem of her top and running through a full gamut of stressed facial expressions and tics, as if she were performing a one-woman show on anxiety (very ably, ironically). As minutes started to tick by in this fashion, the smaller girl's patience was wearing thin almost as quickly as her concern was growing.
"Please, just tell me what's bothering you." Phoebe pleaded. "Did something else happen out there?" She kept to herself the incredulous follow-up thought; 'How much more could there possibly be?!'
Unfortunately, Helga had stalled. She wanted to tell Phoebe. Heck, based on her own prior logic, she had to tell Phoebe! But then it also occurred to her that she and Arnold hadn't exactly discussed bringing her best friend into the loop when it came to the really out-there stuff… But hey, if Arnold got Geraldo, then Helga got Pheebs! That was only fair, right? Ok, so maybe Tall Hair Boy was actually there for the gruelling, trap-ridden jungle trek. And the fight with Lasombra. And the whole locket thing. And Tiukwí's impromptu, 'All Hail Helga' routine the previous night. All of which apparently left him feeling somehow entitled to know the full story. But from the sound of things, Phoebe's actions as both lead strategist and chief engineer were the main reason she and their classmates succeeded in their dramatic break-out, so hey, if this was a points-based system... Plus, Helga just knew this was going to turn out to be one of those talks; the ones where the more you reveal, the more comes tumbling in its wake without necessarily consulting the old mental filter on its way out. She'd had one of these before, about a year ago on a rooftop, and long-term results aside, she wasn't sure she'd describe it as having gone too well. But maybe she could avoid that if she could just find a way to calmly-
"I'M A GOD!" The blonde girl blurted, throwing her hands up. "I'm a god! And Arnold's a god! And his parents aren't gods but they seem weirdly ok with the idea, and Gerald's not a god but he knows about everything, and thanks to the freaking great-great-grandpappy of the Green Eyes opening his big mouth, an entire civilisation just decided that I'm a GOD!" As she spoke, Helga had closed the gap between the two girls, and now was once again in Phoebe's face, gripping her collar.
"You're... a god?" Phoebe slowly echoed what she'd just heard, her mind hitting a complete wall; granted, Helga was probably a little more likely that their other friends to give herself that kind of title (if and when she actually achieved world domination), but it was still hardly something Phoebe ever expected to hear. She stared blankly, trying to take this in. "You think you're a god?"
Helga facepalmed, groaning through gritted teeth. "Crimeny, I don't think I'm a god, Phoebe – I. Am. A. God! I'm literally a bona fide, card carrying member of the Green Eyes' personal stinking pantheon! As in, they're probably back there painting murals and building temples in my honour right now!"
"Oh." Somewhere deep in Phoebe's mind, a penny dropped. "What?!"
"Don't make me say it again..." Helga whined.
"Wait. Wait." Phoebe gently pushed the other girl away, before closing her eyes, rubbing her temples, and taking a breath. She managed to go on with a little more calm in her voice. "Are you trying to tell me that the Green-Eyed People – who we know to be an inconceivably ancient, intensely secretive and cryptic society that lives exclusively in the uncharted confines of a Central American rainforest – have decided that you, Helga G. Pataki, are some sort of deity?"
"Yes!" Helga nodded frantically, pleased to finally be getting somewhere.
"Well-" Helga froze for a brief moment, a finger raised, as she tried to formulate a simple answer to the simple question. "Because... Because of the Corazón, and the volcano erupting, and... and something about balance?" She ended lamely.
"The volcano erupted?!" Phoebe gasped.
"No, no!" Helga frantically waved her hands. "Well, ok, yes, but it was years ago, and it's not like I meant to!"
"Wha..?" Phoebe trailed off and put a hand to her head, her brain officially overloaded. "I-I think I need to sit d- Oh." She glanced downwards, confirming she was, in fact, already there.
"Ha! See, I told you!" Helga gloated weakly, enjoying a moment of misplaced triumph.
"Indeed..." Phoebe frowned up at her friend, and couldn't help but repeat herself. "You were gone less than two days!"
"In my defence, Pheebs, it was a really busy two days!" Helga sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose, mentally kicking herself – as predicted, she probably could've handled all of that better. "I need to elaborate again, don't I?"
Phoebe nodded firmly. "I'm fairly certain I'm not allowing you out of this room until you do."
"Alright, alright..." Glancing around, Helga sought a change of approach, anything to soften the impact. "Oh! Ok, hold on a sec."
Instead of elaborating as promised, Helga began rummaging through the contents of the storeroom shelves... Despite the threat, Phoebe was pretty certain she couldn't stop Helga from escaping if the girl had truly wanted to. But that didn't mean she wasn't prepared to stand back up and grab her if she didn't get some straight answers soon.
"Helga, what on Earth are you doing?" She asked flatly, and with as much patience as she could muster.
"I'm seeing if this dump has any glow-in-the-dark paint or something." Helga explained mid-search, tossing rusting cans haphazardly over her shoulder with a series of metallic clatters. "Hey, this oughta work!" She emerged, looking satisfied and proudly brandishing a grubby, cylindrical device. With the flick of a switch, the thing began to glow blue, emitting a low hum.
