Say You Will
The Enchanting Epilogue to "The Sweet Hereafter"
"There is always some madness in love. But there is also always some reason in madness."
As I empty my dustpan into the garbage before starting work on the stairs, I let out a small sigh. Cleaning really isn't my style, but this is pretty light work. Besides, it pays twenty bucks, and it's far easier than trying to beg cash out of Bob. Not to mention the delightful bonus features of a dinner away from Bob and Miriam and an excuse to be close to Arnold every Saturday. Yeah, I'm feeling pretty good about it. I can't help but look up the stair in the direction of his room, the attic staircase hidden from my sight at this angle.
I would have a much better time sweeping the stairs if there wasn't so much traffic. Psychological proof that people never want to do something until they're told that they can't. It's the same thing, week in and week out. As soon as I start in, it's a steady stream of people and pets, moving up and down the stairs several times, determined to ruin my work. I swear that strange Oskar fellow does it on purpose. One of these times, so help me, I'm going to push him, and I doubt that there's anyone in this entire boarding house who wouldn't thank me. I really should use a vacuum here, but it would be a bit awkward on the stairs. Besides, I don't think anyone would be very grateful.
I manage to get halfway up the staircase with only three interruptions (two from Oskar) when I hear the call. "Eleanor! Eleanor! Tea time!" Oh, that's right. I'm Eleanor. Eleanor Roosevelt, to be precise. Time for my weekly tea with. . .come to think of it, one never knows what person Arnold's grandmother might be playing at any given time. She tends to change with some frequency. I hoist the broom over my shoulder like a bayonet as I step downstairs and into the kitchen. I'm greeted by Mary, Queen of Scotts, which is a bit odd because she's not even from the same era as Eleanor Roosevelt. And I thought Miriam's smoothie dazes were bad. The scary part is that I've gotten accustomed to this. She always wants to know how Franklin and I are getting along. I have to assume that she's referring to Arnold, but when it comes to someone like his grandmother, you can never be entirely certain. Sometimes we even discuss strategy for battling the Axis powers and driving the accursed Germans back to their own lands. It's a typical Saturday, really. I've been doing this for over three months now. Oh that's right. This is me trying, and don't you forget it, bucko.
Arnold and I didn't speak much after the letter, and that might have been for the best. There really wasn't much more for either of us to say. We were in limbo. We are in limbo. I figured out rather quickly that I was going to have to take the first step, which totally went against my nature, but here I am. A little cleaning, a little dinner, and an entire night on the sofa with Arnold. Is it any wonder that this is my favorite day of the week? I just need to know where to go from here. He knows how I feel, which I really have no choice but to be okay with. It isn't easy. He knows how much I adore him, how much I cherish him, but what about him? I still don't know how he really feels. I don't know what he wants. So I'm waiting. I'm waiting to find out. Trying to offer him something worth taking and doing a poor job of it. I'm still here, though. Still waiting. I'm always waiting for the right moment. Maybe someday, it will come. Maybe.
Let it be said again. I love date night. And I have the privilege of spending it with the first and only person who could ever hold sway over this heart. And despite the difference in our sizes, we fit together on this old couch pretty well. He sits on a cushion by the arm, and I'm stretched across him, my legs lying perpendicularly over his and my back against the arm of the sofa. Eventually, his hands will find my hair, but it's never soon enough. Why do his ministrations always have to feel so good? Just to know that he's treating me like a girl, that's nearly enough to drive me wild. I just wish I knew where we are going. It's been ages since he's kissed me. Three months, two weeks, six days, nineteen hours, and entirely too many minutes. Not since that night when I came home from the hospital. I want to punish myself for needing it. Whenever he holds me, I always feel so small, like I would be lost if it weren't for his shelter. I'm not use to that. It's not easy to admit that I like that feeling. I'm the type to stand on my own. To solve my own problems and not depend on anyone else. Why does he tear me up inside so completely? Why does he make me feel like a little girl tugging on her father's pant leg? Why does his embrace assure me that nothing bad will ever befall me as long as he is there to protect me? What a ridiculous notion! But somehow he makes me buy into it completely. I let out a breath I hadn't realized I was holding as his fingers finally begin threading my hair. I slide my left hand over his and guide him to my bow, showing him how to undo it, never taking my eyes off of the TV set. Why do I suddenly feel so embarrassed? I ball the pink material up in my hand. This one isn't quite like the original that I left in Arnold's care. Last I checked, that ribbon is still marking my territory. This new material doesn't have the same feel. Maybe I just have some sort of silly attachment to my old bow. I actually tried going without it for a few days after I gave the old one away. But it changed my appearance a little too much. I felt naked without it. I just don't like for people to see me with my hair down. Even when I dress formally, I tend to wear my hair up. It's just what makes me comfortable. How ironic is it, then, that I want him to see me without my shields up. Too bad I've forgotten how to lower them. I don't ever take the time to wear makeup. I figure that I'm phony enough as it is; putting on a bunch of paints seems so pointless. You hear girls constantly complain about how they want a guy to like them for who they are, and then they go and hide behind makeup and act like some idiot boy wants them to. Not that I haven't been guilty of that in the past, but at least now I know better. Some girls never learn.
His mere touch provides a massaging effect on my head, and I can't help but smile at how good his hands feel. He knows what I need. I don't know how, but he knows. I don't intend to ask how or why. What's the point of messing up a good thing? It's the waiting that I can't stand. Knowing that I'm farther along than him. I want to tell him the truth, but even after all this time, I still lack the strength to express my feelings with my own voice. And I still don't know what he feels. I guess that it bothers me more than I thought, because I'm repeating myself. I've tried to tell him telepathically over and over again, curse his thick headed skull for not being able to pick up my psychic messages. We should be more advanced. Wow, talk about a long train of thought. Where do I come up with this stuff?
"You like it when I do this, don't you?" Arnold spoke softly. I swear, I could hear the smile in his voice.
"Shut up." I respond, my words not carrying enough conviction. I know, because he's laughing at me.
"To say the least." I roll my eyes. Why do I hate talking about myself? Heck, why do I still feel so uncomfortable around him?
