Title: Until You Try
Author: Blonde Cecile
Main Pairing: Arnold/Helga, though actual interaction is scarce.
POV: Helga; present 3rd person
Rating: T/PG-13 for sexual implications
Length: One-shot; 1,216 words
Inspirations: Forgiveness, a beautiful song by Patty Griffin.
Disclaimer: I own this here gum that I chew way too much of, but I don't own Hey Arnold.
Summary: Helga always thought Arnold was the answer to everything, but in truth, one person is never the answer to anything.
A/N: This is one of those strange, choppy ficlets that authors write when they don't feel like writing real fic. ;) The characters are in their twenties, I'd say.


Until You Try

by Blonde Cecile

"We are swimming with the snakes at the bottom of the well,
so silent and peaceful in the darkness where we fell,
but we are not snakes and what's more, we never will be,
and if we stay swimming here forever, we will never be free."

-Forgiveness, by Patty Griffin


"We can make this work."

His voice is strong with a determination Helga has forgotten the taste of. She makes no effort to look at him, instead choosing to stare out the window. The streets below are crowded with honking cars and bitter people. The mess seems inescapable.

There are muffled steps behind her, and then Arnold's hand is on her shoulder.

"We will make this work."

---

When Arnold is out working or jogging or just out, Helga tries to write. Except that she doesn't enjoy it like she used to because everything comes out dark and cruel and she hates that she's so full of hate, so she stops writing altogether.

"We used to jog together," Arnold sometimes says, and she ignores the knot in her stomach and tells him she's too busy writing.

She wonders how long until he leaves her.

---

He doesn't. In fact, they move to the country, where the only thing crowding them is trees. Arnold has to drive an hour to work everyday but he says it's worth it. "It's worth it to be able to breathe," he says.

So Helga breathes and takes walks in the wilderness, down things that look like treaded paths but she isn't sure, and she doesn't really care if she gets lost. They take her nowhere except to more stupid trees until one day she comes across a log cabin with smoke spiraling from the chimney. There is a small porch which a man steps out on and asks if he can help her.

She sleeps with him.

---

Phoebe stares until Helga looks up, then she has to look away.

"It won't be long now," Helga thinks. It won't be long until Arnold leaves her. The air is dry and warm but Helga feels chilly inside and she's just counting down the minutes, now.

"How could you?" Phoebe finally whispers. "How could you do that to Arnold? Helga, what's wrong with you?"

Helga doesn't know what's wrong with her, so she keeps quiet. She tells herself that it isn't Phoebe's business, anyway, but she knows that if there's anybody she could talk to about anything, it's Phoebe.

"Do you want him to leave you?"

"Don't talk about things you know nothing about, Phoebe," Helga snaps and looks over at the clock that Arnold bought and placed above their fireplace.

Phoebe stands and walks behind the navy blue couch she had been sitting on. She grips the top of it and leans forward slightly. "He loves you. He does so much for you and you act like you don't even notice. I thought this was what you always wanted. When did you change? When did you stop caring?"

Helga wants to disagree. She wants to shout out that she does care, but to be honest, she isn't so sure that she does. She wants to tell Phoebe that she's still the bratty little girl who ached for Arnold's requited devotion all those years, but there's a crabby old hag inside of Helga telling her different. The little girl can't find her voice.

Suddenly, Phoebe stalks over to Helga and gives her an abrupt shove back against the rocking recliner, causing it to bounce back and forth roughly.

"Hey!" Helga protests, then Phoebe leans forward and does it again. "Stop! What are you-"

"Do you like being pushed, Helga? You seem to be so fond of pushing - how do you like being pushed back?" Phoebe is blocking Helga from standing, so Helga can only lean back and clutch the armrests as Phoebe gives another violent shove. "That's what you're doing. You just keep pushing and pushing - there's only so much Arnold can take!"

"I am NOT pushing," Helga shouts, "If anything, I've stopped pushing!"

Phoebe unexpectedly grabs the armrests, forcing Helga and the chair to come to a sudden halt. She continues in a softer voice, "No, Helga, emotionally you're still pushing him away. And you can't keep it up, because he'll leave you if you do. You know it."

Helga glares, folding her arms in front of her chest. "Why don't you leave me? God knows I could be doing something better with my time than... playing bouncy chairs," she scoffs.

The look on Phoebe's face twists Helga's stomach, and she has never been more aware of how loud the clock ticks. Phoebe's eyes are stark and digging, and Helga is almost surprised that Phoebe no longer wears glasses, but a part of her realizes that she hasn't worn them in months. It's been awhile since Helga has really paid attention to that sort of thing. Phoebe considers her a few moments longer, but when Helga doesn't let up on her scowl, Phoebe turns away and sighs. She heads for the door.

Helga is used to people walking away from her. Arnold, especially - but it's always with the hidden knowledge that he'll come back. He always does. Phoebe's firmer, though. She's not going to stand around and take Helga's indifference like Arnold does. But what if, eventually, Arnold doesn't either?

Suddenly... it's real. At some point, Arnold really is going to leave her, and it's going to be all her fault. He's going to walk out that door; after years of pining after his companionship and finally getting what she wanted, she's going to be all alone again.

That guilty knot from her stomach is climbing it's way up her throat. She can taste the sour shame and she wants to spit it out.

"Phoebe!"

Helga makes to stand but trips onto the hardwood floor. Pain shoots up from her knees, and then Phoebe is in front of her and Helga wraps her arms around her friend's legs, pressing her face to the cotton of Phoebe's pant leg.

"God, Phoebe, I don't know what's wrong with me! I have everything I've ever wanted, but I'm not happy. I have Arnold, but... I've been terrible to him lately. I'm just so miserable all the time."

Phoebe pries Helga's hands off and kneels down in front of her. "You're miserable, Helga, because you're not letting yourself be happy. You want Arnold to do that for you, but he can't. He wants to, but he can't. Did you honestly think that he was going to be the solution to all of your problems?"

Helga blinks. She supposes she did.

"And then," Phoebe continues, "when Arnold can't make you happy enough, you just go off with another man? What for? Did you hope to get caught and make Arnold jealous? Is this what you've been reduced to? You can't play these kinds of games anymore, Helga - you're married for heaven's sake!" Phoebe rolls her eyes and pushes her bangs away from her face. "I didn't think you were that shallow."

Helga's pride lurches at the comment, but the truth is undeniable. She balls her fists and looks down at the paisley rug. "I know. It's pathetic. I'm pathetic. I'm sorry."

Phoebe lifts Helga's chin and meets her eyes. "I'm not the one you should be apologizing to."

"What if he doesn't forgive me?" Helga asks, wiping her damp cheeks.

"You won't know until you try." Phoebe pulls Helga to her feet and looks her hard in the eye. "Go to him, Helga."

So she does.


. t h e . e n d .


AN: Too many italic words? Too corny toward the end, there? Let me know. This is my first time uploading fic here and the format went to hell when I did - I had to go back and fix it all (Though some things wouldn't change - are we not allowed to have spaces bigger than double-spaces? Grr...) Anyway, if you've spotted any mistakes, feel free to point them out.

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