"A bug zapper?!" Honestly, Phoebe was too surprised to be annoyed at this latest strangeness. Still, she was starting to worry that Helga had truly cracked. "What could we possibly need that for right now?!"
"Atmosphere!" Helga insisted, reaching to pull the switch dangling from the ceiling. With a click, the pair were sent from 'dim and dingy' to 'eerie darkness', the small but bright blue bulb becoming their only source of light. Really, she was pretty satisfied – it was no Green Eye talisman, but it did wonders for the whole ethereal, shadowy vibe. "See, me and Football Head- Ow!" With an electrical 'crack' the little machine did its job on Helga's finger as she placed it on the table. She stepped back and glowered at it, sucking the zapped skin but not deterred. "Mother scratcher, that hurt..." She muttered before trying again. "See, me and Football Head got this whole spiel in a sacred, underground chamber full of glowing carvings, and Geraldo got a whole thunderstorm to set the scene, and those were both pretty cool, so I figured this would help! It's better, right?"
"Actually, I believe it's just a fire hazard." Phoebe responded drily, eyeing the appliance with distrust.
"Hey, I'm doing my best here, Phoebe!" Helga snapped, defensively.
"And yet, you just casually mentioned going with Arnold into a 'sacred, underground chamber full of glowing carvings'." Phoebe countered, returning her gaze to her friend.
Helga facepalmed again, with a frustrated growl. "Touché... Ok, let me try this again." She took a breath and tried to decide which smaller part of the greater insanity was the best to unpack first. It was a little easier anyway, now that the initial bomb had dropped. "Look, what you kind of need to know first is that the Green Eyes were already stoked on Arnold when we got there. Really stoked. Like, bowing, praying, Football Head-themed architecture levels of stoked."
"Before you even saved them?" Phoebe had leaned forward in her chair once Helga began, carefully taking in and weighing every word. She wouldn't admit it out loud, but the room's new dark blue hue really was very atmospheric. "How is that even possible? I know his parents helped them before; is this just something the Green Eyes' society does? Declaring people who do them a great service to be 'gods'? But... no; you said Gerald and Mr and Mrs Shortman weren't gods to them... I'm afraid I just don't understand at all."
"Yeah, well, we didn't either!" Helga shook her head incredulously at the memory. "We'd gone through all that crap to try and track them down, fallen down a well into some kind of Arnold shrine, heh – can you imagine?" She chuckled awkwardly. "And when a bunch of those psycho Green-Eyed kids do finally show up, they go straight to pointing spears at us! But then they take one look at the old football head and drop to right their knees! Next thing you know, they've brought us back to their city and the whole place is basically Arnoldland." A good analogy, but it wasn't exactly true; Arnoldland was actually a theme park Helga had planned out over the years. It was a lot like Dinoland, except two thirds of the rides were tunnels of love, the food stalls served pastrami on rye, and Lila was banned for life.
"Oh my..." Phoebe placed a hand to her mouth as she imagined such a thing, Helga's description making it sound almost comical. The outlandish imagery made her wish all the more that she had been able to see the place and the people for herself. "But I didn't think Arnold had even met the Green-Eyed People before all this – he barely knew anything about them."
"Maybe not, but they sure knew him." Helga found herself biting her tongue, unsure of exactly how to best explain the next part. She had only heard the story herself that morning, and a conscientious part of her (that she wasn't overly familiar with and wasn't sure she liked...) questioned whether it was really hers to share. But without having it for context, the rest would be impossible to explain. 'Geez, when did a kid being worshipped as a god start making things sound less ridiculous?' She resigned herself to an abridged version – after all, if Gerald could do it... "You've heard Arnold talk about how he was born here, right?"
"Of course." Phoebe nodded – she and Arnold had been among a small number from their class asked by Mr Simmons to deliver a presentation on where they were born, their origins lying outside of Hillwood. Finding out that Arnold had been born in such an exotic location had been a topic of interest and intrigue when revealed to their group of friends, until more pressing school yard drama had moved the gossip along.
"Well, what the King of Burying the Lede didn't bother to mention is that he was born out there in the jungle, in some long-lost Green Eye temple, right in the middle of a freaking volcanic eruption!" Helga finally revealed, throwing her arms wide in exasperation.
Even in the half-light, Phoebe visibly paled. "By 'in the middle', you mean..?"
Helga rolled her eyes at the question. "As in surrounded by lava!"
The very idea forced Phoebe to let out a small, instinctive 'eep'. Immediately after, though, her brow shot up as she came to a fresh realisation. "Wait – you're talking about Vulcán Turriable! The eruption that happened ten years ago!" She clasped her hands to her cheeks before Helga could even respond, disappearing into her own thought process. "Oh my goodness, October 7th! Arnold's birthday! I can't believe I didn't realise!"
Helga blinked and recoiled a little, taken aback by her friend's sudden fervour. "Uhh, care to elaborate yourself there, Pheebs?"
