It's Only Life

Chapter One: Raindrops and Fortune Pies

"It's okay to be angry and never let go,
It only gets harder the more that you know.
When you get lonely

If no one's around you know that I'll catch you when you're falling down
We came together but you left alone
And I know how it feels to walk out on your own..."

"Empty Apartment"


"...Yeah, she's here."

Helga was unsure of when she fell asleep (in fact, she was pretty unsure of how she happened to find herself in a bed at all) and quietly assessed her surroundings, all the while listening to the voice outside of her door.

The room was, while not completely in shambles, in need of some repair. The faded, blue wallpaper was peeling enough to reveal the aged, yellow glue beneath it, and the carpet under her had numerous spots and stains, from years of misuse. The room held little to no furniture; an old nightstand sat beside the dresser, serving little purpose and the bed, that obviously came out from the wall (indicated by the vacant, rectangular space above her) was creaky and smelled like old newspapers. The tiny window to her left was dirty and faced a solid brick wall.

The room was anything but "welcoming", but Helga took it all in, knowing that this was the only place that she wanted to be. Burying her face in the wrinkled sheets of her pull-out bed, Helga felt her chest constrict again. She had long-since stopped crying (especially after she mentally scolded herself for doing so over them), but the brief convulsions in her chest still plagued her hours later.

Above all else, she wanted to believe that it was a dream. That the reason why Olga had called Arnold was because her ice cream cake was melting or she left her presents at the pavilion. She wanted to believe that the rain that was still cascading down on the ancient roof above her, was just a short, summer storm, and that'd it'd pass just in time for Drew to get her so caught up in a conversation about the fourth and fifth books in the James Patterson series, that she forgot to play Frisbee with her friends on the other side of the hill. She wanted to believe that when she finally got the strength to get out of the bed, that her friends would be worried about her because she missed most of her party, and not because they were suddenly cautious about how to approach the subject of her estranged, and instantly returning...parents. The word itself left a foul taste in her mouth and heart, mostly because they hadn't been her "parents" for the past eight years, and because she saw no point in their sudden (and frankly, unwanted) presence in her life.

They were ruining everything...

Before Helga could sulk further, leading to another fit of unintentional tears, the door opened slowly, the person behind it obviously under the impression that she was still asleep. Shifting her head toward the door and rubbing her cheek on the damp sheets, Helga attempted a smile. Arnold stood in front of the door, a lopsided smile on his face as well. After checking the vacancy of the illuminated hallway, he slipped inside, kneeling down next to the bed. Reaching to move a few locks of soggy, blonde hair from her face.

"You okay?" he asked, with the caution that she dreaded to hear, especially from him.

"Mmm..." Helga sighed, moving her hand to rub her eye. "What time is it?" The only window in her room didn't let nearly enough light in for her to assess the time of day.

"Around 7:30 at night. Olga was pretty worried, but I think she understands."

Helga was quiet for a few moments, glad that her sister wasn't angry with her. "I don't want to go back there. Not yet." she said, in a voice that was weaker than she intended. Since when did they, of all people, have the power to break her. Shaking the thought, she convinced herself that she was not "broken". She didn't have time to be "broken".

"You don't have to. She and Drew said you can stay in the boarding house until you're feeling better." Arnold said, standing up and offering his hand. Helga followed him and pried herself off of the bed. There was a wet spot on the bed, where the rainwater transferred from her clothing and skin to the bed, but she still felt the uncomfortable cling that held the water to her self. Taking Arnold's hand, she listened as he told her that she didn't have to stay in the dilapidated room for the night.

"By the way, does Drew happen to own a gun?"

Helga looked at Arnold with shock. "No. Why?" she asked.

"Because when I told him that we'd be putting you in a nicer room, he said that if it happened to be mine, he wouldn't be held accountable for the lead that would suspiciously be found in various parts of my body."

Helga smiled, equally pleased the Drew wasn't upset with her. In essence, she ran away from a party that obviously took much time and effort, over two people who were hardly worth it. The thought that Drew and Olga understood her anger and didn't hold it against her, made her miss them. But she was still cautious about returning back to the apartment. What if they came for her? What if they wanted to talk? She wasn't ready to face them yet. She didn't see herself ever being ready to face them.

