Hi everyone. I know I'm horrible and haven't updated in years, but I've had sever writer's block and nothing seemed to be going right. I was actually inspired to write this after listening to the song Almost by Bowling For Soup. Its the first thing that I've been happy with in a while, and I hope you like it too. Please review and let me know what you think, and thanks for reading this :)
Disclaimer: I don't own Hey Arnold and any references to the song Almost belong to Bowling for Soup
From his seat behind her, Arnold watched the object of his torment, his confusion, and lately...his desire.
He thought it was quite ironic that in all the time he'd known her, all the occasions when he'd tried to change her, improve her, nudging her to show her true self more often; to let her feelings be known, to let her compassionate side take over...in all that time he hadn't realised that actually, to him, she was perfect the way she was.
This realisation had actually come as something of a shock to Arnold.
Yes, it was true that over the years their somewhat shaky friendship had seeded and grown.
The guarded insults had become sarcastic and witty quips, a double edged sword that would only impale you, if you misjudged your steps and stumbled into the trap already set.
A smile played about the blonde boy's lips, curving the corners into a smile. He had gotten good at dodging her weapons and even aiming a few calculated shots himself.
After starting High School, the pair had spent more time together, due in part to their best friends' relationship, but also owing to their shared interests and classes.
It took a while, but when she finally let her guard down (or was it that he had broken through the guise?) he understood that they were like two halves of a whole
...A whole what? That was something he hadn't been sure of at first.
As his pen scratched across the thin surface of paper, his thoughts grew ever more profound.
Almost. Almost. He couldn't forgive himself for what they almost could have had. But he'd missed his chances.
He almost wished, that she could have loved him to.
Thinking back on it, he knew there had been many (too many) almost realisations; the day she'd returned his hat, the day on top of the FTI building, the day he thought Lila had broken his heart at the age of 12...and yet Helga had been there and helped him through it.
He had almost realised at the age of 13, when her quick thinking and determination had saved the Hillwood Street Carnival. No rain, road works or drunken dropouts would or could stand in her way. And Arnold had to admit that he had been impressed by her cool and calm demeanour, her clear headedness, and the effective way she had talked to everybody, helping each person to either feel appreciated or to understand their place.
There would be no confusion caused by Helga G. Pataki. Unless of course it was the confused aura with which she surrounded herself, her shell; her protection.
Shaking his head as if to clear his thoughts, Arnold considered that perhaps his almost realisation had been a little while later, when at the age of 15 she had taken care of Phoebe when her mother died. She had been there for the girl when no one else knew how. She was her support through those days of darkness; not prying yet keeping close enough to comfort her. Not speaking but listening, not relenting and always encouraging her friend to feel the warmth provided by those who still remained in her life, who would always care, the golden sunshine on the horizon of an otherwise stormy exterior.
But deep down, he knew that he hadn't grasped his feelings by that point either.
He could kick himself for his dense stupidity...if only he'd acted sooner. Things would perhaps be different, but he was certain that by this point he'd left it too late...
As his thoughts engulfed him, a swirling fog of 'what ifs' and 'could have beens', his mind drifted back to the summer of their 16th year. Gerald, Phoebe, Helga and him. A memory of scorching sunshine, burning rubber on the motorway, strawberry chapstick and cherry coke.
The four of them had taken a 2 week road trip, to celebrate their new found independence, and Gerald's hard won car. It was a wreck; a battered old red pickup with more problems than one would care to list, and more rust than the titanic.
As could have been predicted, the car broke down; on an old country lane in the middle of nowhere. It had overheated, and there was no way of cooling it down. Surprisingly enough it had been his blonde haired companion, pink bow holding back her wavy tresses as a sort of alice band, her unruly bangs escaping its constraints, who had diagnosed this problem.
Instead of whinging as he would have expected, she located a nearby gas station on an old weather beaten map they had found in the trunk; half of it had been covered in a suspicious, sticky orange mess.
She had laughed her surprisingly girlish giggle, and mocked him with those piercing blue eyes, eyes that seemed to penetrate deep into his very soul.