"Helga, didn't you do any research about this country before we came here?" Phoebe gave her friend a chastising, disbelieving look, as if this should have been any eleven-year-old's top priority. "I read all about it before we left home, but I somehow never registered that Arnold was born right here in San Lorenzo on the very day it happened! Vulcán Turriable is a fascinating case. After the volcano had been completely dormant for centuries, it became active and erupted almost out of nowhere, and then stopped just as abruptly without any observable cause. It's a scientific mystery that's been eluding volcanologists for the last ten years!" Between her excitement and her annoyance with herself, Phoebe also failed to register that her explanation had left her companion quite pale too. Helga moved to place a hand on her shoulder.
"Phoebe, I haven't explained enough for you to understand this yet, but if you keep saying junk like that then I'm gonna need the chair back."
The smaller girl blushed, realising that she'd gotten slightly carried away. "Sorry, I interrupted you. Still, to think Arnold was born in such close proximity to a natural disaster! Why ever would his parents choose somewhere like that?"
"Because his mom really believes in natural birth." Helga shot back with a frown, still shaken. "I'm pretty sure that wasn't their plan, Phoebe! They just got sort of stuck there!"
"Ah. R-right." Phoebe cleared her throat, her blush deepening. "That makes a great deal more sense. It sounds like an awful ordeal. Were they in a lot of danger?" She found her hands clenching in her lap at the thought, somehow, despite the incident being over a decade in the past and all those involved being a few rooms over.
"It's not like I was there! But... yeah." Helga folded her arms tightly, finding it just as unsettling – spirits and destinies didn't even matter, she never wanted to dwell on the idea of a world without Arnold. "Apparently things were getting pretty bad. But then Arnold, y'know, came along and..."
"And..?" Phoebe pressed, anxious for the conclusion.
Helga gulped. "And, it stopped. As in, fun-sized Football Head started crying, and the eruption stopped." She winced, preparing herself for Phoebe's reaction.
The accumulated colour promptly drained from the other girl's face again, her eyes widening. "At that exact moment?" She watched Helga give an affirmative nod. "I... I don't even know what to say. That's..." She paused to find the right word.
"Ludicrous? Impossible? Insane?" Helga suggested, braced for the worst.
"Spooky." Phoebe concluded, simply.
"Oh. Yeah." Helga deflated a little, relieved that her friend at least hadn't denounced the whole thing as lunacy yet, and slumped against the nearest shelves. "Kinda blows old Wheezin' Ed out of the water, doesn't it?"
"And are you sure that what you've heard is an accurate depiction of the events?" Phoebe felt the need to query. "You said yourself, it isn't as though you were there. Maybe whoever told you was dramatising a little."
The other girl shrugged. "I wondered the same thing, but I've heard the same crazy story from two very different sources by this point, at least one of whom seems pretty sane, and they actually match up. Oh, and if the volcano wasn't enough," she casually waved an arm, figuring this was just icing on the cake, "apparently a bunch of animals stopped to check him out too – real 'circle of life' stuff..."
"I'm afraid I don't even know how to process that." Phoebe sighed, closed her eyes and tried to take it all in. Honestly, the story was bizarre and dramatic enough that it was challenging to get her brain to register that it was meant to be fact rather than the plot to an action movie. Granted, she herself had been incarcerated by pirates recently... As fraught as her mind was at that moment, she could at least still understand the story's implication. "So, I take it that the whole thing was witnessed by the Green Eyes, and they attributed the halting of the eruption exclusively to Arnold."
"You got it." Helga confirmed, then thought for a moment. "Or, at least it was witnessed by one Green Eye, who was probably already older than time ten years ago, but apparently that's all it takes."
Phoebe raised a brow at that, but completed her thought regardless. "And so they decided that Arnold was actually some kind of god." She considered this for a moment, and strangely found herself feeling somewhat relieved. Before she knew it, her train of thought led her to release a small giggle. This wasn't lost on Helga, who immediately sprang back to full, nervous attention.
"What's so funny?" The girl couldn't help but worry that she'd actually succeeded in pushing her best friend to the edge of madness; she was counting on Phoebe to help keep her sane.
"Nothing, really." Phoebe reassured her, though she still held a small grin. "The whole situation is simply unbelievable and more than a little disconcerting. It's just that I found myself thinking 'that makes sense', as completely absurd as that sounds. At least the Green-Eyed People had something approaching logical reason for coming to that kind of conclusion, from their perspective, even if was just a complete coincidence." In a roundabout way, it really was comforting; a far-fetched explanation was at least better than no rational explanation at all! It made the whole thing a little easier to digest.
Helga let out a hollow chuckle of her own. She knew exactly what Phoebe meant; everyone who learned about this stuff seemed to need to reassess their baseline for what qualified as 'weird' afterwards. It was too bad Phoebe had only seen the tip of the iceberg so far.
"Although, If I'm being completely honest," Phoebe mused, bringing a finger to her lips as she continued, "I think if there was ever a person who really might be able to reach a peaceful resolution with a volcano, it would be Arnold. Oh..." She realised, thinking over her own words, that it was completely true – there was no denying that out of all their friends, and even most of the adults in her life, Arnold was the most skilled and accomplished peacemaker. Certainly more so than one would expect for somebody their age. Gerald, Rhonda, Harold, Sid – even herself – if anyone else had been the one to cry at that exact moment, she could quite easily call that a very impressive fluke of chance. But considering Arnold, and who he was..? "I just made it spooky again, didn't I?"
