Special thanks: To One Fine Wire since we had a short discussion on the Hey Arnold fan forum that lead to this story being created.
"What are you doing here?" Big Bob Pataki asked from just behind his door.
"I needed to talk to you about something," Arnold explained. "Can I come in, or…?" he left it open ended, allowing Bob to make up some excuse to get him to go away. He wasn't really looking forward to talking to Bob, but he knew the necessity of it.
"This about Helga?" Bob asked. Arnold nodded. "All right, fine, you can come in, but just for a bit." He waited until Arnold crossed the threshold, then slammed the door shut. "So, she moved out and never calls us, never visits us…best we get is her boyfriend. Criminy. Do you know what the worst part about this whole thing is, Arthur?"
"Whatever," Bob brushed if off, completely ignoring the correction. "The worst part of this whole mess," he chuckled humorlessly. "Is that we can't blame anybody but ourselves."
"I'm sure that's not true," Arnold tried. "I mean, you tried to be there for her…"
"Sit down, kid," Bob put a hand on Arnold's shoulder and guided him to the living room. "You want something to drink? Nothing alcohol, cause…you know…" his eyes darted to a picture of his wife on the wall.
"That's okay. I don't drink, and I'm not thirsty. But really, I just came here to -"
Once more, Arnold was ignored. "Just listen. It might help you understand. She'll never give me the chance to explain it to her…and none of this makes what Miriam and I did to her alright. But I need someone to understand…"
Bob Pataki stared at the pink bundle in his arms. "When are you going to wake up, Miriam?" he insisted again to the lump huddled in the middle of the bed. "I don't know what to do with her!"
As though sensing his fear, the baby started sobbing. "Hush…shhh…it's all right…Miriam, would you wake up and help?! It's okay…calm down," he bounced a little on his heels, trying to soothe his daughter. "Geez, Miriam, I've gotta be at my store in an hour, when are you going to wake up?"
He moved Helga to one arm and poked and prodded his wife. "Huh?" she woke up, rubbed her eyes and turned towards the source of the crying. Without another word, she slammed herself back down into the bed, grabbing a pillow and covering her head with it in order to drown out the noise.
"Can't. You take care of it. I need sleep, Bob…"
Sensing he was going to lose this fight, Bob resigned himself to his fate. "C'mon, kid…let's get you some breakfast. Looks like I'm missing work again. Hope you're happy, Miriam!" he called childishly as he left the bedroom.
He knew he shouldn't blame his wife. The doctors had explained that sometimes the drop in hormones after a pregnancy could cause a severe depression, but Bob didn't get it. She hadn't had it with Olga, why was she suffering so much with this one?
"Olga," he snapped the fingers of his free hand. "Hey, Olga, you want to take a day of school to help out?" He called to his daughter. She poked her head out of her room and shook her head.
"No thanks, daddy. That would absolutely ruin my perfect attendance record." At Bob's dejected look, she added "But I'll try my hardest to rearrange my tutoring schedule so I can get home faster and help out."
"Thanks, Olga," Bob agreed. "You got a way to get to school?" As though the conversation annoyed her, Helga's crying grew louder. He couldn't hear Olga's response. "What was that?" he called, yelling over Helga's cries.
"I said I have bus fare!" Olga's voice matched her father's pitch. "I'm going now, daddy. Tell mommy I love her!"
"Yeah, I'll let her know," Bob called, waving to his eldest as she ran out the door. "…if she ever wakes up," he added after she was gone.
Helga's crying grew louder. "All right, all right, I'm getting your formula. Hold your dang horses," Bob insisted, climbing down the stairs as carefully as he could. He mixed the formula up and let Helga suck down the bottle, amazed at how fast it all went down. "So…just you and me again today, kid."
Bob sighed. "I should probably call Nick and tell him to open the store without me." He tried setting Helga on the living room floor, but she cried the minute her bottom touched the ground. "Criminy, you're loud, kid…" he scooped her back up and started bouncing her again, this time on his hip, as he made his way towards the phone and dialed. "Nick? Yeah, I need you to open the store. Yes again. Look, bucko, I pay your salary, you'll do what I tell you to do, got that? I don't know if I'll be in tomorrow or not." He slammed the phone back down onto the receiver and then swung Helga high above his head. "And that is how daddy deals with boobs he works with."
He spent the rest of the day feeding her, burping her, changing her and desperately trying to get her to take a nap so he could have a few moments of peace. Finally at around nine that night, she drifted off.
It hadn't been so bad in the beginning. Sure, Bob had been taking care of her single-handedly while Miriam stayed in bed most of the day, but at first he was kind of enjoying the bonding time with his youngest daughter.