"It's almost Valentine's Day." His voice sounds almost flippant. So, he's testing the waters, eh? Trying to see how I'll react. The thought is a little scary. Last years Valentine's Day was. . .complicated, to put it mildly. And I'm through with hiding behind disguises. Now I just hide in plain sight.
"Is it?" I ask in a non-committal voice, hoping that he can't see through me.
"Two days. Although I did make a few minor arrangements for tonight. Nothing big, I wasn't sure how you'd feel."
"Why?" My self-consciousness is rearing its ugly head.
"Because I thought that it would be appropriate?"
"No, I mean. . .why would you want to bother with me? You could spend your Valentine's Day with any girl you want. I'll be you could even coerce Rhonda Lloyd into extending her arm if you turned on the charm a little. So why are you wasting your attentions on me?" That's right, Helga. Sabotage yourself. You know how irresistible it makes you.
"I can't get anyone I want, Helga. As you're usually so quick to point out, I never could get Lila." I shot Arnold a look that let him know that I did not appreciate his little idea of a joke. The sad truth is that I'm still afraid of losing him to Lila, somehow. Wouldn't you be? She's smart, she's beautiful, she's popular, and she has a much more pleasant disposition. How could I not be fearful of her? "Believe it or not, I like the person that you really are, Helga. When you let me see her, anyway."
I've always had this problem with responding properly to simple kindness and affection. I'm not accustomed to being liked. I spend so much time trying to earn other people's attention, then I don't know how to act when I get it. "I'm still getting used to this." I say in frustration. It sounds like an even worse excuse when it actually escapes my lips. I sigh in quiet desperation, the turn my body so that I can look up at him.
"It's not what I'd always expected either. I'm sure I don't need to tell you that you're about the last person I ever thought would want to be close to me." Half of me wants to smack him a good one for saying something so hurtful, even if it is the truth. But I know he doesn't mean it like that. This is just how we are, desperately trying to understand one another. And I sit back quietly and feel like he owes me because even though he cares about me, he doesn't seem to have the same depth of feelings toward me. Is it wrong for me to want him to? "My grandmother is a big believer in saying that in life we have to expect the unexpected."
"Your grandmother is a rather strange character, Arnoldo. But I've actually grown fond of the woman. I definitely like her more than my family." I lifted myself to a height where we were sitting almost nose to nose. "Have I ever told you how much I adore your smile?"
"Not today." Damn his smile for making me so powerless! "And never in public."
"Okay, what are you planning?" I want to know what's up his sleeve.
"There's a lot to be said for self-delusionment when it comes to matters of the heart."
-Diane Frolov and Andrew Schneider
"Northern Exposure, First Snow"
It's a pretty rare occasion that I go up to Arnold's room. I can count on one hand the number of times I've been there with his knowledge. It's not that he doesn't want me there, just that the TV gives us an excuse to be. . .cuddled doesn't seem like quite the fitting word. But if anyone else in the house comes into the TV room on Saturday night, the TV and some '90's flick are our defense. Of course, most of them think we're just so cute. I'll never understand why adults always feel the need to tease young romance.
Much to my surprise, Arnold stops long before we get to his room, entering some numbers onto a keypad and turning a key he must've produced out of somewhere on his person. A door opens inward, revealing a dark, musty place that begins to come alive as he steps inside. I slowly follow, wondering what I'm getting myself into. "What is this place?" I ask with a tinge of fear. I don't like dark places. One never knows where rats might be hiding. I hope he didn't just see me shudder!
"This is Mr. Smith's old room." Arnold began explaining to me. "He moved out some time ago. But he left a lot of stuff here. Before leaving, he paid Grandpa a year's rent in advance and asked him to keep the room as is. He also gave me the code to come in here and monitor the security tapes from time to time. All of the other systems are locked down and require passwords I don't have. Even the closet has some kind of really complex electronic combination lock."
"So why was this guy making surveillance tapes? Was he peeking on girls in the shower or something?" I can't even begin to comprehend the significance of bringing me here.
"Hardly. All the cameras are set to common areas, hallways, and the crawlspace that runs through the walls." I thought that I could hear the sound of a glass shattering, and I'm officially sweating. All those desperate commando missions I've made—how was I supposed to know that I was on film. Dear God, please tell me that he doesn't know! "I came across one or two that I found most interesting, Helga."
"Oh yes!" His chuckle sounds almost sinister. "Imagine my surprise when I saw you pop up on one of these. You were in your pajamas. As I recall, you went into the water closet and took a shower. I'm still trying to figure that one out."
"The water was out at my house!" I tried to cover, speaking with conviction. Dumb Helga, really dumb.
"Okay. The water was out at your house. So logically, you would sneak into my house—in your pajamas, of course—take a shower, and leave by going out the front door in some sort of disguise. C'mon Helga, that doesn't make any sense. We both know that you would've called Phoebe." That's the trouble with having a best friend. It's hard to get anyone to believe a fantastic story like that one when you have someone to turn to.
"Look Arnold, that's kind of an embarrassing story. Actually, my life is full of embarrassing tales I'd rather take to my grave. But that one is. . .wacky. Zany. And beyond mortifying."
"Does it have something to do with me?" Oh Arnold, nearly everything in my life has something to do with you. I wish you knew that by now.
"Yes and no. I guess I could say that you were a factor, just not the driving force. It was my diet." I always knew that snack foods would make you fat, but that was one side effect I still have a little trouble believing.
"You're diet?" Arnold blinks in disbelief. You too, huh?
"Yep. I'll tell you all about it when it's far enough in the past that I can laugh at the ridiculousness of it all."
"Fair enough." Arnold's giving me his reassuring smile. He's going to make this a difficult night, I'm guessing. Not that he means to.
"You have more tapes, don't you?" My sigh is entirely too long. Face it, Helga Old Girl, he knows everything you've done. It was bound to come out sooner or later. There's been a lot of evidence building up over the last six years. People know. It's that thought that always makes me go rigid. Phoebe figured it out for herself. When I told Lila to get the part of Juliet, she said that she'd always suspected. Big Patty asked me flat out if Arnold and I had something going on after she faked my beating. And my own shrink sandbagged me. She knew. She knew my secret before I even walked into her office for the first time! Oh. . .my. . .I can't breathe. Arnold's lips are moving, but I can't hear what he's saying. I'm checkmated. How many more of them know? Does the whole world know my secret? Am I that obvious? Do people snicker at me behind my back?
