(AN: First of all, when you read this chapter, remember that I never, ever claimed to be a poet. I write prose, not lyrics. I know Helga's poetry is supposed to be way better than that, but I simply don't have her talent.
Also, since this is the last chapter, I wanted to butt in again and thank each and every one of you for your kind and wonderful comments on my story! I really appreciate all of them. :) Thanks again for reading my story, I hope you enjoy the last chapter, and have a very merry Christmas!)
It was late that night, later than what Arnold was normally up, and yet he was still sitting in the boarding house kitchen, staring at the wall and yet not seeming to take particular notice of anything about it.
"Come on, Shortman, it's time for bed," Phil said, waving his hand in front of Arnold's eyes as if testing for a response.
"Huh… oh, yeah, right, Grandpa," Arnold mumbled.
Phil didn't need to be a psychologist to see that something was on Arnold's mind. "It was a nice eulogy you gave today," he said, sitting down in the chair next to him. "Your grandma loved it, I'm sure."
"Thanks," smiled Arnold. "And I hope she liked that crazy polka luau…"
"'Course she did! I swear, Arnold, when I was up there dancing I felt like she was right there with me, having the best time of her life! Er, afterlife," Phil corrected himself.
"You don't feel like any of that was… inappropriate, do you?" Arnold asked.
Phil snorted dismissively. "What would have been inappropriate would have been if we'd had a normal weeping and wailing funeral. That wouldn't have been right for your grandma. What we did was celebrate her life, and celebrate the life we all have. That's what she would have done for any of us."
Arnold smiled. "You're right, Grandpa. I feel better about it all now."
"But something's still bugging you," said Phil, getting right to the point.
Arnold shook his head. "No, I'm… I just need to get to bed, I have school tomorrow…" He stared at the wall without looking at it again.
"Come on, Arnold, how are you going to sleep when you keep staring at things?"
Arnold sighed. "I just wonder if…" He abruptly shook his head again. "Nothing."
"Something's on your mind, and you'll get no sleep with it there, so you'd best let it out," said Phil.
"I just… how do you know if you're in love?" Arnold finally asked.
"Ooh, it's that doozy of a question," said Phil softly.
"I shouldn't have asked you that," said Arnold quickly, standing up out of his chair and moving to the hallway. "Not today—"
"Not today? Well, when, then? Are you waiting for some sign from heaven with harps and angels telling you, 'Aaaaaaaaahhhhhh! There she iiiiiiiiiiiiis! 'Cuz if you are…" Phil also stood up, but instead of following Arnold he suddenly jumped up on the table, throwing his arms out wide and warbling, "Aaaaaaaaaahhhhhhh—"
"Grandpa, I'm serious!" Arnold snapped.
"So am I!" said Phil, quickly sitting back down on the edge of the table. "You love her. If you have to ask, then you do."
"If I have to ask, it means I'm not sure," said Arnold uneasily.
"You have to ask because you're just worried, that's all," Phil countered. "Can you come up with any reasons why you don't love her? If I'm going to be your sign from God, then so be it—the answer to your question is a tenfold 'yes'!"
"Grandpa, please!" Arnold muttered, pressing his hand to his face.
Phil stood up from the table and put his hands on Arnold's shoulders. "Listen, Arnold, in all seriousness here… I can't tell you how you know you're in love. It's different for everybody, and the only one constant is just that when you know, you know. But I've seen the way you are when you're around her, and when you talk about her. You just completely light up. So, from my own, probably biased opinion… it seems to me that yes, you love her."
Arnold managed to smile. "You're just saying that because you like her better than my other girlfriends."
"I'd say that even if I thought she was the antichrist. I'm just telling you what I see, Arnold. Now what do you see?"
Arnold took a deep breath, but more in thought, not as a prelude to an answer.
"She's really amazing, Grandpa," he said softly. "She's so smart, she has all these ideas about things that I'd never come up with in a million years, and the way she uses words… And she can always make me laugh and feel better, no matter what… and she's got such a good heart, even though she doesn't seem to want people to know about it…"
"Well." Phil smiled. "You're going to have to figure out for yourself if that's love or not."
Arnold looked at Phil in mild surprise, waiting for more, but Phil just patted Arnold on the shoulder and walked out of the room.
"Sleep tight, Shortman."
Phil was right—sleeping with everything that was on Arnold's mind was impossible.
It was 2:06 AM, and yet the light in Arnold's room was still on, as he paced back and forth from wall to wall. With every step, he felt himself growing closer and closer to… to something, but he wasn't sure if that's what he needed to get closer to.
Was he really in love with her?