"So what Football head, you wanna wait here on the off chance, that some hapless mechanic is gonna decide he fancies a country drive?"
Arnold had rubbed his green eyes wearily. "Helga you know that's not what I meant, I just don't think it's a good idea to go traipsing off into the distance when we don't even know where we're going."
Gerald and Phoebe who had been sitting on the grassy kerb, followed their respective best friends parleying their arguments back and forth, their pupils fixing on one face and then the other as if watching a highly entertaining tennis match.
Blowing strands of hair out of her face, Helga had brandished the crumpled map at her foe "The thing is Arnoldo, that I do know where we are, I've got a map, and it clearly states...." She attempted to unfurl it, but its sugary coating resisted all attempts to prise the pages apart. "....Well it said....just urghhh if could get this frickin thing apart....I...it....oh criminey!"
It had been Arnold's turn to chuckle now. "Face it Helga, you're beat. Let's just do the sensible thing and wait-"
The blonde crossed her arms, pushing up her chest which Arnold tried not to notice. "I said no. I'm not a quitter Football Head, I woulda thought you'd have known that by now! And I refuse to sit around here all day like some sort of lemon!"
Gerald rose an eye brow "A lemon?"
By this time she had a mad glint in her eyes "Yes, that's right Hair Boy, A lemon!" And with that she turned on her heel and started stomping off in the opposite direction. Arnold and the others exchanged glances.
Heaving a sigh, the blonde called after her. "Helga what the hell do you think you're doing?"
She didn't even bother to peer over her shoulder when she answered.
"I'm walking the 5 miles to the station, where they'll probably have a payphone, and don't even think about persuading me otherwise!"
Shaking his head, and knowing that he would once again be doing the right thing, Arnold shouted back "Fine. Wait up! I can't let you walk that way all by yourself..."
Once he caught up with her, she sent him a trademark scowl "I'd be fine walking alone, you know. I can handle myself."
He shrugged and felt a grin tug at the corners of his mouth. "It's not you I'm worried about, its whoever met you in this mood."
He could have sworn he saw her smile.
Yes he almost realised his feelings for her on that day.
Thinking about it this way, started to make Arnold feel more and more dejected. Almost...Almost...All those lost chances, all this time they could have been happy together, and he'd never realised...
And now it was too late, even if she had liked him once when they were younger (that FTI incident couldn't have been entirely heat of the moment could it?) yes even if she had once liked him...he'd taken too long...wasted too much time...and now....
Now they were about to go to different colleges and he might never see her again. Or even worse, he'd see her once a year at reunions, new boyfriend in tow, and he'd be forced to remember what could have been.
'I almost had you, but I guess that doesn't cut it....almost had you, but I didn't even know it. You kept me guessing and now I guess that I spent my time missing you…'
Furrowing his brow, as he thought this, Arnold's mind travelled forward, bypassing all those almost moments, and nearly occasions, to the day that he'd realised.
It had been the day of the Spring Dance that year, Arnold's Grandma had been rushed into hospital after collapsing from a heart attack.
The 18 year old had been devastated, he didn't know what to do or say; he only knew that though he didn't want to leave her side, he couldn't see her like that either.
Grandpa wouldn't hear of him sitting by her bedside all day. "You're young Shortman, you need to enjoy life. Pookie always lived life to the full and always told us to do the same, she wouldn't want you sitting around here moping..."
"-But Grandpa, she almost died!"
Phil's tearful eyes met those of his grandson, and he gave a nod. "Almost Shortman, but almost won't finish your Grandma off! Now you go and have a good time."
At his Grandfathers insistence, Arnold had driven home and changed into his suit, but looking into the mirror, all he saw was a frightening sort of hollowness staring back at himself.
Ripping off his tie and flinging it to the floor, he scrunched up his eyes. "This. Is. Stupid! I should be with her...I shouldn't be here pretending everything's all right when it isn't...when it can't be!"
Running a clammy hand through his unruly blonde hair, Arnold grabbed his car keys, and sprinted down the stairs two at a time. He needed to escape...