"Helga, are you okay?" I can hear him again. Oh sweet voice that caresses my ears like dew drops on a lily. "Helga!" I'm still not use to anyone showing me concern. A scream escapes my throat, loud and piercing. Arnold is at my side immediately, begging to know what's wrong, and all I can think about is how my life is assuredly ending. I feel the palm of his hand over my mouth, my breathing ragged. "It's okay, Helga. I'm here. Please tell me what's happening!" He released his hand down, and the noise in my throat mercifully died. I sink to my knees, something not unlike a whimper coming out of me. I cough a few times to disguise my disgusting weakness before I lift my head up to meet his gaze.
"Tell me something." I ask with a wary smile, feeling the weight of my secret life bearing down upon me. These are the wages I've earned for being silent for so long, haven't I? Much like the proverbial chains of Jacob Marley.
"When did you know?" I can't believe how those words escaped my lips so easily. When am I ever so forward?
"Know what, Helga?" Don't be so dense, Football Head. Not at a time like this. How can men be so stupid? And all of a sudden, I realize my salvation. Men! Men are oblivious!
"How I feel about you. When did you know?" Doi!
"I knew for sure when I heard you and Dr. Bliss talking at the hospital last October. But I do remember what you said that night during the summer. Or morning, technically."
"You never knew before FTI?" It would be nice to know I managed to fool someone. Hopefully several. Criminey! Even Rhonda predicted us! How could I have let this happen? When did I get so careless?
"Nope. To be honest, I always thought that you disliked me. I never believed that you hated me though. I was able to glean from a few experiences that on some level, you had to have some kind of respect for me that you didn't want to admit. But until Rhonda first put forth the idea, I never really thought much of you as a girl." Daggers shot out of my eye sockets to pin Arnold against the wall. That's how I'm envisioning things in my mind. Noticing the look I'm giving him, he ever so subtly took a step backwards. "Um, I meant that to be a lot less insulting than it probably came out." I growled in frustration, more at myself than at the backhanded compliment my pseudo boyfriend had just given me. Besides, a ray of light was now shining. He never knew! Which means that Geraldo couldn't have known either! Harold and Stinky are idiots, and Sid hangs with them. Eugene isn't the type to pick up on something like that. Curly is too busy trying to steal clippings of Rhonda's hair to notice a thing. Yes! I'm only an open book to women! Granted, women are a lot more dangerous than men when it comes to this sort of thing anyway, but I'll take what I can get. It's better than the whole school laughing at me. But it does put me in a tight spot. I need to out my own secret before someone else does it for me.
Releasing Arnold from my hostile gaze, I try to put on some charm. "Forget it. You're right, I'm not like other girls. In fact, I don't even know what it is that makes a girl a girl, except for the boobs and stuff."
"Well spoken, Helga." Arnold winks at me. I unsuccessfully try to stifle a wistful sigh.
"Shut up." I ruffle his delightfully golden hair, figuring that I must be a fool. "Okay, Football Head, so you have me on tape."
"You were crawling through the ventilation ducts. The images were a little blurry, but it looked like you were trying to pilfer the boarding house answering machine."
Perfect. That was an afternoon I was hoping I could erase from existence. "I settled for the tape."
"What could possibly drive you to sneak into my home, break into the ventilation system, and steal the messages on our answering machine!" Wouldn't you like to know!
I approach Arnold carefully, trying to figure out how to explain the complexities of my feverish brain. Ever since the two of us reached this plateau, I've become a bit more reasonable. I can see him as more of a person and less of a deity. Scoff if you will, but I feel that it's done a world of good. I still don't handle this kind of thing well, but at least I've managed to take some of the expectations off of him.
"Have you ever had a secret that you wanted to protect? That you would go to any length for? I just. . .I had been in a total fog after getting some delightful anesthetic, and I managed to do something really, really stupid. Tremendously stupid. Actually, I think that if you had heard what was on that tape at that time, we wouldn't be having this conversation right now. And I would be the laughing stock of P.S. 118."
Arnold is shaking his head at me. "You've gone through all this trouble over all these years to keep those feelings to yourself. Because you were afraid that I would reject you and that everyone else would laugh at you. Whatever happened to the Helga I know who does what she wants and to heck with the rest of the world?" He has a point, curse him. Somewhere along the line I've gotten weak. I knew this would happen if I ever let my guard down. But I let Olga get to me. And I wrote that letter to him. Nothing has been the same since. I like to think that it's been better. School not withstanding. We've agreed not to talk about that for now. "I've been wondering that myself. I'm beginning to think that after all this time, she might be the illusion. All my life, I've wanted to be myself, but instead I've chosen to act like someone else. I was afraid. No, not afraid. I knew. I knew that I wasn't likeable because no one cared. Bob, Miriam, and Olga have never liked me very much. And the feeling is more than mutual. I'm something of a stranger in my own home. My parents don't like me because I'm not Olga squared. So I was hidden away as a child. Compared to Olga, I was something of an embarrassment, better to be neither seen nor heard. I wasn't encouraged. Mostly I was asked 'why can't you be more like Olga.' I'm still presented with that question all the time! So anyway, yeah, that plays a part. My own family didn't like me. So I decided that if anyone else was going to dislike me, I would give them a very good reason. Only now the lines have gotten all blurry."
"You really have a way with words, Helga. You should think about becoming a writer or something."
"Yeesh, you're starting to sound like that throw pillow, Simmons."
"Oh c'mon, you love the praise."
"I admit nothing!" I grinned.
"Only trying to help. But I don't think you're a freak for breaking in here a few times, believe it or not."
Be still my heart, there's still hope! "No?" After years of not-so-quiet desperation, maybe I'll finally be granted a reprieve. "It must be for my zany impression of Eleanor Roosevelt."
"Grandma likes you."