Part of him felt that it was still too early to decide, but another part of him argued that if this wasn't love, he didn't know what could possibly be greater than this. He had never felt this way or this strongly about anyone before… but what did he know about love? How was he supposed to know?
Maybe straight from the horse's mouth?
He quickly made his way over to his desk and picked up the little pink book. "Come on, Helga, talk to me," he murmured, flipping it open to a random page and reading the poems on it, turning the page, and then…
I heard it on the radio!
That song that reminds me of you!
But how vague and how obvious that is
I see you in everything, it's true
It might be just physical attraction
That makes me lose my senses this way
Lord knows your shimmering eyes
Can distract me every single day!
(And do they ever!)
But he doesn't sing about appearances
It's not looks that has him ensnared
He sings about what's inside
Her heart is what makes him care
My love, I don't care what you look like
Although your football head is a sight
It's who you are inside that I adore
And what makes my heart take flight
The feeling I get when I see you
Is more than just a physical rush!
What else can I call these emotions?
It's love, and it turns me to mush.
Arnold stared at the page incredulously. Of course, he had read this poem before, but only just now did it actually really affect him. Only just now was he struck with the feeling that Helga, six years ago, had somehow known he was going to be reading this and had actually spoken directly to him.
It was more than just a physical rush he felt.
"I do love her," he murmured.
There were no harps and angels descending, as Grandpa has suggested. There wasn't even any change in the sound of the occasional car driving past, or the hum of the electricity… but still, there was something glowing inside of him that felt even stronger than a band of angels singing.
Yes. He loved her. He loved her! It had taken him awhile to figure it out, but that couldn't be helped, he'd never felt this way before… but all the emotions swelling in him as he thought of her, clutching her little pink book to his chest and smiling, couldn't be anything else. And now that he finally realized, finally acknowledged his feelings, everything suddenly felt right with his world.
How was he supposed to tell her?
He set the book back down on his desk, biting his lip. What kind of a worry was that, anyway? She was already his girlfriend, and he already knew that she was in love with him. What kind of reaction was she possibly going to have other than a positive one? …That is, unless she thought he was joking… then she might throw her algebra book at him again.
Arnold winced. No, he had to let her know in a way that she knew he was being serious, in a way that actually sounded like he'd put some thought into it, that he was dead sure of what he was saying, that…
He pulled out a sheet of lined paper from his book bag and sat down at his desk, pencil in hand. Helga had been written him dozens of love notes since they'd begun dating; perhaps the best way to convince her how he felt was to write her one in return.
"You didn't ask him out?"
Phoebe smiled abashedly as she and Helga entered school that morning, making their way down the hallway. "I did tell you that I wasn't sure how appropriate it would be to ask someone out at a funeral."
"Come on, who cares about that? There's plenty of romantic movies where the characters hook up at a funeral."
"I'm not saying we didn't… hook up," smiled Phoebe. "We're both going to the homecoming football game next Friday, after all, and we'll probably sit together…"
"Well, it's a step, at least," shrugged Helga. "I mean, it's no homecoming dance or anything, but at least it's something."
"Oh, I don't really want to go to homecoming anyway," said Phoebe. "I don't want to go buy a dress."
"Who says you have to buy a dress?" asked Helga. The two of them had made their way to her locker, and Helga quickly spun her combination. "I could whip up something interesting for you."
Phoebe recoiled a bit. "Um, I'm not sure if I could pull off your fashion sense."
"Sure you can. Anyone can." Helga tossed her book bag in the bottom of her locker and grabbed her English literature textbook, not even noticing that the force of her book bag being dropped had sent a folded sheet of paper flying out.
Phoebe noticed it, however. "Here you go, Helga, this fell out of your locker," she said, grabbing it and handing it to her.
Helga looked at it quizzically. "Hmm. What is this?" She turned it over in her hands, finding her name written on the other side.
"It looks like someone left you a note," said Phoebe.
Helga rolled her eyes. "Duh. And it looks… it looks like Arnold's handwriting…" She hesitated.
"Why don't you open it and find out what he wants?" Phoebe suggested.
"Why don't you give me some space?" Helga snapped back. "I don't exactly like reading with an audience."
"Backing off," smiled Phoebe. "I'll go get a drink from the drinking fountain."
Helga had her space, but she was still trembling as she held the letter in her hands.
"It's probably nothing," she said to herself. "He's probably just wanting to let me know that he needs my input for what he's going to wear for homecoming or something. Heck, it might be a thank-you letter for being there at the funeral yesterday. It's probably not a…" She gulped, unable to finish the sentence.
A break-up letter.
She carefully unfolded the paper, shocked to see that it was two sheets of paper, the first one written on both the front and back. Her blood froze. This certainly didn't look like a quick note.
