A/N: Okay, I lied. This is the second to last chapter. I figured I owe you guys a non-rushed chapter to flesh out the ending. I realize that I've lost quite a few followers since I was inactive for so long - not to worry, I'm still going to finish this no matter what! Thank you all so much for reading. Just one more chapter after this one.
Disclaimer: I own nothing.
"You want to… what?"
Miriam's voice was heavy with misunderstanding. Helga sighed into her receiver, hating this feeling of vulnerability that seemed to glow beneath her skin. The sense of weakness made her feel like she was naked in front of a crowd of people; anybody could hurt her when there was no armor surrounding her. Her skin prickled uncomfortably.
"I want to move back. I know, I know, it sounds stupid. But you haven't sold the house, right?" Helga said all too quickly. Her mother made a humming sound on the other line.
"Well, no… There was a couple that seemed interested, but we haven't heard from them in a while," Miriam muttered. "But… are you sure honey? I'm a little concerned with your constant changing of plans."
It was a little erratic to try to move back just a few months after she fled the city. But Helga couldn't help but feel like time was pressing her in every direction. If she didn't make a move soon, she would be back at square one.
"I know, mom," she replied, the word mom feeling foreign on her tongue. "I just want to hear a yes or no."
Bob's angry murmuring floated through the line. Helga let her head drop as she imagined the big oaf trying to talk Miriam out of it. Bob controlled that woman like a puppet, jerking the marionette strings with his stubby fingers. Helga fully expected to be shot down.
"We both don't think it would be a good idea," Miriam said dully. "I'm sorry, honey."
Helga hung up before her mother could feed her any more pitiful lines.
She threw her cellphone indignantly, hearing it land with a sickening crack on her kitchen tile. It was a flip phone though, and those things were indestructible, so she paid it no attention. Instead, she fought the urge to overturn her coffee table in a Hulk-ish rage. No matter how many times her family let her down, it still seemed to boil her blood.
But there were other options. Her novel's success brought in more money than she had seen before (which, admittedly, was not a whole lot), and if she could afford this dump of an apartment on the west coast, she could certainly afford a similar dump in Hillwood.
She sluggishly dragged her feet to her beat up desk and sat down, pressing the power button on her computer. The old machine coughed and shuddered before turning on. Maybe, if the novel brought in some more money, she could finally get a new one and put this one out of its misery.
She pulled a Diet Coke out of her mini fridge under the desk, popped it open, and readied herself for some apartment research.
And in the end, Stella realized that nothing would change. He would continue to use her, she would always run after him, and the cycle would never end. As her heels clacked against the worn pavement of New York City, she slipped her wedding ring off and casually tossed it down a rusty gutter.
And she couldn't help but smile as she heard it land at the bottom with a tiny 'clink'.
Arnold shut the book, sighing in resignation. Yet another Helga Pataki book that he zipped through in less than a day. He had seen this one resting on a shelf in the front of a local bookstore, and the title immediately caught his eye. Kissing the Lipless. Something about it enticed him; what in the world did that mean? He leafed through it for a couple moments before realizing who wrote it.
"Of course," he mumbled to himself. Even after he decided to give up on her, she still haunted him like a disturbed ghost, calling out to him in ways that baffled his tired mind. Nevertheless, he chucked fifteen dollars at the cashier and took shoved the paperback into his work briefcase.
Maybe he was a masochist. Reading that phenomenal book did nothing but inflict pain on him when he pictured Helga clacking away at her computer, probably downing loads of caffeine and ignoring his attempts to contact her. But he had to admit that it was the best of her four books. She certainly had grown since her first novel, Phantom Limb, had hit select discount bookstores in a few major cities.
He tossed the book onto his desk and leaned back sleepily. Maybe it was a bad idea to be reading during work hours, but he had nothing to do for a couple hours; his next meeting wasn't until 4:30pm and it was a standard end-of-the-week meeting that usually just included a plan for the next week. He yawned just thinking about it.