It was just after she'd turned three months that it suddenly took a turn for the worse. Miriam was over her postpartum depression, but in its place she suffered so much guilt in not being there for Helga in her first few months of life that she still felt low, and she wasn't much of a help. But the much more difficult problem was that Helga had become colicky. The doctor couldn't tell the Patakis what was wrong, but every night she'd wake up around two a.m. and cry for hours straight, no matter what Bob, Miriam, or even Olga tried to do to placate her.
The whole family was on edge. One day, Bob finally snapped. "Miriam," he spoke through gritted teeth, "I am going back to work tomorrow."
"But Bob -"
"That's final. I've been staying at home the past few months, and we're losing business because of it. You're staying home with Helga."
Miriam let it go without a fight. She looked upset, but all she did was pick Helga up and leave the room. "I'm going to bed," Bob said. "You should go too, Olga. Don't want to get to school late tomorrow."
"All right, daddy."
He didn't know when the drinking started. They'd always had a few bottles on top of the fridge for special occasions, and he liked to have a beer or two while watching the games. But what he held in his hand now was an empty bottle of vodka, and he couldn't remember even buying it, and he knew he hadn't drank it.
It certainly explained a lot. Why Miriam kept falling asleep so randomly, why her speech contantly slurred. He should have at least noticed the scent on her, but they didn't spend much time alone these days.
He hadn't originally planned on enrolling Helga in preschool. He'd figured she'd be all right with waiting another year and joining kindergarten, but with this new bit of information, he realized that Miriam wasn't going to be able to watch Helga very well, and he couldn't stay home from his Beeper Emporium. Business was booming.
He checked the phone book and dialed the first preschool he found. "Yeah…hi. I wanted to see about enrolling my daughter."
It would be years before he'd realize how he ignored his youngest in favor of his oldest. But Olga was such a welcome escape. She was so kind, smart, and she seemed to succeed in everything she tried. Bob liked to think a part of that came from him. She seemed to be proof that Bob knew what he was doing, like her shining made him shine, too. But Helga was far too young to have accomplished anything. He was so absorbed in listening to her play the piano, he didn't notice Helga calling back at him that she was leaving to go to school.
When Helga got back after her first day of preschool, he'd finally realized he'd let his little girl walk that whole way by herself, and in the mud. She came inside and set her things down, and gave her father a tired and pointed look, for one moment looking so much older than she was. She wasn't angry, she was just…disappointed. He looked away from her, and she collected her things and went upstairs.
That was the first hint he'd had that he was losing her.
Helga was sarcastic. That was the only thing Bob Pataki was certain about his daughter. She no longer called him 'dad' unless she was mocking him, and because on some level he realized how horrible of a father he'd been, he didn't bother to correct her.
He did like to think that some of her toughness came from him. Most of the time, though, he ignored her (like when she was making snarky comments or jokes at his or Miriam's expense) or sometimes just completely forgot she was there (she could be pretty quiet).
He also knew about her crush on Arnold. He sometimes questioned why she was so fervent in her admiration of the boy (he'd overheard several of the soliloquies), but he never asked her about it. They weren't close enough. There was simply no way she'd talk to him about it, and he wasn't entirely sure he even wanted to know.
He watched as she grew older, and he felt their relationship drifting further and further away with each passing year.
He hadn't even been able to comfort her when Arnold had moved away. He'd tried. He really had. His first approach was to point out that they'd already broken up. She'd yelled at him. Desperate to fix things, all he could think to do was to offer to get her some ice cream. For some reason she'd cried harder at that. She thanked him later, but he still felt he hadn't done anything for her.
Her teenage years were when he really started trying to get his relationship back on track with her. Olga had moved back in with them, but she was gone most of the time. The Beeper Emporium had changed to the Cell Phone Empire, and he'd been able to afford enough of a sales staff that he could stay home most days. Miriam was trying her hardest to get back the years she'd lost (she admitted to him later that it was for Helga's sake more than for her own), and had started going to AA meetings.
And that meant most nights Helga and her dad were alone together. They ate dinner in silence or while blasting wrestling on the tv. He tried to talk to her, and sometimes he could swear it looked like she wanted to talk to him, to say something important. But the moments always passed them both by.
When she graduated high school, she had given him his first hug in years. "I'm moving out." She didn't tell him where she was going. She didn't say why she was leaving.
He found out later she'd moved into an apartment with her friend Phoebe.
A few more years passed. She came by to see Miriam sometimes, to support her when she was having a particularly hard time keeping herself from going back to the bottle. But the most she ever really said to Bob was a quick greeting. She'd say goodbye to both of her parents and leave just as quickly as she'd came.