She leaned against the edge of her locker, breathing heavily. Alright, old girl, you knew this was coming eventually. So you're going to take this maturely. And you're not going to cry. At least not here. Shit, I've gotten more than I ever expected—I'm the luckiest girl on earth! And all good luck has to run out sometime, and mine just has. I'll still always have the memories… heck, yesterday ALONE was enough happiness to sustain me for one lifetime!
Yesterday, after finally arriving back home from the funeral, everything that had actually happened to her suddenly caught up with her, leaving her in a sort of happy daze the rest of the day—not the way one should feel after attending a funeral. And it wasn't just the kisses—although God, that kiss of gratitude almost made her shit bricks; and if he kissed her hands like that for the rest of eternity she wouldn't complain in the slightest.
But what she kept reliving the most was when he had said "I want you". The way he said it, the fact that he said it, the way he had looked at her when he had said it… it was a good thing he was on the ground, because Helga would have fallen to her knees regardless from those three little words. Not only from shock, but also from complete and utter despair that her poor, grieving Arnold was hurting and lost and needed to be comforted… and then again, from complete and utter happiness that of all the people who could have comforted him, he wanted her.
But apparently not anymore.
Helga gulped again. The sooner I read it, the sooner I'll be able to get on with it! Waiting isn't going to change what it says!
He's breaking up with me. He's breaking up with me. He doesn't love me. He doesn't even want me.
And I knew it was coming. I knew this was coming, so I'm going to buck up and take it!
And with that, she finally forced herself to start reading Arnold's note.
I'm sorry for how awkward this note is going to sound. I need to tell you something important, a lot of things actually, and I just can't write like you do. But I know if I tried to actually explain it to you in person it would come out of my mouth even worse than what it'll come out here as.
There's a lot I haven't told you. I never wanted to lie to you or hide anything from you but they were things about myself that I was slow to realize. I didn't even realize until being with you that you were a big part of the reason why Wendy and Melissa didn't work out. I didn't realize it at the time but when I was dating them I kept comparing them to you, and they kept coming up short. I'm not saying it's your fault why I broke up with them or even blaming you for it. In fact maybe I should thank you, because if I was still dating them I wouldn't be with you now, right?
There is something about you that I've always felt but I've never been sure of how to say it, or that I even should. It's that, even in elementary school, I always really liked it when you were nice to me. And when you told me you loved me it did freak me out at first, but then I realized that I liked having you love me. And last month when I kind of forced the truth out of you (sorry for being a jerk to you there by the way) I was really hoping that the truth was that you DID still love me. I guess maybe I was hoping that even if you didn't you'd lie and say that you did. I'm glad that the truth and what I wanted ended up being the same.
I'm apologizing way too much in this note but I really do feel bad for the way I've been kind of wishy-washy with you all this time, and especially this past month. It wasn't fair to you to lead you on without giving you a hint of what I was feeling, but I never quite figured out what I was feeling either until just now. I still can't seem to figure out how to write it out. Have you ever had a big bolt from the blue when you've finally realized something important, something that you should have realized sooner? I just had that moment from one of your poems you wrote in the fourth grade. The way I feel about you, and I've felt this way for you pretty much since we started dating, can't be pushed aside as just hormones or a physical rush or anything. I didn't want to be hasty and jump into anything that might be wrong, for your sake as well as mine, but basically I've just realized that it's dumb and hurtful to you to keep acting like I'm not in love with you. In fact I think it's more hurtful than it would be if I told you I loved you but then fell 'out of love' or whatever. I don't want to hide things from you anymore. And like I said, it's dumb of me to think that what I'm feeling ISN'T love.
I'm sorry this note is so long and rambling and it probably doesn't make any sense. Basically what I'm trying to say through all this is that I love you, and I wanted you to know that.
Helga stared slack-jawed at the note for a good ten seconds before she realized that her legs seemed to be turning into jelly.
Phoebe, back from the drinking fountain, gave a look of alarm at Helga's quite-literally unmoving stance. "Helga? Are you alright?"
"He… he…" Helga finally forced her mouth to form a few more words. "He loves me!"