"Don't worry, I don't think Drew has even been within five feet of a shooting range, let alone a handgun." she smiled.

"Good to know." Arnold replied, squeezing Helga's hand a little tighter. "Do you want something to eat? You can wait up in my room, if you want."

Helga shook her head. "I can come with you. I like your house." she said, attempting a tiny smile. The two started down the hallway, and down the steps. At the bottom, where the foyer was as empty as the rest of the house, Helga stopped abruptly, focusing on the doorway, silently remembering how she found herself inside Arnold's house.

She sat on the doorstep for no longer than twenty minutes, sobbing uncontrollably, but not loud enough to be heard over the pounding rain around her. When Gertie opened the door, wearing a large chef's hat, to dispose of some stew that had gone bad, she spotted Helga, and called into the house for a "medic". Once inside, she promptly wrapped a shivering and shaking Helga in a wool blanket, and from there on, it was a blur.

"Something wrong?" Arnold asked, when Helga stood stagnate at the bottom of the stairwell, staring questioningly at the front door.

Snapping out of her reverie, Helga shook her head, but stayed silent. The two moved on into the kitchen, where Arnold rummaged through the refrigerator, looking for something to eat. Regarding the house around her, Helga walked the nearest hallway, finding her way to her favorite room in the long-standing residence. Forgetting Arnold momentarily, Helga pushed to door open and smiled.

She called it the "TV Room", even though Arnold and his grandparents didn't really call it anything. It was a fairly common room; a few couches and chairs, desks, a coffee table and of course, the wide and ancient television set. The room absolutely ached of memories; none of which Helga personally experienced, but she heard the stories enough to imagine them. Arnold told her of the numerous time he came home upset (usually over something that she said or did) and recalled how his grandfather would comfort him within this room. Specifically, she thought about the time he told her about the journal of his father's that he found, and remembered the tone of his voice when describing the hand-drawn map on the last page. She knew that Arnold still held out hope; even when he was feeling down, or angry, that hope somehow kept him grounded. He was still ridiculously optimistic to her at times, but she appreciated it for the influence it had on her.

Helga could only hope to feel the same when it came time for her to face her own family.

"Thought I lost you for a second there…." Arnold said, standing in the doorway. Helga smiled at the exertion with which he spoke, as if he checked every room on the floor looking for her.

"Sorry." she stated, turning from him to further inspect the room. Gently running her fingers over the shelf lined with dusty books, she spoke again. "This is my favorite room in your whole house…"

"Really? How come?" he asked, stepping into the room with her, carrying two plates with him and setting them down on top of the coffee table in front of the couch.

"I'm not sure. It's so untouched…it just is, I guess."

Arnold nodded, noticing that the small, genuine smile that briefly graced Helga's face was beginning to fade. Even after he let her know that she didn't have to return home for a few days, he was aware that the thought was still daunting to her. "Unfortunately, there isn't much food in here. I found some dessert, though." he said, motioning for her to come over.

"Dessert?" Helga asked, turning from the bookshelf to Arnold.

"Banana cream or Apple?" Arnold asked, holding up two plates of warm pie and smiling.

"I'm a fan of trying new things but I'll go with the apple this time." Helga said, taking a seat on the faded, old couch.

"I'll have you know, that this is no ordinary pie. These are fortune pies. Grandma only makes them every once and a while." Arnold explained, diving into his. "The trick is, not to read your fortune until you've finished your pie."

Helga shook her head at the absurdity of the idea, but smiling, thinking about Gertie dispensing pies to everyone with a little message inside. The two ate in relative silence, and Arnold finished off his slice before Helga, and read off of his tiny slip of paper while she finished, wiping banana cream off of the sheet.

"What's it say?" Helga asked, leaning over.

"'A woman's faults are many, but men have only two: Everything they say, and everything they do.'" he said, smiling.

"I agree wholeheartedly." Helga, through her final mouthful of apple pie.

"Very funny. What about yours?" Arnold asked.

"Hold on." Helga said, wiping crumbs from her lips, and picking up the piece of paper that she set aside on the rim of her plate. "'Inner peace is found by changing yourself, not the people who hurt you. And you change yourself for yourself, for the joy, serenity, peace of mind, understanding, compassion, laughter, and bright future that you get.'" Helga said, lowering the paper to her lap, and looking serious. Her mouth was a straight line drawn across her face, and she looked at her hands intently.

