These characters are from the sweat-beetled brow of Craig Bartlett... lucky stiff.
Rated T cause I felt like it, and some characters might end up nude later... just kidding. We'll see how things shake out.
Part One - It Tastes Like What It Is
For perhaps the eighteenth time in the last hour, Helga Pataki typed nine words into her laptop, then promptly erased them. Over the course of the previous school year, this keyboard had known the manic, staccato pace of her thoughts on a daily basis, sometimes more than that. But as the first day of her summer vacation reached late afternoon, she found herself at a loss as to what to say, or more correctly, just exactly how to say everything she needed to say today. She awoke restless, after an entire night of half sleep, and the day had so far been a series of minor frustrations. Nothing big enough to give her leave to vent her feelings, but of a caliber and frequency to form a steady drumbeat to her progress towards this moment.
Around her, the Starbucks hummed and purred to it's own peculiar rhythm, little of which seemed to impact her this day. Given it's proximity to the school, by now this place was normally standing room only and contented Java hounds pass to and fro like leaf cutter ants as they fueled up after a day of academic immersion. But that same closeness to the halls of learning doomed it to pariah status in summer months as what kid wanted to be within fifty yards of high school when not absolutely necessary? As such, this place was given over to people on transit, those with just enough time for a quick cup and perhaps a bit of flirting with Sheena as she worked her magic behind the counter.
Sitting back in her chair, Helga shifted her attention to her latte and gave a heavy sigh. Taking a sip, she cast a cautious eye about the store, looking for Arnold, late as usual and probably without a good excuse, as usual. Arnold had always been something of a dreamer and ever the optimist, but after his parents returned from San Lorenzo... well, he just seemed to change. He was still kind, generous, and caring. He was upbeat, jovial and fun loving... BUT, he'd also become slack, lackadaisical and... irresponsible. Like the Tom Bombadil of Hillwood, Arnold was a necessary ingredient in any party or get together and could single-handedly turn the most disastrously lame birthday party at Rhonda's place into a rave. But he seemed to be going no where with his life and by association, was taking her with him.
You didn't used to be like this, she thought as another sip passed her lips. You used to be punctual, courteous, and attentive, and always work your hardest to make me work my hardest. You used to be my secret passion, my hidden muse, my dream furnace. Knowingly or not, you were the dynamo that kept me going and made me strive to improve. You gave words to my feelings and passion to my words. All of those things swirling around you, you brought to me and I forged into chapter and verse. You can make anyone smile, but me especially and there was a time when my day didn't start until we were together. She closed her eyes and took another sip.
Arnold... At one time he was the some total of any happiness she ever felt, the reason she enjoyed living at all. By fifth grade they'd called a truce to their sado masochistic relationship, and by sixth they were actually close friends, boyfriend/girlfriend to the world at large. Through middle school and into high school, they were a matched set and for a while there she thought her life was pretty perfect, especially as she watched one by one as her friends relationships self destructed. Wasn't this what she'd always wanted? Wasn't having Arnold's love the one thing she'd always desired? Even as she finished that thought, her hand jerked, very nearly sending her latte skittering off the table. Frantically grabbing for some napkins, she mopped up the spill and assessed what remained of her drink, which wasn't much.
As if by magic, Sheena appeared table side, wiping her hands on the hem of her Starbucks apron, "Is everything all right Helga? Here, let me freshen that for you." and gingerly lifted Helga's soggy napkins and cup.
Embarrassed, Helga stammered, "Wha-? Oh, uh no, that's okay. Really. I don't need..."
But Sheena cut her short with a wave of her hand, "On the house. What was it, your usual?" and with a turn was gone and set to her task. Smiling to herself, Helga watched as Sheena set about to work her thaumaturgy in turning a small collection of inedible into the potent draughts that fueled this cities warrior elite. As was befitting this brand of alchemy, there was measured doses, careful weighing, the roar of arcane devices and clouds of steam. With a sylvan flourish, Sheena flitted back to the table, her latest philosopher's stone in hand, "On the house, but I noticed the tip jar looking a little lean." and with a wink was gone again.
Taking in the toothsome aroma of the cup, Helga thought, for the last sixteen years, I've been Helga Geraldine Pataki, and not once have I ever sat back and thought about exactly what that means. I've been Phoebe's best friend, Big Bob's girl, Olga's sister, Arnold's girlfriend, Miriam's daughter, Mr. Crenshaw's star pupil, Lila's partner in crime and that girl that punched Harold Berman in the nose... but what did any of that really mean?
Who am I?
Around her, the business in the shop began to pick up and as the tables filled she began to pick out stray bits of conversation here and there and set about the task of culling out anything that sounded interesting. This had become a bit of a bad habit with her, but there was no denying the thrill she received in living out bits and pieces of other people's lives. If challenged on this point, she'd always chalked it up to a writer's ear and as fodder for future writing, but her interest in this went far beyond that. Maybe it was to compare and contrast her life against others or perhaps a bit of fact checking to see if perhaps she was leaving anything out.