"No, you're just realising how spooky it already is." Helga offered.
"There's no denying that it's an unsettling level of coincidence." Phoebe concurred. "All the same – and I can't believe I need to say this – I'm fairly certain Arnold isn't a god, Helga." The voice in Helga's head that launched into an impassioned monologue on why Arnold was clearly a god of love, kindness, compassion and more love was slapped down immediately. "And I'm also quite amazed to hear that he knew about this, at least the parts about when he was born, and didn't feel the need to tell anybody."
Helga shrugged hopelessly, lacking a particularly good answer for that one herself. "What can I say; from the way he tells it, the kid's either humble enough or dense enough to just ignore something like that instead of declaring himself the Volcano King of P.S. 118! That, and apparently those folks of his are so full of high-octane awesome that it was basically a slow Tuesday for them..." That earned another giggle.
"They certainly do seem impressive." Maybe it was just the mystique and drama of their sudden appearance, but Phoebe felt their entire class had seemed to get that impression of the couple. "And you say they're actually comfortable with all of this? With the way the Green-Eyed People see Arnold?"
The question gave Helga a small, embarrassed blush of her own, which she glanced away to hide; Miles and Stella had, just earlier that day, managed to turn what she expected to be a ferocious dressing down into a calm, reassuring talk about the whole thing. She was already trying to decide how quickly she'd be able to cash in that dinner invitation without seeming too desperate. "I guess comfortable isn't exactly right. It's more like they're just rolling with it. Guess they've got a few years on me and Arnold when it comes to dealing with all this crap, even if they did sleep through most of them."
"And just how do you come into it, Helga?"
"Huh?" Helga head snapped back to Phoebe, the question catching her off-guard.
"Arnold's story is so, well... dramatic. And I'm completely sure that you've never been to San Lorenzo before. What exactly happened here to make the Green Eyes see you the same way?" The smaller girl gave a teasing grin and attempted to lighten the weight of the question. "Did they see you and Arnold sharing one of those kisses you mentioned?"
"NO!" Helga immediately went into lockdown, crossing her arms tightly, a scowl on her reddening face. Honestly, she'd probably rather it had been the Green Eyes who'd interrupted them than Gerald, Miles and Stella – she actually had to see those people again. "It had nothing to do with that." Thinking about it, though, the scowl softened and her arms loosened a little. "Or, I guess it actually sort of does but it... it's kind of the other way around."
The cryptic answer only served to leave Phoebe perplexed. "How so?"
"You said it yourself, Pheebs. Arnold's probably the only guy in the universe who could make a volcano stop erupting."
In that instant, a second before Helga hammered home the point, Phoebe was struck by the realisation. Helga's own words came rushing back to her, recovered from the part of her brain that, at the time, had been too overburdened to comprehend them.
'It's not like I meant to!' Phoebe's jaw began to drop.
"And apparently I'm the only girl in the universe who could make one start."
In the seconds that followed, the girls were silent, save for the soft sound of Phoebe hands coming to clasp over her mouth. The still air became filled by the constant electric droning of their small light source, the zapper seizing the rare chance to seem loud. Their shadows flickered on the walls with every small movement, and Helga found herself wondering if she had looked the same way Phoebe looked now when Tiukwí told his own (admittedly better constructed) version of the tale, in the strange green light of the Green Eye's carvings. At least blue was Phoebe's colour...
"They think it was you." Eventually, quietly, Phoebe felt the need to say the words out loud.
"Again, one guy. One really old guy." Helga sighed, holding up a finger for emphasis. "Seriously; all it takes with these people..." She bitterly repeated.
"But why?" Phoebe threw her arms up, somehow feeling more lost than ever with this latest revelation. It made even less sense than Arnold's case. "And why only now? You said their society only acknowledged Arnold when you got there!"
Helga rolled her eyes. "Maybe 'cause they'd never seen me before, doi! If I'd just got out of there before their resident god detector woke up, none of this would even have happened!"
"You're talking about the same person who saw Arnold, all those years ago?" Phoebe hadn't missed Helga's references to the mysterious figure. Whoever he was, her best friend clearly viewed him with a great deal of frustration.
"Tiukwí – wise and ancient spiritual guide of the Green-Eyed People." Helga finally clarified, waving her hands in sarcastic display of grandeur. "Sweet guy. Likes dropping life-changing knowledge on people then laughing about it. He also likes to think he can see people's 'energy' or auras, or something. The guy took one look at me and went loco!"
"He just... looked at you." Phoebe echoed, stupefied. "He just looked at you and decided that you were the cause of the eruption? That you were a god to his people!? Surely he must have had some reason!" A pink tinge briefly returned to her cheeks. "Was it when you and Arnold-"
"It wasn't when we were kissing!" Helga furiously insisted for a second time, using both hands to lean over the table. She was really starting to see why some people chose to never kiss and tell. "And there was no reason, Phoebe! He just showed up and started launching into some Simmons-level lecture at Arnold about how special the kid is, barely giving anyone else the time of day, until he sees me and, boom! Next thing you know, me and Football Head are both being dragged underground for a crash course in Green Eye history and to hear that we're some kind of cosmic double act!"
