Disclaimer: Still not mine.
A/N: I'm back baby doll! Okay, this is going to be a somewhat feelingey chapter because I'm doing college all the way here, in the US of A, and my boyfriend is back home in India, and I MISS him!... so if it seems a bit heavy on the "love" side of things… that's just where I am right now. I still hope it turned out decent, I think it's pretty okay.
"Hey, Helga!" called Arnold, catching sight of the object of his affections in the hallway on the way to Gym class. He winced when he heard the excitement in his voice. Could he BE more obvious?
"Oh. Football Head. Hey," said Helga. Arnold couldn't help but notice the lack of enthusiasm in her voice.
"Hi," he said, catching up with her. "What's up?"
"The usual," said Helga, not looking at him.
"Oh…" said Arnold, put off a little by her disinterest. "Hey," he said, a sudden thought striking him. "Are you okay? You haven't had a, a fight with your parents or something, right?"
"What?" said Helga, finally looking at him. "What? No! Haha, no, not even a little bit. Oh, look, there's Elliot! Seeya later, Arnoldo."
Without any further ado, Helga strode over to the other side of the hallway where some extremely cheerful kid was smiling at a poster of Demi Lovato, taped to the inside of his locker. Arnold felt a little disoriented for a second. Had life always been this weird?
Helga didn't glance back as she moved swiftly across to where Elliot Ackley was standing, humming to himself.
"Hey, Elliot!" she said, mustering up as much enthusiasm as she could while wondering what was up with the universe that made her leave ARNOLD to come talk to THIS guy. "How's it going with the, um, Goosebumps?" Elliot grinned at her toothily.
"Helga! It's so good to see you! Where have you been?"
"Around," sighed Helga. "How about you?"
"Oh, I've been busy… tests and stuff. Also, I'm planning to audition for the school musical this year… so I've been practicing for that…"
"The musical?" said Helga, interested. "Do you know Eugene Horowitz?"
"Yeah!" said Elliot, raising his eyebrows. "Is he a friend of yours?"
"We go way back," said Helga.
"That's cool," said Elliot, nodding. "Eugene's a very talented kid. Although his voice has been in transition lately… I don't know if he'll get a part…"
Helga looked over her shoulder surreptitiously. Arnold had left.
"It's been great talking to ya, Ackley," she said, slapping his back boisterously. "I'll see you around, okay kid?" Flashing him a quick grin, she turned around and walked away.
"Iggy's party is tonight," said Lila from the corner of her mouth, looking to make sure Senora Espinosa wasn't looking their way.
"I know," said Brainy quietly.
"Are you going to go?"
"Actually, I'm surprised that he invited me at all,"
"Why? You've been friends since grade school!"
"Sure, but ever since we've started high school… well, you know how people get."
"How DO people get?" enquired Lila.
"You know. He has all these cool new friends to hang out with now. Jerome and Brad and all those guys. Iggy's popular." Brainy made a face that suggested he didn't consider popularity a very positive thing.
"Iggy was always ever so popular, Brainy," said Lila, keeping her eyes on Senora Espinosa. "I remember he got voted 'coolest kid in class' at Rhonda's 'Vote-For' party in the sixth grade."
"'Vote-For' party?" Brainy sounded amused in his cynical Brainy way. "What in the world is that?"
"Don't you remember, Rhonda was running for class president and threw the 'Vote-For' party in honor of that?" said Lily, turning towards Brainy. "We had to vote people for a bunch of titles… 'Prettiest', 'Coolest', 'Toughest'… let's see… oh yeah, 'Funniest', 'Smartest', there were a whole bunch, and whoever won had to wear a sash with the title on it, like Miss America or something –"
"Senorita! Callate, por favor!" shouted Senora Espinosa, making both of them jump.
"Anyway," hissed Brainy when she looked away and resumed teaching, "I've never been invited to any of Rhonda's parties."
"What?" Lila whispered back. "Are you kidding?"
"Nope," said Brainy, sounding more amused than ever. "It may surprise you, little miss perfect, but I've never actually been part of the It Crowd."
"But if you and Iggy were friends, and Iggy was always popular –"
" – then maybe that's why Iggy found himself some new friends."
"Brainy!" said Lila, shocked. "Why would you say something like that?"
"Because it's true," Brainy shrugged.
"I'm oh so certain it is NOT true!"
"Think about it."
That kept Lila quiet for a little while, much to Brainy's relief. While he didn't really give a crap about the ins and outs of high school politics, it wasn't a lot of fun for him to discuss his own unpopularity. Brainy never thought of himself as the sort of person who could be content living that sort of life. He wanted recognition, glory – but he didn't want the cheap high school sort, the sort that could be bought with a flashy car – not that he was allowed to have a driving license yet – and a hot girlfriend. He wanted the real thing. He wanted to be recognized and lauded for the person that he was, not the person that he could pretend to be if he so wished. Thus, he was willing to wait for his time to come, and he was confident it would. Until then, he was content to wait for the people around him to grow up. All he needed to tide him along were his spot on the debating team and his best friend.