He didn't even think about where he was going as he started the car up, only about where he didn't want to go...
And yet that was the very place he felt he should be; at the hospital.
He ended up at the School Sports Field of all places. The sound of bass music pumping out of speakers in the hall, floated to him in the still, and slightly chilling, evening air.
The thin, pale arch of the crescent moon was partially obscured by a cloud, and Arnold, gaze focused on his feet, head bowed down and shoulders hunched, started on a lonely walk into the blackness.
"Hey Football Head is that you? We've been worried..."
A sigh tumbled out of his parted lips, and he barely raised his eyes, to acknowledge Helga's presence on the other side of the field.
"Not now Helga...just leave me alone!"
"No." It wasn't an argument, it was a firm decision and she was telling him. He balled his hands into fists, keeping his focus on the ground he was pacing.
"I said LEAVE ME ALONE!"
"No." It was quiet and yet authoritative, and it seemed to be much closer than he thought it would be.
Finally looking up properly, dragging his gaze away from the floor, he saw her standing in front of him, blonde hair illuminated in the silver light.
She placed a cautious hand on his shoulder, which though he had expected to throw off, found he didn't want to...he liked its comfort.
"I won't say anything if you don't want me too, but you look like you need someone to vent on, and since you've done me that favour all these years..."
Nodding he carried on with his pacing, feeling reassured by her silent companionship.
After about 20 minutes of this, he looked over at her and realised she was just wearing a thin, midnight blue party dress, with spaghetti straps and a low back. He noted with guilt the tiny puckering of goosebumps over her arms.
Clearing his throat, his voice horse, Arnold turned to the girl beside him. "I'm sorry Helga, you must be freezing."
She shook her head "Nah I'm fine I-" She cut off when she saw his disbelieving glance, and gave a grimace. "Oh fine, parts of me I don't care to mention have turned to ice, I was just being too...ah noble to admit it."
The beginnings of a smile flashed briefly across Arnold's face as he removed his jacket and held it out for her. She shook her head.
"I can't take that, then you'll be cold"
He rolled his expressive green eyes at her. "Come on Helga, its just a jacket."
Raising an eyebrow she finally nodded. "Oh okay, I suppose I do deserve it after all..."
Again, even though he perhaps didn't want them to, the corners of mouth twitched upwards slightly. Shaking his head to clear his thoughts, he focused on her again.
Her big blue eyes were glinting mysteriously in the moonlight, her hair had been painstakingly pinned up, but one tendril had fallen down and now stuck to her cheek. He reached out to brush it aside, but stopped himself just in time and lowered his hand. She gave him a quizzical look.
Licking his dry lips, his forehead furrowed in thought. "So...erm...Helga..."
One eyebrow was raised coquettishly "Yes that is my name Arnold"
He ignored this and ploughed on with his question. "What are you doing here...shouldn't you be at the dance?"
She shrugged a slender shoulder "I should ask you the same thing"
Arnold nodded his head towards her "You first."
"Well as you think it's so important..." she heaved a sigh and shivered into his jacket "I was fed up being at that stupid dance, especially as I didn't have a date; apparently that makes it okay to slap my ass, and try to force yourself onto me..."
"What!" Arnold grabbed hold of the willowy blonde's upper-arms, eyes frantically searching. "Are-are you...okay?" Their gaze locked for a second or maybe more, and then Helga smiled, and warm relief flooded back into him.
"I've told you before Arnold, I can take care of myself."
He smiled back down at her, noticing that at 6ft, he was the perfect height to rest his chin on her head. If he'd wanted to that was, and at that particular moment he'd tried to push the thought aside. He gulped.
"It's not you I was worried for, it was the guy."
"Sure, but it wasn't one guy, it was plural" His eyes darkened with rage at that, as images of drunken guys throwing themselves at Helga, forced their way into his thoughts.
"How-how DARE they!" He'd released her arms and clenched his fists, knuckles white.
This caught Helga's gaze, and she'd reached, over placing dainty hands over his; relaxing them from their grip.