Phoebe tried to ignore the fact that Helga's new position, with the light directly below her face, made her look as though she was telling a dramatic campfire ghost story. "So he did at least offer you some sort of explanation?"
"Oh, he gave a real good speech about why there are apparently a couple of gods just up and walking around." Helga found herself animatedly pacing again, growing increasingly agitated as she reminisced about her time beneath the Green Eyes' city. "He had a whole big, emotional backstory about energy and how some almighty creator-god-woman showed up at the dawn of time and made the land and people and stuff, and how the Corazón is the last remaining piece of her, so obviously the universe itself threw some kind of fit when that conniving, pirate jerk stole it the last time." She emphasised the last point with a swift kick to one of the discarded cans on the floor, a rare moment when she was happy to picture Lasombra's face, sending it winging into the opposing wall.
"Lasombra?" Phoebe had been reluctant to interrupt – Helga's rant was actually proving quite informative – but the offhand remark surprised her. "He actually succeeded in stealing the Corazón?"
Her friend waved the concern away without breaking stride. "Arnold's folks got it back. Like I said – slow Tuesday. That's one of the reasons the Green Eyes are so gaga about them." She actually did pause for a moment, then, on reflection. "Y'know, relatively speaking..." She blinked, turning to her friend. "Where was I?"
"The universe throwing a fit."
"Right!" Helga resumed in full force, verbally and physically. "The universe throws a fit, and apparently its first solution, or symptom, is to toss me down to this cold, miserable Earth! Am I here to kick Lasombra's butt? Am I just here by accident? Who knows?! Either way, I'm clearly just such a catastrophic imbalance that it's 'too much for the universe to handle', as Geraldo so kindly put it, and so its solution is to spit Arnold out right after me to make sure I don't volcano us all to death! And then after dumping that whole, gigantic landfill of insanity on us, the old weirdo just starts going on and on about how amazing I am, and how amazing Arnold is, and how super amazing we are together, and how we're basically... basically..."
"Basically what, Helga?" Phoebe asked tentatively, on seeing her friend finally come to a stop. Her mind was already racing just trying to keep up with everything Helga was revealing, and the gravity of it all was another thing entirely.
"You have to swear you won't laugh." Helga narrowed her eyes, a threatening finger aimed in the other girl's direction.
"I promise." Phoebe responded, a hand raised as if taking an oath. "Basically what?"
"Basically... made for each other." Helga finished, glancing away and muttering the words as though they were a shameful secret.
"I see." Phoebe's eyes widened, and she felt surge of heat pass through her chest, but she didn't laugh. Being told something like that would overwhelm anybody, she suspected. But for Helga to be told something like that about her and Arnold? Phoebe wouldn't have laughed in a million years.
The understated reaction caught Helga by surprise, and she chanced to look nervously back in Phoebe's direction. "That's it? You see? No other comments? I know that probably wasn't the best explanation of what went down..."
"Well, if I understood correctly," Phoebe reflexively went to adjust her glasses – usually she would have a pad full of notes in front of her to review by now, "what you were told is that the Corazón's alleged origins as a spiritual or magical artifact make it a powerful and essential factor in the balance of nature. Consequently, the Green-Eyed People believe an earlier theft of the Corazón by Lasombra to have upset these forces, leading to the inexplicable end result of you being born. Whether there was some level of agency in this or not is unclear. The implication either way is that that your, um... energy?... is in some way special, unique or greater than that of a normal person. As such, your presence alone had an unbalancing impact on the world's natural order, culminating in the aforementioned eruption of Vulcán Turriable and the arrival of Arnold as an equivalent, balancing force. The Green Eyes, or at least this Tiukwí person, therefore believe the two of you to be superior entities, who are not only a harmonious pairing, but who are actually 'two of a kind' in a tangible, metaphysical sense." Seeing Helga simply staring dumbfounded, clearly in shock at the succinct summary, Phoebe clarified. "I'm quite accustomed to disseminating the key parts of your speeches. Even if I do tend to 'forget' them afterwards." She finished with a conspiratorial smirk.
"Yeah, well, kudos – you pretty much nailed it." Helga spluttered. "But how the heck are being so calm about it?!"
"I'm not calm, Helga!" Phoebe corrected, a tiny waver betraying itself in her voice. "That's by far the most incredible, bizarre and mind-boggling thing I've ever heard! I honestly don't even know what to think, I feel like I have a thousand questions, and I still can't grasp how this person came to such an enormous conclusion from just taking one look at you!" She took a deep, cleansing breath, the waver having vanished when she continued. "But if that's how I'm feeling, then I can't begin to imagine how you must be feeling right now. So, with that in mind, I'm quite determined to not freak out on you. My legs may disagree, however, so I am particularly grateful for the chair." She gave the Freak-Out Chair an appreciative pat.
"You're pretty darn impressive, Pheebs, you know that?" Helga couldn't help but give her best friend a genuine smile of relief and appreciation at that moment, though it quickly faltered. "Sorry. For putting all this on you and for being such a basket case."
"Contrary to appearances, I'm glad you did – you shouldn't have to deal with this alone. And I think anyone would be entitled to go a little crazy after what you've been through." Phoebe's expression became a little concerned once again. "That being said – and I admit that I'm a little afraid to ask – is there anything more? Anything you haven't told me?" She tried not to make it too obvious that she was bracing herself.