It was strange even now, thinking about the fact that Lila and he were, in fact, best friends. A couple of months ago, he would have scoffed at the idea. It had been Lila, all Lila, that had led them to become as close as they were now. Brainy didn't know yet why she had grabbed him after Algebra one day and decided that they would become homework buddies. He couldn't believe, the day they got together to do their homework, that they would actually become friends, that she would actually laugh at his jokes and tell him her secrets. He had never felt like he mattered before, never expected to like himself and want to do better for himself, before Lila came along and showed him who he was by asking for his opinion and understanding his sense of humor. As she helped him muster up some confidence in himself, she became a sort of angel in his eyes. She was, in many ways, his savior, but instead of patronizing him, she treated him as an equal, as though he was her savior as much as she was his. It was easy, terribly easy, for Brainy to fall in love with her, and he did.
Looking at Lila, he wondered how stupid a guy she hung out with so much would have to be, not to be in love with her. She was so beautiful, and so smart, but not only that, she was such a great person, always kind, and with an amazing sense of humor. He smiled wryly to himself when he thought of the irony of their situation: Lila, Arnold's old flame, and Brainy, who had been in love with Helga for years, teaming up to try to get the two of them together. Did that mean that Lila and Brainy were meant for each other too, or was that wishful thinking on his part? Lila could never feel the same way about him… could she?
Lila turned back to look at him.
"How come you're not more bitter, if you think Iggy stopped hanging out with you because you're less popular than he is? If it were me, I'm certain I'd be hopping mad!"
"Oh I don't need those guys, or anybody else!" said Brainy grandly, "I got you, don't I?"
Lila smiled at him, and it was enough to make Brainy hold on to the hope that someday he'd be able to tell her how he felt, and she WOULDN'T be revolted. The smile he returned to her was, for once, devoid of any of his usual cynicism.
At lunch, Helga grabbed her tray and looked around the cafeteria. Brainy, Brainy, Brainy, Brainy… hah! There he was. With a purposeful jump to her step, she approached his table. It had four chairs around it, but as far as she could see, he was the only one sitting there.
"Hi!" she said brightly. "Mind if I sit here today?"
Brainy looked at her as if she had just grown two extra noses.
"What?" he said intelligently.
"I said, can I sit here?" Helga nodded towards one of the chairs, wondering how desperate she was to not fall back in love with Arnold to have stooped this low. Brainy looked at the seat. Then he looked at her.
"You want to sit here?" he asked.
"Yup!" said Helga, fighting to keep the smile on her face. She had forgotten exactly how exasperating Brainy could be.
"For lunch?" he asked her, looking extremely incredulous. "Why?"
"Why not?" asked Helga. "It's a free country, I can have lunch with an old friend if I want to – if you don't mind, that is."
"Well… sure," Brainy said doubtfully. "Lila's going to be here in a minute."
"Lila?" asked Helga, wondering what Lila had to do with anything.
"We eat lunch together," explained Brainy.
"You do?" asked Helga, surprised. Brainy and Lila had never been friends, as far as she could remember.
"Yeah," Brainy went a little pink as he said it.
No, no, NO. He couldn't be. He couldn't be in love with Lila.
Brainy looked down and played with his food a little bit.
Oh, come ON, thought Helga. This couldn't be happening. Lila couldn't be standing between her and the man she wanted AGAIN. This kind of stuff only happened in elementary school, for crying out loud!
"Oh hi, Helga!" said an obnoxiously perky voice, as in a flash of red hair, Lila sat down beside Brainy. He looked up at her and Helga could just SEE the nauseating look of abject adoration on his face. Why was Lila such an alluring pain in the ASS? There went her plan to pursue Brainy.
"Hi, Lila," she said, pretending not to be gagging at the disgusting sight before her. "How are you?"
"I'm good," Lila said, smearing butter on a breadstick. "How are you doing?"
"Great!" said Helga with mock enthusiasm. She supposed Lila would go back to her old games – telling Brainy that she liked him, but didn't LIKE him like him. Wouldn't that be just typical! Hurray for old times! NOT.
But wait – perhaps that wasn't the case this time. Lila had just buttered two breadsticks for Brainy and was proceeding to straighten the collar of his shirt, which was sticking out of his sky-blue sweatervest (that boy had no sense of fashion whatsoever). Maybe she – well, you could blow Helga down with a feather – maybe Lila liked Brainy back! It seemed increasingly likely – she was now laughing raucously at one of Brainy's weird, sardonic comments that Helga hadn't realized was meant to be a joke at all, he had said it so dryly. While laughing, Lila touched Brainy's arm for a while, but instead of appearing flirtatious, the gesture seemed oddly intimate. Maybe they were already dating?