"She's grown on me a bit as well. She's definitely easier to talk to than Miriam. You have a pretty cool family for such a nimrod."
"Thanks. I think." Nothing's changed. I adore his smile. I think I could learn to give up food entirely and somehow sustain myself on his smile alone. As long as no one else moved in on it. I can't stand it when he smiles for anyone else. I need it all to myself. I'll bet I could do it too. Another sigh of regret escapes my lips, when did this night get turned into some twisted kind of confessional?
"So enough about me, Arnoldo, what about you?"
"No, the man in the moon. Doi! Who do you think I'm talking about? You ever done anything crazy like me? I mean, besides that incident with the bunny pajamas." There's something exciting about that dangerous look he's giving me. Clearly, he still isn't over that one. Sorry bucko, but I owe you one or two.
"Nothing much since the time you turned me into a giant banana." Ouch. I thought I he had forgotten all about that. At least, I hoped he had forgotten.
"Okay, so enough stories. After all that talk of Valentine's Day, you brought me up here to ask me about stuff that should be water under the bridge?"
"I don't really know, Helga. I'm still trying to get to know you. I don't even know how I feel here." Arnold's voice has taken on a troubling amount of concern. Like in one of those teen soap operas, when a guy is about to dump his best girl. Okay, it's panic time! Do something!
"What do you mean you don't know how you feel?" Yeah, that was real smooth Helga Old Girl.
"Exactly what I said. Helga, I know how you feel. And I think that's great. I'm not uncomfortable with it or anything. But I think that I'm in another place." Oh great. Here it comes. The world famous "I like you as a friend speech." I cannot here that from him. I will not allow it!
"You only like me as a friend, don't you?" WHAT THE FREAK IS WRONG WITH ME!
"No, that isn't it." I take it all back. I think I may have to become religious! "If that's how I felt, I wouldn't have bothered with Valentine's Day. My problem is. . .I feel that I like you as more than a friend, but. . .I'm not sure if I quite like you like you yet. Not that I can't, it's just. . .I want to know you better." I'll take it. It beats the alternative.
"I think I might have just the thing, Arnold. Do you trust me?"
"Trust you? Well, sure, I guess."
"Good. What's your locker combination?"
"Why?" Why are men so stupid? What is it about the Y chromosome that guarantees you'll turn out an idiot?
"Because I'm going to leave something in there for you on Monday morning, Hair Boy!"
"This isn't going to be something mean, is it?"
"No. If I were planning to play a trick on you, I'd take the time to humiliate you in front of the whole school, not just a few people in the hall."
"Okay, okay. 24-19-42."
"Thanks. Now, would you mind directing me back to that James Bond movie? I don't want to waste the entire night, you know."
"Whatever you say, Helga." Keep smiling at me!
-"From morning to night I stayed out of sightDidn't recognize I'd becomeNo more than alive I'd barely surviveIn a word...overrunWon't hear a soundFrom my mouthI've spent too longOn the inside outMy skin is cold To the human touchThis bleeding heart'sNot beating muchI murmured a vow of silence and nowI don't even hear when I think aloudExtinguished by light I turn on the nightWear its darkness with an empty smileI'm creeping back to lifeMy nervous system all awryI'm wearing the inside out"-Pink Floyd"Wearing The Inside Out"
Love is mad. There's no way around it. We try to understand it the best we can, but in the end there's no real alternative. You have to deal with the craziness inside. I've never been very good at hiding mine. Why does love have to hurt so much? Why must this cosmic force cause us to experience all these inexplicable and conflicting feelings at once? And why is it that no matter how badly I might want it, I always seem to muck it up?
This is a position we don't share very often, but I have to admit, I love the power. Over time, I've managed to build up enough trust in him that he will lean back against me a bit, and now I have full access to his deliciously shaped head. I wish I could say where I picked up this hair obsession. Mine, his, I just enjoy the play. No matter which way I manipulate his hair, it always returns to its original position. It's a bit ironic, considering that I'm the one that has trouble bending. He's supposed to be the malleable one.
Something about Sean Connery must bring out the daring side in me, I muse quality as I slip my arms around his neck and rest my chin on top of his head. I could live like this. Really, I'm fine. If the world comes to an end right now, my only regret will be that I didn't spend more Saturday nights like this. It's twice as satisfying because I know that it makes Arnold slightly uncomfortable. Call me crazy, but I like it that he doesn't know what to do with me. I like to keep him on his toes.
"You've gotta hand it to Double-O Seven, eh Football Head?" I ask with much admiration.
"Because he always saves the day?" I don't get how he could be a boy and not figure this one out.
"Well, I guess, but he always gets the girl. I mean, even if she's out to get him, he still usually manages to get a little action in with her before she meets her end."
"What? It's true!"
"You didn't have to be so blunt."
"In case you haven't noticed, that's kind of who I am, Arnoldo. Isn't that what makes us an interesting pair?"
"Doesn't everything. Why are we so different yet so alike?"
"Because God or Fate or Time or Nature or whatever the heck you want to believe in has a sense of humor. And because it's fun."
"I'm glad one of us is!"
"I thought you liked it when I frustrate you? You don't think its endearing?"
"Helga, I didn't say that. It's just. . .I don't think I'll ever understand women."
"Probably not. I don't think we're supposed to understand each other."
"Ya got that right!" I know that voice. It's Phil. Is it that time already? And just when things were getting good! "Why if I had a nickel for every time Pookie—oh, heck, I'd be king of the nickels! You kids ready to get goin'?"
"Sure thing, Grandpa." Arnold said, knowing he had just been granted a reprieve from a conversation he stood little chance of gaining any ground in. Some people have all the luck.
Riding around in Phil's old Packard is a unique experience. The car is a total classic, and I consider myself to be a modern girl. That's modern, mind you, not material. I guess I can understand the attachment. We all have stuff that has sentimental value. Me, I'm never giving up my locket. No matter what may happen in the future, even if I become an old cat lady, I'm keeping this locket as a memento. Arnold and I rarely talk when the boss drives me home. We try to avoid saying anything incriminating in front of adults. They have enough ammunition already. But Phil probably knows everything anyway. Adults usually do. Except of course for my parents, but the difference between Arnold's family and my own is that his takes an interest. I can't call him my boyfriend yet. Even if I could, I wouldn't. I just don't want to admit to anything yet, and the hardest thing I can imagine would be admitting that I need anyone, him especially. Even if every day that I maintain my silence increase my chances of being exposed and humiliated. I'll figure it out when I'm able to blend both sides of myself into something presentable to the rest of the world. And that could take awhile, I know I don't have to tell you.