Sighing again, Helga sipped her renewed latte and watched Sheena busied at her work, running to and fro, making, taking and generally shaking the world with her speed and grace. Sheena, Arnold, Phoebe, Sid, Rhonda, Gerald, Stinky, Patty... her friends for as long as she could remember. Arnold had once observed that Mexican food tended to be the same short list of ingredients, just in different combinations, and it suddenly struck her that her life was just like that. Always the same players, just each rising or falling in prominence. One moment her life was a taco, then a burrito, then a tostada. The only trouble was, she was getting sick of Mexican food.
Taking another long sip she thought, it's time to try out some new recipes, and looked up just in time to see Arnold finally enter, hot on the heels of a group of cyclists and bikers. Rough hewn and delightfully scruffy, he was just enough of a rebel to be interesting, but still enough of that sweet guy that had always been there for her. Taking a seat across from her, he looked over and waggled several fingers at Sheena, evidently indicating a specific blend of coffee. Sheena replied with an equally indecipherable set of gestures and satisfied, Arnold dug a five out of his pocket and laid it on the table. Finally giving her what amounted to his full attention, he smiled, "Hey gorgeous. How's your summer so far?" and hit her with his best disarming smile.
Returning in kind, she took another sip of her latte and said, "Fine. How're you doing?"
Her answer stopped Arnold cold. When you've been around someone long enough, you learn to read their moods and body language, but more importantly, you pick up on their speech patterns. The words they use, when and how they employ them, the words they avoid. Never in all their conversation had she been slow flat and straight forward with him. Sighing, he decided to just get it over with.
"I see." he said softly, then, "So...?" and gave her the go ahead and say it look.
Still for a disturbingly long time, Helga took on a beatific air and said softly, "I think it's time for both of us to move on." and took another sip of her latte, just as Sheena appeared out of the ether with Arnold's coffee. Caught off guard by the break in the conversational momentum, Arnold whipped back and forth between the two girls, trying to give each his attention.
"SO..." grinned Sheena, "Will I be seeing you two at Sid's party on Friday? S'pose to be quite the do."
"Oh yeah," said Helga with a prim little smile, "I'll be there. What about you Arnold?" as behind Arnold, Sheena every so slightly raised an eyebrow at Helga's choice of words.
"Uh, well... yeah. Yeah, of course I'll be there." stammered Arnold as he saw the situation solidify around him. Before he could mount a sufficient counter offensive, Helga struck again.
"How 'bout you, sassy girl? Lined up some Y chromosomes for the party?" asked Helga in a tone he wasn't sure he liked.
With an overly dramatic sigh, Sheena said, "No. I guess I'll just have find my way out there and see if I can hook up. Do you know how late the buses run out that way?" and made with the big eyes.
"Uh, hey... I thought WE were goin-" said Arnold, but Helga once again cut him off at the knees.
"Hey, I've got it!" grinned Helga, "Why do you out to Sid's place with Arnold, and we'll all meet up there. That cool with you?" looking at Arnold with a hopeful smile.
"W-well I... uh, yeah. Sure, that sounds... great." he sighed, and conceded the checkmate to Helga.
"Thanks! You're a prince Arnold!" as Sheena knelt to give him a little hug, Helga's shit eating grin a Greek chorus to the action. "I'll give you a call tonight. Thanks again!" she smiled and was back to her beans.
Fixing Helga with a terse look he said, "Thanks a lot Helga. Did you already have your replacement in mind?"
"What?" Helga huffed in mock protest, "I MERELY asked you to give Sheena a ride out to Sid's party. If this is a problem, just go tell her that you can't swing it. She'll be cool with it."
Pausing a moment to finally sample his own coffee, Arnold looked at her and said softly, "Are you really sure about this? I mean... this just seems so sudden an' all. Shouldn't we, like... y'know, ease into it?"
Helga looked at him crossly, "Dude, whether you ease a car over a cliff or drive it over at 130 MPH, the results are still the same." She paused to drain her cup and shut down her laptop, "We've been discussing this for weeks now. I don't know what you thought was going to happen other than this." and she gave him a look as she stood to leave, saying quietly, "It's not like you did anything to improve the situation. See you on Friday."
Not looking up, he asked, "Hey, um... do you already have a date for Friday?"
She paused so long before answering that he had to look up to see if she was still there. Nodding slowly she just said "Yes." and turned to leave. Turning his attention back to his coffee, Arnold turned to cup several times this way and that, pausing every so often to run his pinkie around the rim. She was right of course. In all of there talks about breaking up, he'd down absolutely nothing to stop it, instead almost pretending that it wasn't happening. Not that he had any real ideas on how to fix things, but even he had to admit that his lethargy in the matter was almost impressive. Maybe on some level he was okay with this too.
No sooner had Helga's butt left the chair before him, than another took it's place. Thadeus Gamalthorpe had at one time been known as Curly, a moniker that baffled everyone who'd known him. But like his bullet-stopping glasses and Moe Howard salon styling, that name was several years back in the rear view mirror. Like Arnold and the third member of their clique Park, Curly was now rather good looking and slack, preferring the handle "Gamo" in the numerous social situations the three of them frequently found themselves in. Hot cup of Chai in hand he looked across the table at his brother in mayhem and asked, "Well?" but Arnold's expression said it all.
To Be Continued
Think you see where this is going? HA HA HA! Don't flatter yourself. Many twists and turns ahead! Stick with this, I think you'll be surprised.