"Hey Arnold" She said this softly and slowly he rose his eyes to hers again, and she felt the familiar jolt this brought to her.
"I told you I'm fine, it was no big deal, more of an annoyance really. They didn't get anywhere, and besides its kinda expected, one sip of alcohol and I'm just a slab of meat..."
His jaw was clenched "You're not a slab of meat"
To his surprise she let out a little laugh "Yeah I know...so I left...well that and I was worried about you"
This caught his attention "Worried about me? Wha-"
She slapped her forehead lightly and crossed her eyes "Doi Arnold, of course I was worried about you, and I wasn't alone you know. Gerald told us something bad had happened and none of us could get through to you on the phone..."
A guilty blush spread across his face, but Helga kept his gaze locked with hers.
"Anyway, it's your part of the deal now, why are you here? "
They had stopped walking now, and just faced each other. Swallowing, Arnold glanced over at his companion and realised that he could tell her, and more than that, he should tell her.
"It...It's my Grandma, she was rushed into hospital this morning and I-I..." unshed tears swam into his eyes, but before he could be embarrassed, the hazy outline of Helga gave him a nod to show it was okay, and silently he let them escape their boundary and slide down his cheek. "I-I...just didn't know what to do or where to go....I mean my Grandparents they're my....well they've been my parents you know...and today I just couldn't....I mean what if they go?"
Throughout all of this Helga had been quiet, letting him pour out his heart, but now she had the fire of determination and passion burning behind her eyes.
"I know it's horrible Arnold, but we can't stop them from going, we can't hold them back here with us. That would be cruel. But we can keep them alive in our hearts and our memories, and that's what's important! Your Grandparents have lived amazing lives Arnold, they've given you an amazing life, heck the neighbourhood is full of tales about the crazy stuff you've done. And that's your legacy Arnold, and that is why your Grandparents will never leave you, even if they're gone. They'll still be here." She placed a hand lightly upon his chest and he realised she was right.
It could have been an eternity that they spent just looking into each other. Instinctively she reached up and brushed a stray tear away from his cheek with her thumb, leaving a burning feeling spreading across his face.
His voice was hoarse "Thank you" and he'd meant it.
That had been when he'd realised his feelings for her, and he'd almost told her. But he knew now that almost wasn't good enough, nowhere near good enough.
It was only later when he thought about it, that he understood. And now as he recalled it, he remembered that throughout the whole exchange, she had called him by his proper name. For some reason that made him want to laugh.
Confusion. Confusion...too much confusion!
He should have told her since, but something always stopped him, and now he was sitting behind her in class, weary green eyes tracing her outline, the tilt of her head, the caress of the sunlight playing about her hair. 'She deserves better than me' he thought angrily, 'better than a coward like me!'
He looked down at the scrunched up piece of paper which lay on the desk before him, his neat handwriting scrawled across the page. He should throw it away like all the other poems he'd written...but something caught his attention, and his eyes scanned over it, rereading it.
I almost realized I loved you,
Once or twice; it's hard to tell,
One thing I know for certain;
I almost wish you would've loved me too,
We touch and you're….afraid of me?
I almost burn and I'm at your feet,
In the dark we make a brighter light,
And now our journeys' almost through,
You should know I love you,
That's what's true,
And you almost drive me crazy with,
Your words, about me, you and us,
So I'm mad, mad about you,
Almost mad about love,
Lost in your eyes I fall,
Keep on falling and almost land,
Yet what I want, Its out,
Out of reach,
Almost out of grasp
And I almost said I loved you,
Once or twice; it's hard to tell,
One thing I know for certain;
I almost wish you would've loved me too,
He signed his name at the bottom and was filled with a new courage. He would tell her; he had to.
Picking up the flimsy sheet of paper, he folded it and placed it in his pocket. There would be no more "almosts".
So what do you think? I'm not sure about the ending, I like it but I also want to write a bit more, about when he tells Helga and her reaction to him. What do you think? Review and tell me what you want, or just say whether or not you liked it.
Thanks so much for reading the story,
Until next time :)