Eventually, even those visits tapered off, until she'd stopped visiting all together. She would call Olga sometimes, but she'd hang up whenever Olga went to hand the phone off to Miriam or Bob.
She didn't want to be a part of their lives anymore. And for Bob's part, he really couldn't blame her.
Bob finished his story. Arnold leaned forward and clasped his hands together, carefully trying to select the right words. "I...see."
Bob laughed sarcastically. "No you don't. I've met your parents, kid. They're not as bad as Miriam and me were...Your folks left you to go off in the jungle and disappeared for a few years, and they're still better parents than I am."
Arnold decided not to point out the offensive nature of the comment.
"He's right," Neither Arnold nor Bob had noticed Miriam enter the room. She'd stayed quiet, listening to Bob tell their family history. "We're trying to make it better, we really are. But it's too late. We haven't talked to her in months, and she's stopped calling Olga, even."
"We've been pretty busy," Arnold explained, rubbing the back of his neck. He was stiff from sitting still so long. "She just hasn't had the time."
Bob snorted. "You don't have to make excuses for her. We know why she did it...we don't blame her."
Arnold shook his head. "You really don't know the whole thing. She's more understanding than you think."
"You really think she'd forgive us? Geez, Football Head, I don't even forgive myself for what I did."
Arnold tried not to roll his eyes. Thankfully, talking to Bob was a lot like talking to Helga, and he was well practiced in reasoning with her (even if it didn't always work). Instead of giving him an immediate answer, Arnold fished something out of his pocket and handed it to Bob. "This is why I came over. She asked me to bring it to you."
Bob opened the envelope and scanned the contents. "...a Wedding?" His eyebrows went up.
"Yeah. It's not for a few months, but she wanted you to have the invitation. Look, maybe you guys weren't perfect, but Helga does want to make amends with you guys. She hasn't been calling because she's busy with a new book and when she's not working on that she's working on the wedding plans."
Bob eyed him skeptically. "And this isn't you trying to trick us into coming and hoping that she won't raise a scene if it's in public?"
"Promise," Arnold held up a hand as though swearing. "She really wants you there. She just has too much pride to come ask you herself."
"Heh," Bob chuckled. "Wonder where she got that from..."
A few months later, Bob, Miriam and Olga headed into the church as a group. Bob tugged at his collar. "Geez, Miriam, how much starch did you use?" he demanded.
"Oh! Mr. Pataki!" Phoebe seized him by the arm. "Right on time...Helga wanted to see you for a bit."
"Umm...okay," the request caught him off guard, but he agreed to it. "You two go ahead and get seats. I'll be along in a few minutes, I guess." Miriam and Olga shrugged and headed for a free pew on the bride's side.
Helga had exited her dressing room already, and was marching determinedly towards Bob. Her blonde hair was half down, with the other half swept up into a bun that her veil fit over, her dress swished as she walked, a beautiful white strapless gown that hugged her form without being risky. "Pheebs, everything in place?"
"Oh, yes, best man and groom are where they should be, everything's progressing right on time. And as you can see, your father's here."
"Yeah, I see that. Go get the bride's maids ready, we're on in a few."
"Going!" Phoebe said cheerfully, slipping off to do her duties.
"She's my maid of honor," Helga explained. Bob hadn't asked, and he could have figured it out for himself, but she needed something to break the silence with.
"I...Helga..." Bob coughed. "You look good."
"Thanks," Helga twirled her bouquet around a bit. "Sorry I haven't called or been to visit. I've been..."
"Busy," Bob finished for her. "Yeah. I know how that goes. Your boyfriend...uh...fiancé...husband told us already. When he stopped by to give us the invitation."
"He told me about what you said."
"Loud mouth kid," Bob muttered. "And? You holdin' it against me?"
Helga considered. "Bob, you've done some bad things. You haven't really been there for me. But...I haven't really given you the chance to make up for it."
"So what do you want me to do?" Bob crossed his arms, "I don't really know how to make up for all I did. I'm sorry, though. Helga, I really am. It was just --"
He was caught so off guard by the word 'dad' coming sincerely from her that he immediately stopped talking. "Umm...yeah?"
"Just...shut up and walk me down the aisle."
Author's Note: I thought about doing this as a full length story, but for one I have several of those I need to finish anyways, and two, when I plotted it out a lot of the years sort of came repetitive. I liked the idea of a quick oversight, mainly focusing on Bob's relationship with Helga. Eventually, I think time with Arnold would soften her up enough that she might try to have a good relationship with her parents, though still being fully aware that a lot of the things they did weren't really things a parent should have done. (and I've already explored her trying to overcompensate for their bad parenting by trying to be a really good one). Hopefully you guys enjoyed this. I enjoyed writing it, and I liked the idea.