"Hey, you guys," said Helga, furrowing her brow and pointing at them, "are you, like, together or something?"
Brainy and Lila looked at each other, Brainy looking absolutely mortified while Lila's skin burned scarlet, to match her hair.
"Wh – what?" said Lila shakily, as, at the same time, Brainy said: "Together? Us?"
"Okay, okay," said Helga, deciding to cut them a break. If they weren't together yet, they would be soon, anyway. "Sorry. You guys would look good together though." In the meantime, she needed to formulate a new Forget-About-Arnold game plan.
After school, Arnold walked home dejectedly. Helga had hardly even given him the time of day today. He'd thought he had come so close to breaking through her walls, but today she seemed to have put them all back up. It hadn't felt good, when Helga had brushed him off in the hallway. It had felt like rejection. It had felt the same as when he had been turned down by all his former crushes, except a lot worse. And Arnold knew that this time felt worse because this wasn't just a crush. This was closer to the real thing, whatever that was supposed to be. And that realization just made the rejection all the more awful.
Unhappily, he climbed up his stoop and pushed open the door to the boarding house, ignoring the barrage of random animals that came pouring out. Maybe he'd go up to his room and lie down on his couch for a while, listening to some jazz music. He didn't feel like thinking for a while. He hoped his grandparents wouldn't come upstairs and annoy him today, he wasn't in the mood to entertain their whims right now. Shaking his head to himself wryly, he sighed. Clearly, he had it pretty bad for this girl, and it had only been a matter of days.
As he walked into the house, he heard voices coming from the living room. He slipped past quietly, hoping his grandparents would notice, and hurried up into his bedroom.
Arnold's bedroom was a haven. It had everything a guy could need, plus a remote to control it all, and Arnold lay thankfully on the couch as he flipped radio stations, hoping to find the dulcet tones of Dino Spumoni somewhere. Soon, he gave up and listened to whatever was playing. Closing his eyes, he inhaled deeply.
He was at once engulfed by images of Helga. Helga walking away from him that morning, Helga making a face while she called him Football Head, Helga laughing at him, Helga teasing him, Helga when her face got all earnest, and she tried to impart wisdom while still trying to look non-committal about it… and his memory delved further back in time… Helga in the seventh grade when she sat alone at lunch the whole year because Phoebe had a different lunch period, and she had stopped asserting herself and regressed into someone who lurked in the background… Helga going red in the sixth grade because their English teacher let slip that the beautiful poem she had read aloud, that was supposed to be anonymous, was Helga's work… Arnold had known, even back then, that there was someone sensitive hidden under Helga's rough persona, but stupidly, he had not tried to find that person… if only he had, thought Arnold, cursing himself, he would have been a lot closer to getting under her shell than he was now. His mind took him even further back… Helga in the fifth grade, back when everybody from elementary still hung out together, playing baseball in Gerald Field, in the fourth grade, when they spent Thanksgiving together and used to be somewhat like friends… Helga playing Juliet in the class play, and kissing him on the mouth for what felt like several minutes… he chuckled dryly to himself. Little had he known that in a few short years he was going to wish he could do the same thing again, but without an audience this time, or costumes for that matter. Suddenly, he was jolted by another memory, one he had almost forgotten. A blonde girl sitting in front of him, her hair down, saying something he could have sworn he had heard again very recently…
There was a sharp knock on the door. Groaning, Arnold got up and said "come in."
Creaking, the door opened slowly to reveal Mr. Huynh's daughter, Drea. Arnold was very well acquainted with her, and was cheered at the sight of her on the threshold of his room.
"Drea! Hi! Come on in!" he said, extremely glad of the distraction.
"Hi, Arnold," she said, smiling at him, revealing her slightly overlapping front teeth. "It's so good to see you."
"How's it going, Drea?" asked Arnold. "Your boss still a jerk?" Drea worked at a small publishing company, and Arnold's family had been treated to several tales of her nightmare boss.
"Yeah, still the same," she said, grinning. "Say, Arnold. Do you have a minute? I need to talk to you about something."
"Sure," said Arnold, curiously. "What about?"
"Well, it's not a new thing," said Drea. "Um, I haven't told you this before, but the other day one of your friends came over and convinced me to tell you, so here I am."
"Which one of my friends? Tell me what?" said Arnold.
"How I really turned up that Christmas," said Drea.
"What do you mean? I know that story," said Arnold, not understanding what this was about. "You got a call from city hall. Mr. Bailey discovered he had a heart after all."
"No, Arnold, that wasn't the actual story," said Drea. "Remember you told me that day that you must have had a Christmas angel looking out for you? Well, there kind of was one."
"What?" said Arnold, getting more confused by the minute. "Look, just, just go ahead and tell me what you came to tell me, would you?"