Phil pulls up in front of my home, and I mutter a pleasant good night to them both. "I hope Pookie wasn't too much trouble now." He chides, handing over my weekly wages. I could dramatize it, but it isn't exactly a "there but for the grace of God go I" kind of situation. Truthfully, it's actually kind of fun. And that's before the sofa!
"Nah, she's kind of fun. It's Oskar I worry about. Tell him that if he keeps tracking dirt all over my stairs while I'm working, I'm going to use his mouth as a dustpan."
"No problem! I'll hold the no good bum down for ya!"
"Deal! Thanks Phil. I'll see ya next week."
"Night lil' lady." I don't know why he calls me that. I've never thought of myself as much of a lady.
"Good night, Helga." Arnold adds with a wave. I wave back until the car disappears from sight, sighing. This is always the saddest moment of my week. Because next Saturday night isn't any farther away than it is now.
Turning away from the road, I climb the steps to the top of my stoop. I open the front door with a loud push. Hanging my purple jacket on a hook by the door, I announce that I'm home to no great fanfare. Miriam is passed out and Bob is absorbed in whatever nonsense is on the television, the flickering glow and accompanying sound pouring out from the living room the only proof that someone other than myself is even here. Ignoring the parental neglect I've come to know so intimately, I trudge up to my room and shut the door, change into my pajamas, and phone Phoebe. The two of us have a lot of work to do.
I don't normally like to be up and about this early on a Sunday, but here it is, 11AM, and I'm already spread out on Phoebe's bedroom floor, feverishly writing in a notebook. Balled up pieces of paper surround me, I just can't come up with anything that satisfies me. Phoebe seems to be having a much better time with the artistic aspect of our mutual project. Me, I'm beginning to question my sanity. Beginning, that's a laugh. I've been questioning my sanity for the last several years. But this morning, I may finally go off the deep end.
I can't believe that I agreed to write a poem for Geraldo. But I have to give Arnold something perfect! And somehow, Phoebe seems to know something about this boy/girl nonsense. I mean, she can actually have a normal conversation with her quasi-boyfriend. In public no less! "Criminey, this is impossible! I can't do this Pheebs! What's wrong with me! I can fill volumes on musings about him any other time, and now whenever I try to write just a few lines, I've got nothing! How can my inspiration have fled me the day before Valentine's Day! This is insane!"
"Well, Helga, this is only a guess, but it might have something to do with the fact that you don't normally write for an audience." I hate it when she's right. Or more specifically, when I'm wrong.
"Why does love have to be so complicated?" I moan.
"Who wrote the book of love, anyway?" Phoebe giggled. Perfect. I'm here wallowing in the web of lopsided romance that I've created, and she's making Beatlespeak. "I'm sorry, Helga. But if love were easy, the rewards wouldn't be nearly as satisfying." Spoken like a true poet. Maybe I should make her write her own darn poem.
"I have to get this right. It should be easy!" Curious word, should. It seems to me that whenever someone uses it, myself included, it means that something is destined to go wrong.
"I have an idea, but I don't think you're going to like it." Phoebe adds. Oh, wonderful. This day just keeps getting better and better, and it isn't even noon yet!
"Spit it out then."
"Okay, but don't say I didn't warn you." What Phoebe didn't say was that I should have made me warn her again. She was right. I don't like it at all. Okay, that isn't entirely true. In some ways, it's perfect. It just bears the mantle of potentially mortifying me, so much so that I might have to moved to another country and live under an assumed name. Darn trust issues. I'm always asking him if he trusts me, maybe it's time that I expanded that trust a little. A little. Then I ask myself if I've gone crazy. Maybe I have. I already said that I question my sanity. This would be a big step. But it might also be just what we both need. "Well, Helga, what do you think?"
"All right, Phoebe, I'll do it." I'm definitely out to lunch up there. "I'll make the necessary arrangements tonight." I smirk, scribbling away. I'll write the poem for Phoebe, but I'm not wasting my best work on Tall Hair Boy. "You really think Arnold will like it?"
Phoebe stops for a minute before responding, pondering my question. Or maybe she's a little shocked that I referred to him so directly. Well, why not. It's not like she doesn't know. And if I can say his name to her, maybe I can. . .or maybe not. But hey, it's a start, right. "Positive."
"Alright then. Just finish up my card and I'll put a simple greeting inside. I'll take care of Geraldo for you."
"Finishing!" She replied in her sing-song voice. As the minutes pass, I look down and notice that I'm working a little harder on her card than I had intended to. I still don't feel that she has the greatest taste in men. But if he makes her happy, who am I to interfere? What? Don't look at me like that! It wasn't a rhetorical question, bucko! Besides, if he ever does anything to hurt her, I'll make him wish he'd never been born.
It only takes me about twenty minutes to finish the little poem, masterfully fitted to greeting card size. It's probably wasted on him, anyway. No appreciation for great talent. But I definitely did something right, because Phoebe clutches it to her chest immediately after reading it. "Helga, it's perfect!"
"Sure Pheebs, glad to help out." I say flippantly, but she hugs me anyway. Aw, what the heck. It's good to have a friend."
"All set with your plans?"
"I'll take care of the rest tonight. Trust me, I just got a really great idea. So, wanna do lunch and a movie?"