Helga stalled again, for a moment, unable to avoid it. The real extent to which the Green-Eyed People saw her and Arnold as being 'bonded'. She wasn't exactly sure why that part had established itself as the line in the sand when it came to sharing this stuff – being declared a god was probably above and beyond it in terms of strangeness, if not by much. Maybe it was just the part she and Arnold were the least comfortable facing...
"No." She decided. "That's all of it."
Phoebe couldn't quite hold in her sigh of relief. "Good. Then, now that everything is out in the open, how are you feeling about all this?"
"Better than I did ten minutes ago, I guess." Helga answered honestly, the weight of it all feeling less of a burden now that it had been shared. It wasn't gone though, not by a long shot. She moved to rest against the table, her arms crossed once more. "I don't know. The way Tiukwí described it, there isn't really a downside to this. Apparently, the bottom line of it is that I'm some kind of 'super spirit' with unlimited potential, destined for greatness. I should be jumping for joy!"
"Assuming that it's true." Phoebe interjected, the phrasing making the blonde girl flinch.
"Assuming it's true." Helga agreed, her eye twitching a little as she forced the words out with barely-concealed irritation.
"And yet, you're not jumping for joy." The smaller girl astutely pointed out.
"...I guess I'm just overwhelmed." Helga conceded, turning her eyes to her feet and kicking gently at the ground in an attempt at distracting herself. "Or... I'm mostly just worried about how overwhelming it all is." Hearing that made Phoebe raise a brow.
"For you, or for Arnold?" The pinpoint question made Helga stiffen mid-kick. When no answer came, the smaller girl pressed on. "I imagine he's as perturbed by the whole experience as you are."
"He's fine." Helga stood and stepped away, her arms still crossed, turning her back to Phoebe for the first time since the exhausting talk started, hiding her face completely. "We talked it out last night, and we agreed to just not think about it too much."
"Understandable. And yet, based on this conversation, that's evidently easier said than done." Phoebe continued to probe, sensing that she was on the right track. When Helga offered no response, she pushed a little harder. "Especially given the implications that this being real would have for the two of you?"
"I told you, he's fine!" Helga briefly threw her arms up, though she still refused to turn around. "And so what about the implications? Even if we can't ignore it, it's like I said; there's no downside! Unlimited potential – awesome! Destined for greatness – swell! And if the whole thing does turn out to be real, then that just means the two of us are literally a perfectly balanced, made-in-Heaven dream team! I don't see a problem, do you? Oh, or are you suggesting that he might have a some kind issue with being told that he's basically stuck with someone for all eternity at the ripe old age of ten? Let alone that it's the one person who's spent his entire life up till the last twenty-four hours acting like she hates his guts? You think that might make him rethink a few things? You think he might find that kind of 'overwhelming'?!"
"I..." Helga's shoulders slumped, her arms falling to her sides. Why did Phoebe have to be so smart? Wheeling around to face her friend, her face was a desperate mixture of worry and panic. "What if he takes it all back, Phoebe? What if he can't handle it? What if this whole thing ends up freaking him out so much that he can't even stand to be around me? The guy just got reunited with his long-lost parents after a gruelling, high-stakes jungle adventure – how much more can I honestly expect him to take?" Forsaking the need for a chair entirely, the girl sank to the floor, her back to the wall. She didn't even wait for a response from her companion before continuing – by this point she was mostly talking to herself, or to the universe. "And even if none of that happens, what if I manage to screw it up anyway? What if I go nuts and push him away somehow, or he actually spends time with me and finds out he can't stand me after all? Or worse, what if I spend time with him and find out that we're not even right for each other after all this, that all these years of so-called 'love' have been nothing more than my own naïve, baseless idolisation of the first person to show me a shred of kindness? What would I even have left? I've wanted this for so long and I worked so hard for it, but now it's finally, actually here, and it's real, and what if... what if it all just goes wrong?!" She finished, clutching her knees to her chest.
"Oh, Helga..." Phoebe waited until her friend ran out of steam before finally standing, moving to join her on the floor. Luckily, her legs were willing to co-operate. The girls' combined shadows loomed large over the pair as she placed a hand on Helga's shoulder once again. "That's the most ridiculous thing you've said this whole time."
"Hey!" Helga's head instantly shot back up to fix Phoebe with an affronted glare. "I'm baring my soul here, Phoebe!"
"I know." Phoebe smiled and kept her hand in place – something very few other people would have the bravery to do. "And Arnold seems to have quite a well-established place in it."
"Yeah, so, I'm hopelessly, stupidly obsessed with the boy! What's your point?" Helga threw out a hand in irritation. Between the videos, the locket and everything else, it wasn't exactly news by now.
"My point," Phoebe patiently continued, "is that the depths of your devotion are more than apparent. Helga, you just found out that entire civilisation worships you! You've been told that you may be superhuman in some respect, and your primary concern is the impact it might have on you and Arnold's relationship! The first thing you were bursting to tell me was that this boy finally returned your feelings!" She folded her arms, giving her friend a brief, pointed look. "Which, for the record, I rather think makes you the Queen of Burying the Lede. Considering that, considering how long you've felt this way and everything the two of you have been through, do you really believe that your feelings are baseless?"