"Well, on that day, I didn't receive a call. I was visited by a scrawny looking little blonde girl who had given up the Nancy Spumoni boots she received for Christmas so that Bailey would look me up. She went with him to my first foster home, tracked me down from there, didn't give up when Bailey went home, finally found me, and brought me here. She said she didn't want you to stop believing in miracles, because if you didn't, nobody would. And she begged and begged me not to tell you, so I didn't. Until now, when another of your friends came to me and told me it was time to let you know."
"What was her name?" whispered Arnold, moved beyond words by Drea's narrative.
"Helga Pataki," said Drea, and watched with contentment as Arnold's eyes lit up, confident that she had done the right thing.
Helga slipped into her fifth outfit, hating the way she looked. Anything girlier than a denim skirt and T-shirt, and Helga was out of her comfort zone. But she wanted to use tonight to forget about her Arnold problems, and so she decided to wear something that would actually make her look as if she was going to a party. Helga smirked, remembering her last party. It was one of Rhonda's, and she'd gone in Nike shorts and a Shins T-shirt. Not that she didn't enjoy parties. Helga was a big fan of them, actually, and very much enjoyed the ridiculously loud and thumping music (so different from the songs you could find on her ipod) and the dancing. Dancing was Helga's favorite way of letting loose – she wasn't very good at it, but she wasn't bad either, and anybody who watched her could see that she was having a good time.
She sighed, looking at the mess of clothes strewn on her bed, clothes she had tried on and rejected, and, shaking her head, she came to a decision. She walked to her door and opened it.
"Keep it down, girl! I'm trying to watch TV!" Big Bob's voice floated up the stairs, and Helga rolled her eyes. A minute later, Olga slipped into the room and closed the door.
"What is it, baby sister?" she said, looking at the mess inside the room with distaste.
"I need help picking out an outfit for a party," said Helga. Olga pursed her lips, doubtless thinking of the many times she had tried to persuade Helga to wear a dress and high heels.
"You're actually dressing up?" she said suspiciously.
"What does it look like?" said Helga sarcastically.
Quick as lightning, Olga's faced changed the one of rapture. "You can wear one of my dresses!" she said, and rushed out to fetch some for Helga to try. Helga sighed. Olga might be a pain in the ass, but sometimes, having a perfect sister did come in useful.
A few blocks away, Arnold rose from rummaging inside the bottom on one of his closets. He hadn't opened it in years, and it held a bunch of old toys and clothes he'd outgrown. Standing up, he looked down at the object in his hand, a single red high heeled shoe. Smiling slightly, he whispered, "the most beautiful gift can come in the plainest box…"
Some houses away, Curly Gammelthorpe was sweating in anticipation. Tonight was the night he was finally going to put his plan into action.
A/N: This is going to be a long author's note, I'm warning you already.
Sooooo… here it is!!! I don't lie when I tell people I'm not going to abandon my story!!! And though I haven't updated in like a century, you don't know how proud of myself I am! Seriously. Call it writer's block or whatever you like, but I've been having one of the most creatively infertile times of my life! It's been several months since I've done ANYTHING remotely creative at ALL! Only the other day, the dam broke, and I wrote some random poetry, and the moment I realized my muse was back from her long holiday, I got back to work on my fic. So… for your entertainment, a small poem I wrote a couple days ago. It has nothing to do with anything, but here it is:
He was bored and sick of trying
Her face looked open
Her eyes met his and darted quickly away
They forced his hand
He got to his feet; she
Awkward were they as they danced
Around each others' feelings; feeling
For a handhold to let them know where they stood.
Ummm… let's see… I want to do a couple of shout outs, so here they are:
Pointy Objects, for never giving up on me… You are like, the NICEST person ever! Thank you SO much for all the encouragement, for my writing and otherwise! I promise I am going to get back to reading and reviewing everything you've written during my long and pointless absence. You are one of the biggest reasons I got up off my butt and made myself continue, because I am pretty damn good at procrastinating and have no willpower whatsoever. So, you deserve a BIG shout out, and LOTS of love!
Also to Hellerick Ferlibay and Acosta Perez Jose Ramiro for being consistent and encouraging and critical where it was needed! You guys are amazing and you don't know how much I appreciate it.
Khayleenya: I will. Promise.
Kia Uchitari: Thank you so much! Here's the update!
Passerby: Thank you so much for the great review! I'm not abandoning this story till it's done so don't worry about that. I'm glad you're hooked, ad I hope you come back and read this update!
Everybody who HAS an account here, I'm almost sure I've replied to your reviews. If I haven't let me know! I appreciate all the encouragement, and you guys are great! Every one of your reviews contributed in me getting my inspiration back, so thank you very, very, much, and I hope you liked this chapter! Loads of love, and leave a review, you know how much it means to me!