"Her love rains down
on me easy as the breeze
I listen to the breathing it sounds like the waves on the sea
I was thinking all about her, burning with rage and desire
We were spinning into darkness
And the earth was on
fire She could take it back,
She could take it back,
She might take it back someday"
"Take It Back"
Arnold rearranged his books in his locker, organizing for his day. Once he had gathered his supplies, he turned his attention to the medium-sized pink box sitting on the top shelf. Apparently Helga had made good on her threat. Idly, he wondered at what ungodly hour she must have gotten here to slip this into his locker without being seen by anyone. Arnold cautiously opened the lid, half expecting a pie to hit him in the face. Instead, he found and elegant homemade card in the shape of a pink heart, adorned with lace. The interior boasted a simple Happy Valentine's Day, written in something resembling calligraphy but not quite as complicated. It was signed Your Secret Admirer, which was classic Helga in Arnold's book. The lengths that girl went to in order to protect her reputation! What lay beneath the card was the more intriguing part of the package. An old walkman with headphones was there, instructing him to play the tape. Deciding he had a few minutes before class began, Arnold placed the headphones over his ears and pressed the play button. What followed was a shocking message that significantly altered Arnold's perceptions of Helga.
"Oh, Arnold! It's me, Helga. Yes, Helga G. Pataki. The one who worships you. Yes, wakes each day full of passionate thoughts for you. My sweet love, oh how I love. . ."
There was a high pitch scream which followed, piercing Arnold's eardrums, and he quickly lowered the volume to the minimum, his ears still ringing from Helga's amazing voice. "Holy crap!" He shouted, drawing the attention of nearly everyone in the hallway. Grinning sheepishly, he shuffled his feet. "Um, great new song." He muttered, wishing he could climb inside his locker.
Arnold heard a slight crackly before the message continued. You wanted to know, so now you know. I told you it was embarrassing! Last time I'll ever go to that quack dentist, let me tell ya. But I thought about this long and hard, and I felt it was time. . .to give you something. I'm terrible at revealing my feelings unless no one is watching. Or unless I'm really doped up, like I was on that message you just heard. But after thinking about it, I realized that this is what my subconscious was trying to say. What it's always trying to say since the day we first met. I know you probably expected something a little more personal, but. . .second hand is better than nothing, right? Anyway. . .Happy Valentine's Day, Goofwad. And if I ever find out that you played this tape for another living soul, I swear I'll. . .you know what? I think I'll just leave the consequences to your imagination. So I was thinking, maybe Slaussen's after school? Pass a note to Phoebe and let her know if you're interested. I'll get the message. Catch you in the funny papers, Arnoldo. A fluttering sound followed by a click was all that remained.
Arnold quickly put the walkman back into his locker and shut it tight. He smiled as he leaned against it, feeling that while things remained rather imperfect, some pleasant changes were definitely on the horizon.
Whenever I look at this most wonderful of Valentine cards, I can't help but clutch it to my chest. This is my first real valentine, sent from someone who might not yet be my boyfriend but who has definitely become more than a friend. And it's almost more that I could hope for. In the past four months, I haven't tired him out. Despite my penchant to do crazy and irrational things and my unyielding behavior of treating him so terribly in public, he's still willing to put up with me. Most people wouldn't. I doubt anyone else would. But there's no one else in this world as wonderful as him.
Even alone in this bathroom stall, I still feel the need to dart my eyes back and forth to ensure my privacy before pulling my locket out of my shirt. The one thing I refuse to part with, even in death. It's mine and mine alone. An objectification of everything I feel. A dreamy sigh escapes my throat, and I almost lean back before remembering where I am. After reveling in the moment, I secret both locket and card back upon my person before examining a different and most unexpected thing waiting for me in my locker. It's a simple little pink and white Valentine card, entirely blank but for one word. Congratulations. It isn't even signed. I made Phoebe swore that it wasn't from here, and when I compare handwriting, it doesn't look a thing like Arnold's. So the question remains. Who else knows? And how did they find out?
Phoebe Heyerdahl stood next to her locker, feeling most perplexed. She held in her left hand an expected yet uncharacteristically sweet valentine from Gerald, and it still made her blush. Ah, the wonders of romance. However, it would appear as though she had more than suitor, as evidenced by the second valentine in her right hand. More than one semi-romantic greeting had been placed in her locker, and this second one expressed a growing infatuation with her, and possibly more. She had immediately confronted Helga to see if this was her idea of a practical joke, but her friend had vehemently denied the accusation. One thing remained certain. Someone in her class besides Gerald had noticed her.
"You live, you learn
You love, you learn
You cry, you learn
You lose, you learn
You bleed, you learn
You scream, you learn
You grieve, you learn
You choke, you learn
You laugh, you learn
You choose, you learn
You pray, you learn
You ask, you learn
You live, you learn"
Arnold sat alone at a table in Slaussen's Ice Cream Parlor, waiting for his date, who was considerably late. The establishment was fairly crowded for a mid-February day. He was relieved when he finally saw Helga come in, a puff of steam dissipating from her lips as she entered the indoor atmosphere. He smiled as the girl tossed her coat at him, which she then hung on the back of a chair after reaching the table. "Hey Football Head, sorry I'm late. I had a little business to attend to." Arnold looked up at her with a grin, and Helga sat down with a groan. "You played it, didn't you?"
"Several times. I rather enjoyed it."
"Heh. Well if I had been able to pull it off, I would've rigged it to self-destruct after one playback."
"It would've been a shame for such a heartfelt expression to never reach the one you had intended it for. And it took a lot of guts for you to share that with me. Thank you, Helga."
"Yeah, yeah, don't go getting all gushy on me, people will talk." She scowled slightly, then relented, favoring him with a slight small. "You're welcome. So whaddya want? I'll brave the line for you."
"Feeling generous?" Arnold asked.
"Something like that."
"In that case, I'll have a vanilla fudge swirl with butterscotch."
"Right." Helga stood up, then leaned over and spread her palms flat on the table. "Oh, and if anyone asks, this is a pity date."
Arnold smirked. "Whatever you say, Helga."
"Hmm, keep it up. Those words will get you everywhere." She chuckled as she moved towards the front counter. "Outta my way, chump! One side, people. Customer comin' through! Step off if ya know what's good for ya!" Arnold listened to Helga muscle her way to the front of the line, shaking his head at the incongruity of such an ill-mannered girl who held such poetry in her soul. He didn't have long to reflect on the matter, as he was soon joined by an uninvited guest.