The question gave Helga pause, and she moved to rest her chin on her arms as she reflected. Unlike herself, Arnold was far more of an open book – for better or worse, her years of stalking had shown her more than a few of his closed pages too – and half the things Arnold said or did still left her swooning, years after that first rainy encounter outside Urban Tots. The fact that the other half infuriated her hadn't stopped her yet... How many times had even their briefest or most hostile interactions left her swearing her eternal devotion as soon as his back was turned?
"No." She finally conceded. "But it doesn't change the fact that his feelings could change, whether it's 'cause of this Tiukwí stuff or just because of me! I have no idea what I'm doing, and knowing what a basket case I am, I'm probably going to go right back to treating him like garbage the second we get out of this place."
Phoebe's smile grew a little. "The way you've treated him before now didn't stop him from reciprocating your feelings."
"Great, so the kid's a masochist..." Helga couldn't help the jab.
"Or, he's someone who's able to see past your hostility and appreciate your many positive qualities, as I believe I've already suggested." Phoebe smartly countered. "And as for knowing what you're doing, I don't believe anyone knows what they're doing when it comes to their first relationship. I'm hardly an expert myself!" Her hands fidgeted in her lap, a pink tinge rising to her cheeks for a moment as she thought of Gerald and what the future might hold. "But I do believe the key is for both parties to simply do their best. If you have issues then you work through them, and if you screw up and make a mistake, then you try your hardest to fix it. Really, Helga; after everything you've done to get this far with Arnold, are you honestly suggesting you won't put in at least the same amount of effort to keep him?"
"Heck, no!" Helga repeated a little more fiercely, her fists clenching at her knees. For a moment, Phoebe's words made the spark of determination in her chest roar louder than any pessimistic voice in her head, insisting that, so help her, she would not waste this chance. Catching herself, she blinked and shook her head before turning to her friend. "I don't get how can you be so sure about all this."
"Because I have faith in you, Helga. I believe that if you want this, you'll make it happen, just like you made all this happen. And for what it's worth..." The smaller girl paused reflectively for a moment. "Do you recall what I said to you the first time we talked about 'Ice Cream'."
"That your favourite is pistachio." Helga answered without missing a beat.
"I mean seriously, Pheebs – what kind of four-year-old likes pistachio?" Helga pressed on, managing to smirk a little. "Had you just not heard about this thing called 'chocolate'?"
"It's nutty and delicious!" Phoebe hotly insisted. "And you know what I'm actually talking about."
"Yeah." Helga's budding smile dropped, and she sighed as she thought back. "You told me to just put it all behind me. To forget about it and move on with my life."
Phoebe nodded, looking sombre. "Well, I believe that may have been the worst piece of advice I've ever given you." Seeing Helga raise a questioning brow, she elaborated. "It was obvious what 'Ice Cream' really referred to, and you seemed so agitated at the time. I truly thought that you might have felt better if you tried to direct your focus elsewhere. But that next day, as I seem to remember you said yourself, you just seemed so empty... I was particularly pleased when you became your normal self again."
Helga let out an irritated 'tsk' as she recalled the event. "All I did was drink a crummy 'potion' that turned out to be grape soda. I even paid ten stinkin' bucks for it! Crimeny, what a sucker..." She facepalmed as she chastised herself.
"Be that as it may, you clearly thought it was real for a time. And, well, it made me aware of just how much of a positive impact your love for Ice C- ahem, Arnold, could have on you, rather than just being a source of frustration." Phoebe happily thought back to the end of that day, and how filled with life and elation Helga had been on realising her feelings hadn't been magically erased. "On further reflection, I came to conclude that if you were to allow Arnold to see your more positive side, if you could stop pushing him away, then the two of you really might be rather wonderful for each other."
"Really?" Helga had almost shyly asked the question before she could stop herself. She knew that if anyone, even her best friend, had made the same claim just a day or two earlier then she probably would have denied it with as much force and volume as she could muster. On the outside, anyway... Talking openly about this stuff with Phoebe felt strange and raw, but not bad.
The smaller girl assented with a nod. "Really."
"Wait, then how come you've helped me hide it so many times?" Gratified as Helga was, she still found herself confused enough to ask; Phoebe had needed to play an essential role in protecting her secret way more times than the she was proud of.
"Well, they're your feelings, Helga. It was always for you to decide when you were readyfor them to become known." Phoebe explained, simply. Privately though, she also doubted that Arnold catching Helga sleep-talking sweet nothings on his fire escape would have been the best start to anything. "The more unsettling aspects of this trip notwithstanding, I'm delighted that it finally allowed you to share them voluntarily."
'Unsettling is right.' Helga couldn't help but think. Her big 'voluntary' reveal had basically been for the sake of Arnold's parents' and the Green Eyes' lives! At least if Arnold ever called her out on that one, she figured she could just bring up the crow's nest... She wondered how differently things might have gone if Arnold had seen through his original plan; just talking to her about their feelings, on a walk in Tina Park or over a couple of shakes at Slausen's. In a perfect world, the result would have been the same. But instead, their 'getting together' story would always be a tale of peril and mystical destinies... More exciting maybe, but way more complicated. 'Speaking of which...'