A surprised grin broke across Phoebe's face. "He loves you? He really…"
"Please pinch me. Wait, don't pinch me. If this is a dream I don't want to wake up." Her legs finally giving way to her emotions, Helga flopped against the edge of her open locker again, clutching the note to her chest and, despite her earlier ultimatum to herself, sobbing. "Oh my fucking GOD, Phoebe, he LOVES me! He loves ME! I can't believe this is actually happening… I can't… I can hardly breathe…"
Phoebe gave Helga a huge bear hug, partly in order to keep herself from falling any further. "Oh, Helga, I'm so happy for you! Are you… are you going to need any help getting to class? The bell's going to ring in about a minute…"
"I'll make it… I'll float my way to class somehow…"
"This is so amazing, Helga," said Phoebe excitedly, tightening her hug before letting go. "I know how long you've wanted this…"
"Wanted doesn't even begin to cover it… holy shit, Phoebe, he loves me!" Helga shrieked in total joy, wrapping her arms around her body gleefully, the note still pressed to her chest. "Criminy, I have a feeling I'm going to be saying that a lot today…"
"Well, just try your best to pay attention to what your teachers say, too," smiled Phoebe.
"This can't be real. I must be dreaming. And if this is real, then it's just Arnold playing a sick joke on me. Except he doesn't play sick jokes, because he's sweet and kind and caring and he loves me!"
Phoebe's smile grew wider. "Yep, you're going to be saying it all day."
"Man, Arnold, you have got to give me some pointers," Gerald said as he and Arnold left psychology class later that day.
"On what?" Arnold asked, he and Gerald walking as slowly as possible without risking anyone else knocking them over. There was only half a hallway before they had to part and go their separate directions, so any conversations after psychology had to be quick ones.
"On kissing, Casanova. That smooch you planted on Helga yesterday is still making her googly-eyed. In history today Ms. Schroeder had to call on her three times before she even heard her."
Arnold smiled knowingly, not looking at Gerald. "I don't think that's because of the kiss."
"It's not?" Gerald put his hand on his hip inquisitively. "What is it, then?"
But this was where their paths forked, and Arnold only grinned at Gerald, saying, "Forget it. See you later," before heading down to the right to his algebra class.
But Gerald didn't forget about it.
"Okay, spill the beans, lover-boy!" he demanded to Arnold as he approached his locker after the final bell had rung and signaled the end of the day, Lila looking on with a touch of both confusion and amusement.
Arnold cocked an eyebrow. "About…"
"About Helga's descent into La-la-land! What else? You two didn't…" Gerald waggled his eyebrows a la Groucho Marx.
"Aaugh, no, Gerald, for crying out loud!" cried Arnold. "I just wrote her a note, that's all!"
"That's all? That must have been some note!"
"I'm guessing it was something she's been waiting for for a long time, though," said Lila with a warm smile.
"Aw man," moaned Gerald. "You didn't write her a sappy love letter, did you?"
Arnold flinched in defense automatically. "Well, I hope it wasn't sappy…"
At that moment, Helga and Phoebe stepped into sight from the west hallway, Helga stopping in her tracks for a moment upon seeing Arnold.
Arnold turned and saw them, or rather saw Helga, and visibly brightened.
And in an instant, she flung her arms around him and kissed him passionately.
Gerald shot a look of shock to Phoebe and Lila, but they were only looking on the scene before them with satisfied smiles. As he followed their lead and turned his attentions to Arnold and Helga, he moved his hand to close his jaw shut… and was surprised to find that it had actually shut on its own, all the better to house the grin that was suddenly appearing on his face.
"So I take it you read my note then?" Arnold asked, pulling away from the kiss.
"Oh Arnold, you perfect, amazing, romantic, angelic, marvelous—"
Arnold laughed. "I love you too."
Helga sighed happily, touching her forehead to his. "And you say you don't have a way with words…"
"Um, hey, lovebirds?" Gerald interrupted. "Are we going to go get a bite to eat now, or what?"
Arnold smiled, pulling away from Helga but still holding her hand. "Yeah, let's go. I'm starved."
"I hope you don't mind if Hubert comes too!"
Arnold, Helga, Gerald, and Phoebe all stared at Lila… and Hubert Rudgren, in all his ill-begotten glory, who had seemingly appeared out of nowhere, Lila proudly holding his hand.
There was silence for a few moments.
"Of course we don't mind, Lila," Arnold finally said with a smile. "I guess we'll be going on a triple-date today, then."
"A what?" Phoebe asked in surprise.
"Yeah, a triple-date… I like the sound of that," said Gerald, quickly grabbing hold of Phoebe's hand.
"As long as we don't eat fish," Helga said, sniffing her nose at Hubert disdainfully.
The six friends strolled out of school, each holding hands with their significant other, each not caring about the smell of fish, nor the storm clouds rolling in, nor even of the mountains of homework they had stacked in their book bags. Inconveniences, yes. But they paled and vanished next to what was really important… next to who was holding their hand.
Helga looked at Arnold, who smiled back at her and gave her hand a squeeze, and she sighed happily.
So this is what it feels like when the world is completely and utterly RIGHT.