"Well hello, Arnold." Rhonda Lloyd announced herself as she sat at his table. "And what brings you to Slaussen's today, hmm?"
"My legs, of course." Arnold quickly realized that line wasn't nearly as funny as he had thought. "Sorry."
Rhonda chose to ignore the awful joke. "Was I just seeing things? Or are you not alone here?"
"What? Oh! Yeah, I'm here alone. I mean I was here alone, but now I guess I'm not."
"Well it seems to me that you might be following fate. You see? Fortune telling is a fine art."
"I wouldn't know much about that, Rhonda. I'm still flying solo."
"Well it looks to me like you gave up on chasing Lila."
"Let's just say that I couldn't take the drama anymore. It's her loss. Anyway, this isn't really all that big a deal. I guess we just figured that since we're both alone, and our best friends are a little busy today, well, ice cream always makes good comfort food, Rhonda."
"That's right Princess. There's nothing to see here. This isn't the gossip you're looking for. Move along." Helga emphasized her point by slamming both dessert creations down on the table.
Rhonda smiled. "It certainly looks like there's a story here to me. And whatever the two of you are trying to sell, I'm not buying it. The fortunes never lie. And after all, this is a day of true love, am I right?"
"Haven't you ever heard of a pity date, Lloyd?" Helga growled.
"I'm not certain what you mean. And who is taking pity on whom?"
The entire exchange came to a screeching halt with the addition of a fourth opinion. "Your hot fudge sundae, my dear."
I can't keep the wolfish grin off my face as I stare at an expectant Curly and a mortified Rhonda. This is going to be good.
"I told you to wait outside you little freak!" Rhonda wailed at the freak in question.
"Well, well, well. What have we here?" I asked with a hint of malice. I do so love it when the worm turns.
"I was only trying to serve your needs, my pet." Curly protested, narrowing his eyes when he saw the rich witch sitting next to Arnold. "Back off, bub! This dish is mine!"
"It isn't what you think!" Rhonda stood up. "It's only a-"
"Pity date?" I ask with as much sarcasm as I can muster. Which is quite a lot, on a good day. And this has been a very good day.
Rhonda scowled and flipped her scarf over her shoulder. "Ugh. Suddenly, I need some fresh air! Come along, Thaddeus." And good riddance. Curly makes a final, threatening look in Arnold's direction, while Arnold's face is a mixture of puzzlement and fear. I can't say as I blame him. Curly can be driven to do crazy things, sometimes. If he starts to perceive Arnold as I threat. . .well, I guess I'll just have to protect him. It's funny to watch someone like Curly protect his territory. If any two deserve each other, it's them. Arnold and I share a good laugh as we watch Rhonda yell at the poor kid through the window. Love is definitely in the air. This should keep that trap of hers shut, for now.
"Happy Valentine's Day, Helga." Arnold winks at me before digging into his sundae.
"Happy Valentine's Day." I return quietly, spooning some of my own ice cream into my mouth.
"Is Rhonda going to cause any trouble for you?"
I dither around with my spoon for a moment before answering. "Eventually. She definitely knows something is up, but for the time being, we both have a little dirt on each other. Personally, I think she's just jealous. I always suspected she had a little thing for you, you know."
"Rhonda!" Arnold asked in a very doubtful voice. "I don't know why you'd think that. I mean, I think Rhonda is okay and I'm sure she feels the same about me, but a crush?"
"I didn't say it was a crush, Arnoldo." I roll my eyes at him. "I just said it was a little thing. Criminey, it's not like she wants to marry you or anything. But I've heard her remark more than once about what a 'nice boy' you are. People usually don't talk like that unless they have a reason."
"Or in your case-"
"We're not talking about me. Look. I just want you to watch out for her, that's all. Sooner or later. . .probably sooner, I'm going to have to stop hiding. . .us. Rest assured that makes you much happier than it makes me."
"You really think we're an 'us?" Arnold asks me. There's nothing I hate more than semantics.
"Listen, Hair Boy, I'm trying to ask you to wait for the day when I'm ready to go public with my own feelings. A day which may very well mean the end of my life as I know it. So maybe I'd just like to hear you say that you'll support me."
"I'm sorry. I'm still having a little trouble getting over the whole Rhonda statement you just made." Men!
"Arnold? Just say you will, okay?"
"All right, Helga. I will."
"Great. Now hurry up and eat your ice cream before it melts." I stick my tongue out at him.
Well, the rain keeps
on coming down And it's a winding road
It feels like a flood in my head
And that road keeps on calling me
Screaming to everything lying ahead
I've been walking for a long time
I still don't know
Where it goes
And it's a long way home
I've been searching for a long time
I still have hope
I'm gonna find my way home
And it's a winding road
It's funny how this whole romance thing works. As we go through life, it's foolish to think that we can cut it alone. Everyone needs someone to share their life. What good are our triumphs over the world if there's no one to experience them with? How are we supposed to get back on the horse if we don't have someone to lift our faces out of the mud?
And I can see a little
house And its a winding road
On top of the hill
And I can smell the ocean
The salt in the air
And I can see you
You're standing there
And you're washing your car
And I can see California sun in your hair
I've been walking for a long time
Still don't know
Where it goes
And it's a long way home
I've been searching for a long time
Still have hope
I'm gonna find my way home
And its a winding road
We spend our lives looking for that special someone, often managing to ignore all the signs we should be looking for. Life is funny like that. Me, I usually make everyone's life difficult. That's when I tend to be at my most comfortable. But I figure that with a little luck and a lot of direction. . .nah, I'll probably still make things difficult. That's just how I am. But I do hope that he'll learn to love it. Or at least love me in spite of my many faults. Isn't that what real love is? After all, I'm not like all those other girls. And that, at long last, may be making all the difference.
Time for the author's notes. Finally! I have to tell you people, I crunched the numbers and believe it or not, this one shot story is one eighth the length of "The Sweet Hereafter." That's one heck of an epilogue! I had decided on writing this story for some time, but I didn't tell too many people because I wanted there to be a surprise for Valentine's Day. Something unexpected. And let me tell you, this thing was not easy to write. While it wasn't very emotionally draining for me, the physical part was another thing altogether. I had a very pressing deadline, because this story is my Valentine gift to a very special someone.