"Helga, I…I don't think she did it on purpose." Arnold said, resting his hand on her shoulder, reassuringly.

Helga attempted a brief smile, but it faltered and died as quickly as it developed. "I know." she replied, her voice cracking. "That doesn't it any easier to hear."

"I know…I know that one day, probably soon, I'm going to have to confront them. I just can't right now. I'm too angry."

"It's okay to be angry, Helga." Arnold offered.

Helga began taking in sudden and shallow breaths, expelling them audibly. "I know. I'm just…I'm so angry, Arnold. I've never felt like this in my entire life. I don't like being this angry, I don't." she said, feeling her chin begin to tremble.

"When I saw them today…I couldn't see for a minute. I couldn't hear anything, I just…I froze. I was so mad. Arnold, it's scary for me to feel this way. I mean, I've always been an 'angry' person, but something is wrong. I know it's not right for me to feel like this, but-"

"No." Arnold said, holding her face between his hands, and turning it so that she had no where else to look. He spoke quickly and impatiently, like a balloon too filled with air and ready to pop. "You deserve to be angry. You're entitled to feel this way. Even I was angry when I found out that they were there." He said, disgrace shadowing his face, momentarily. "I'm sorry that I didn't tell you…"

Helga placed her own hands over his, and squeezed them gingerly, hoping that his eyes would meet hers again. When they did she spoke quietly, her voice still shaky. "It's okay. I probably wouldn't have believed you anyway…"

Arnold focused again, remembering that Helga was still feeling confused and angry regarding the situation surrounding her parents. "Helga…I don't want you to feel bad about being upset. If you do choose to accept them back into your life, and that's completely your decision to make, just remember that forgiveness isn't about making what they did okay. It doesn't even mean that you're over what they did to you. Forgive for yourself, because you're a better person and you want to move on. Don't try to clear their consciences, because that's something that only they can do for themselves."

Helga looked down, breaking their enduring gaze and shifted her eyes to the floor. Soon thereafter, she looked back at Arnold, who still held her face, looking intense and sincerely concerned. "Thank you", she mouthed, leaning forward and falling into his chest. He released her face, and embraced her, resting his head atop hers. Once her breathing evened and she seemed relaxed, Arnold too loosened up.

Arnold was aware that the next few days, weeks, months…however long Helga's parents decided to stay were going to be difficult. More difficult than moving back to Hillwood, or hiding her identity or growing closer to Olga. It required a transformation on her part, as well as that of her parents, and in truth, she could still be left disappointed in the end. She could grow to a sense of inner peace without having the sentiment returned. But, even more for her future, Arnold feared what she would become if she didn't accept help and try to change, even in the slightest. She would close up, as she usually did when faced with difficulty, and shut everyone else.

Holding her a little tighter, Arnold could tell that she was drifting off, and silently hoped that she could feel his thoughts, and know that he would be there, regardless. When he gently tried to rouse her, she stirred, but made no gestures to signify that she was ready to leave.

"Don't fall asleep; I have to take you to your room." Arnold said, nudging her slightly, but keeping his voice low.

"Mmm, no this is fine…" Helga mumbled against his shirt.

Arnold chuckled. "What about your brother?" he asked.

"Drew said he'd shoot you if I was in your bedroom. This is the TV room." she said, slowly lifting herself off of him and stretching. "But I would like to go to bed, thanks." she finished, tiredly.

After Arnold showed Helga to her room and closed the door behind her, he walked up the stairs to his own room, contemplating the day that lay behind them. He was more than happy to have Helga stay with him as she weathered through the ordeal, and eave happier that she trusted him as much as she did. All the while, however, he was aware of Helga's habits regarding such situations. When against the wall, Helga was not ashamed to flee, hard and fast. He hoped that her strategies would change when it came to her once alienated parents.

For her own sake, something was going to have to change.

The Sequel is here! I'm excited, but still very scared. Like...extremely scared. The concept is crystal clear in my head, but that doesn't always translate well to words. Just stick with it. A boring beginning, I suppose, but I liked it. A reacquainting with the characters, if you will.

I have character photos on my site (link is on the profile), and they're quite good.

Hope you enjoyed!