An obnoxious ring coming from his work phone shook him out of his thoughts. He pressed the "speaker" button.
"Yes?" he asked, knowing his robotic receptionist Pam would be on the other line.
"You have a visitor, should I send her up? Or would you like to make an appointment?" asked Pam. Arnold clammed up, picturing Helga standing in his lobby. But how could he be certain? Should he ask the receptionist what the woman looked like? No, that would be absurd.
"Um, an appointment would be fine," Arnold replied.
"Alright, sir," Pam replied dutifully. He could hear her muffled voice talking to the mystery woman, "Ms. Thompson? How does Monday at two o'clock sound?"
"Wait!" Arnold called to the phone. "Never mind, send her up."
"Well, alright sir," Pam replied cheerfully. Click.
Arnold let out a frustrated groan. It had been months and Helga was still plaguing his mind. When would these noxious thoughts end?
A knock on the door startled Phoebe, who had been sitting quietly in a comfy chair, attempting to knit a pair of booties. Unfortunately, they looked more like amorphous blobs, but it was still better than her other shapeless items of clothing. Carefully, she placed her needles and yarn to the side before heading towards the door.
A blonde woman appeared in the peephole. "Helga," breathed Phoebe, certainly surprised to see her back in town. An internal struggle rendered her immobile for a few moments, before sucking in a large breath and opening the door just wide enough to peep her head through.
"Hey," Helga greeted her rather sheepishly. "Sorry to come over unannounced… I just wanted to let you know that, well, I moved back."
"Oh," Phoebe replied, clearly stunned. She opened the door a little wider, allowing Helga to view her growing baby bump. Helga's eyes widened at her old friend.
"Oh, wow," Helga breathed, unsure of what to say. "Congrats, Pheebs."
"Thank you," Phoebe responded. A cheerful whistle came from inside the house; Gerald was cooking something in the kitchen that created a heavenly scent that wafted out the door.
"You don't have to let me in or anything," Helga blurted quickly. "I just wanted you to know… that you were right."
"About?" Phoebe asked, although she knew exactly what Helga was implying.
"Our last phone conversation. I was being kind of stupid," she mumbled, her eyes glued to the ground. "I'm sorry."
Phoebe stepped aside, motioning for Helga to come in. With a bright smile, Helga entered Phoebe's pristine home and sat down on the couch.
"You were being pretty stupid," Phoebe said to Helga with a smile. Both of them laughed lightly. "But I knew you'd come back."
"You did?" Helga asked, surprised.
"Well, yeah," her friend uttered all-knowingly. "How many times have you ran away from your problems and then showed up later once you realized that they could be fixed? I mean, do you remember that one time in the sixth grade?"
"You might have to remind me…"
"When you bribed Holly Fenwick to switch lab partners in Biology so you could partner with Arnold? And then he found out?" Phoebe stopped in the middle to chuckle. Her laugh sounded musical to Helga; it seemed as if her old friend had revitalized over the last few months. "Do you remember what you did?"
Helga stared into space for a moment. "I skipped Bio like, all week."
"Yes, then you came back and said that the only reason you bribed her was so you didn't have to be partners with Curly," Phoebe reminded her. "And Arnold believed it!"
"Oh, right!" Helga nodded her head in reminiscence. "Boy, he was gullible."
"Apparently. But this whole situation is similar to that one… obviously not in severity or importance," Phoebe said quietly. "You always came back though. No matter the situation… like that one time you ran away from home."
"Yeah… and I got lost. And you had to pick me up."
"Well, I guess I helped you a little with that one," Phoebe responded with a smile. "I knew this one would take a little more time… but I knew you would come back. I just had to be patient."
Helga was silent for a moment, staring at the impossibly white carpet of Phoebe's home. Even after all these years, her friend knew her so well.
"I suppose Arnold won't be too thrilled. He basically said he wants nothing to do with me anymore," Helga told Phoebe, suddenly feeling icky for the self-pity that crept into her voice. "I mean, I get it. Sort of. But I guess I'll deal with that when the time comes."