I want to dedicate this story to Holly, my lovely princess whose beautiful spirit is matched only by her patience. There is no one like her in all the world and to have her in my life is the greatest blessing I have ever known. It's a rare thing to meet someone who always captivates your entire attention, and I miss her even I'm in her company. She makes me a better person, and if I could give her the world, I'd put it in a box with a bright shiny bow. But all I have to give is my talent. My hope is that you will always have this story in the years to come and that wherever life may find you, you'll remember this gift more than a bouquet of flowers or a box of chocolate.
Hopefully I haven't embarrassed her too much. Now, for the remainder of my audience, I'll muse about the story briefly before I go and lie down. Which will feel really, really good after hours and hours and hours of writing!
I seem to have developed this curious habit of writing HA stories that are essentially about nothing. I try to write these different kinds of stories that aren't like everything you've seen before. Of course, I could never come close to reading all the HA fics in this archive, so I don't really know how original my stories are. I read when I can (and am not good enough on reviewing, but that was my New Year's Resolution), but for all I know, I could've just used every cliché in the HA fanfiction manual. Even the general feel to "Say You Will" was intended to be much different than the finished product came out. I had done a few preparation sessions with The J.A.M. to get myself a feel for the kind of story I wanted this to be, but instead, I ended up writing this one. It just sort of happened somewhere along the way, which I don't consider to be a bad thing at all. The idea was to kind of peek in on Helga and see how she's doing in the aftermath of "The Sweet Hereafter." It might have seemed a tad weird that I broke form and wrote her in the third person in the first part of the scene at Slaussen's, but for some reason, I just felt that that particular portion came off better in the third person. I'll let my readers be the judge.
As I'm sure you've all noticed, I left a few things unresolved in this story. I wanted to keep a few mysteries open. Depending on how well this story is received, I may pen another one like it in the future. Keep following up on how they're doing. So I guess what this means is, if you want to know about the mystery valentines that Phoebe and Helga received, you'll have to request another story. It's not a major project in my portfolio, as I've got a lot of stuff to do for "Awakening: Third Stage." And then of course there's what is rapidly becoming the most anticipated story I have ever committed to, "Instant Gratification." The volume of reviews, e-mails, and instant messages I have received regarding that story has been very encouraging. I'm very flattered to see so many people lined up to read it. Sadly, I must apologize that well, "Instant Gratification" is not something that will give you instant gratification. I know how hard it can be to wait for things, but I promise to get things started on it in June. I've got some fun stuff planned for that story's kickoff. I plan to release another trailer in May to get you all excited again. But back to my original point, if you liked what I did here and want to see more, let me know and I'll eventually work something in. I know I'd definitely like to do a Christmas story, so I wouldn't be against peeking in on the kids again if anyone is interested. Oh, and a brief historians note, the events that will take place in "Instant Gratification" will have no ties to "The Sweet Hereafter" or "Say You Will." I'm going into that one completely fresh. Or as I like to put it, everything you know is wrong.
I'm very interested to know what my fans think of this story. I can't help but notice reviews by Athena Lionfire19, whom I have a habit of confusing with my stories. If you're reading this, let me know if I've done it again! And if you want to know how I do it, my contact info is below. I'm really not sure how this story is going to do, and that always makes me anxious. I'm hoping everyone will read it since it has my name and it's an addendum to "The Sweet Hereafter." There's nothing worse than putting hours and hours of work into something only to see it stiff at the FFN box office. In other words, your reviews are immensely appreciated. Even if you weren't that impressed or just flat out didn't enjoy the story. I don't even know what kind of competition I'm going up against, I don't know how many other authors were planning a release for today. Guess we'll know in a few hours.
I guess that's enough shameless plugs for my many works and begging for reviews. I can't wait to see what you all think. Happy Valentine's Day, everybody!
And as always, send your questions, comments, compliments, complaints, love letters, death threats, marriage proposals, and ransom demands to:
Arnold announced his homecoming as he hung up his coat. "Hey, Short Man. Glad you made it home. A certain lady friend of yours left a package up in your room after school. Oh! And I also have a card and a little note!"
All these dreams took
me so far 'Cause it's a winding road
And I felt I just couldn't go on
And I want to hang
Out the window of your car
And see just how good this baby can run
I've been walking for a long time
And I still don't know
Where it goes
And it's a long way home
I've been searching for a long time
Still have hope
We're gonna find our way home
'Cause it's a winding road
"Thanks Grandpa!" Arnold said as he took the proffered materials from his grandfather and then raced up the steps to the second floor, rapidly crossing the corridor and hurrying up the steps to the second floor, rapidly crossing the corridor and hurrying up the attic stairs to the sanctuary of his room. His eyes were immediately drawn to the pink box resting on his bed, but first he decided to look at the card and the note. Presents were always better with the card. Sitting on the edge of his mattress, Arnold unfolded the note, his curiosity piqued when he realized that the handwriting did not match Helga's at all.
Would you please be so kind as to send this valentine card to your cousin Arnie? I'm hoping that he'll reconsider our breakup. I would be ever so grateful. Happy Valentine's Day!
It was all Arnold could do not to rip the card to shreds. With much self control, he placed it on his desk where he wouldn't have to look at it nor tempted to destroy it. Letting out a breath, he decided to turn his attention to the box that bore Helga's signature color. He removed the lid and blinked twice as he lifted the precious contents out of the package, turning the gift over and over in his hands. This was undoubtedly the best gift anyone had ever given him. It was the mark of a girl he would always love like no other. Grinning ear to ear, Arnold carefully laid the shoe on his pillow to inspect the plan piece of notebook paper hiding at the bottom of the box. It was inscribed with only six words, but they alleviated any doubts that he had about his earlier decision in the ice cream parlor. And for the second year running, he had gotten the best Valentine present he could ever have asked for—a single, red, high-heeled shoe.
I told you it was me.
It's a winding road It's a long way home
Still have hope
One day we'll find our way home
It's a long way home
I've been searching for a long time
Still have hope
We're gonna find our way home
It's a long way home
It's a long way home