"Well, then I gotta know, Pheebs – if you really feel that way about, y'know, me and him," Helga awkwardly began, "do you think any of this god, destiny, made for each other stuff could be real?"
"That's a difficult question. Surprisingly." Phoebe frowned for a second at that. Once again, had it been anyone else, then the answer would be obvious. Instead, she was forced to contemplate, a hand coming to her chin as she pondered. "It seems completely out of the question, but the circumstances behind it are simply too compelling to ignore. The volcano incident aside, you and Arnold are both impressive people, and you've both done things far beyond what would normally be expected for someone our age. As for the idea of the two of you being bonded or connected in some way... on a purely scientific level, the concept almost makes sense. For every force in nature there is meant to be an equal and opposite force, though I doubt Newton intended that to apply to romantic pairings... Beyond that, the notions of 'true love', 'soulmates' and the like are nothing new. The idea that such a thing could apply to you and Arnold in a literal sense is hard to fathom but... well..." Thinking it over, the girl found the heat in her chest returning.
"Well what?"Helga quirked her brow in concern, watching her friend fidget and gently kick her legs against the ground. Phoebe turned to her with an almost apologetic look.
"It would be extremely romantic."
"Ack!" Helga buried her head in her hands, her fears realised. "Please don't go getting all girly on me right now, Phoebe!" The hands hid a slight smile, though. Her friend was right – the very notion was probably going to be fuelling her poetry for years to come.
"Sorry." Phoebe couldn't help but grin. "Really, though, my honest answer is that I don't have an answer. I'm not sure if it would even be possible to reach a definitive answer."
"Easy; if me and Arnold's... relationship," Helga forced out the word, trying her hardest not to swoon, "winds up completely imploding, then we know the whole thing was a crock."
"Which I firmly believe you won't allow to happen, as I believe I've made clear. So, alas, we may never know for sure." Phoebe insisted. "At least, as you said, there appears to be very little in the way of a downside so long as you don't allow it to overwhelm you. To that end, you know I'm always here if you need me, whether it be for assistance with what you've learned on this trip, your relationship with Arnold or anything else."
"Yeah, I know." Embarrassment aside, Helga found herself smiling back, knowing that it was true. She always had been.
There was another pause, this one far lighter and less foreboding than the last (though the electric buzz filled the air all the same).
"You know, if it wouldn't be too 'girly'," Phoebe finally suggested, "this seems like it may be an appropriate moment for a hug."
"How about a nice fist bump?" Helga countered.
"Fine." Helga rolled her eyes in mock protest, though the smile remained, and the girls leaned forward to share a brief but tight embrace. She thought back to her earlier analogy; if her and Arnold's changed relationship really did represent some kind of finish line, then not only did Phoebe deserve to know about it, she was also probably the best pit crew Helga could have asked for..
"Alright, enough mushy stuff!" The blonde girl announced once the moment had ended, separating the two, giving Phoebe cause for one last giggle.
"Of course. And, as much as I would like to stay in here and try to process this for a while longer, I think we should probably head back. Given how long ago we departed for the 'restroom', people may be starting to have concerns." Phoebe joked, standing as she spoke. "Are you feeling ready?" She offered her friend a hand, pulling Helga to her feet once she accepted.
"As I'll ever be..." Helga muttered, dusting herself off – a fruitless effort given the state of her clothes. "I still don't know how I'm going to keep all of those morons in check."
"I'm sure everything will be absolutely fine, Helga." Phoebe waited until Helga had pulled on the main light switch, putting an end to the room's cheap attempt at a faux-ethereal glow, before (carefully) switching off the small zapper in preparation to depart. "Is there anything I can do to help?"
"Can you think of a way to keep Bob quiet when he shows up again?" It was a long-shot, Helga knew – nobody had discovered a good way yet.
Phoebe held up the zapper, looking it over for a few moments. "Well, I suppose with a few additional components to amplify the charge..."
"Probably a little too high-impact, but I like where this is going and I want to hear all about it later." Helga smirked. "Now let's get out of here. Oh, and this conversation?"
"Never happened?" Phoebe instinctively responded. To her surprise, her friend shook her head.
"No. Just... thanks, Pheebs."
"You're most welcome, Helga." Phoebe beamed. As unbelievable and intense as their conversation had been, the unprecedented openness and excitement her friend had shown was enough to give her high hopes for the future. She had assisted Helga this far in her relationship with Arnold, after all, and she wasn't about to stop now. "Although, before we go, I feel there's something I ought to say as well."
"What's that?" Helga paused, a hand reaching for the door handle, looking questioningly back over her shoulder. Phoebe had a serious look on her face.
"Well, Arnold is going to be in there, and the two of you have been apart for a number of minutes, so it's very important to exercise self control-"
"Would you drop it about the kissing!?" Helga blushed furiously, throwing open the door and stomping quickly out into the hall.
"Dropping!" Phoebe chirped, moving to follow with a grin on her face. "For now."
A/N The Tiukwí Club welcomes Miss Phoebe Heyerdahl - we apologise for the delay in processing your application.