"Arnold…" Phoebe started. "He isn't very patient. All that faith and belief in the goodness of humanity that he had in high school kind of disappeared. Especially when he was dating Clarissa."
"Oh, his ex-fiancée. She was sweet, but… well I think she drained the life out of him," Phoebe responded, looking down at her lap. She pulled at her sweater sleeves methodically. "And she wasn't very kind."
"Hm," Helga said quietly. There was so many things she didn't know about the boy with the cornflower hair.
"Do you think you'd want to stay for dinner?" Phoebe asked, pointing towards the kitchen where a cheerful, whistled melody was still drifting out to the living room.
"Maybe another night," Helga said, standing up on her wobbly legs. "I just moved back, I have so much unpacking to do. But… thank you, Phoebe."
Her old friend nodded and stood up too, with a little more difficulty. Although small, the weight of her belly had thrown the small woman off guard. "You're welcome. Come over anytime."
"I will." Helga smiled, taking one last look at Phoebe before heading out the door.
Phoebe waddled back over to her armchair and sat down with a small "oomph". Just minutes into her knitting, Gerald sauntered into the living room with a beer in hand.
"Who was at the door?" he asked nonchalantly, collapsing onto the couch and flipping the TV on. "Oh, and dinner will be ready in like, twenty minutes."
"It was Helga," Phoebe replied, resting the knitting needles on her lap.
"Really?" Gerald responded, his attention averting from the football game on TV. "I thought all that nonsense was over."
"Well, it was never really over…" Phoebe replied quietly; one of her hands rubbed her belly absentmindedly. "I mean, I know Arnold sent her that letter and all, but I don't know. I'm glad she's back. I think she's going to try to make things right."
"I don't know," Gerald said to his wife. He fiddled aimlessly with the remote control as he continued, "Maybe they aren't meant to be."
"What makes you say that?" Phoebe asked, her lips curling inward. "Didn't you say that Arnold had feelings for her?"
"Well, yes. But all of this craziness isn't really Arnold's thing," Gerald protested, air-quoting around the word "thing". "Is it really all that big of a deal? Would it be that bad if they never reconciled? I mean-"
"Yes, Gerald! It would be terrible if this whole situation didn't resolve itself!" Phoebe suddenly piped up. "How would you feel if someone had said this about you and I getting together?!"
"Well, that is completely different! We never had this screwed up past, we just found each other after college… there was no drama!"
"That is not true! We had a couple near falling-out experiences," Phoebe continued, pointing her finger at her husband.
"What, like that one time your old college boyfriend started sending you letters?" Gerald asked with a smirk. "I can hardly call that a falling out experience."
"Well… Well…" Phoebe sputtered like an old car. "You don't know Helga like I do, Gerald! She was in love with him for thirteen years, that is not just something you can throw away." Gerald stared at his wife lovingly, suddenly bursting into chuckles. "What?!"
"I haven't seen you raise your voice in, like… I don't know, a few months? A year?" Gerald responded affectionately. The tomato-red hue of Phoebe's face quickly dissipated and she began to laugh too.
"Oh god, it has to be the pregnancy hormones," she told him happily. "Sorry. This whole thing gets me riled up."
"It was cute," Gerald crooned, sliding over to grab his wife's hand. "And if it means that much to you, I'll be behind it, too. Maybe I'll talk to Arnold."
"Maybe," Phoebe muttered, always a little hesitant to butt into other people's love lives. "Or maybe we should let Helga get the ball rolling. And then see what we can do."
"Deal," he stated, bringing his face close to her tummy. After kissing it lovingly, he whispered, "You're making mommy crazy!"
Phoebe swatted Gerald's head lightly. "Hey, I'm not crazy!"
A/N: I mean it this time! Next chapter will be the last. Thank you so much to those who have stuck with this story until the end. Again, can't apologize enough for abandoning it this close to the end.