Love Is Like A Baseball Bat
Chapter One - Back To School Blues
He couldn't help it.
His eyes slowly drooped shut and his golden yellow hair fell onto his face.
"Excuse me, Arnold, please sit up and wipe your drool. This is important!" The echoing sound of a slamming book finally brought Arnold to open his eyes.
"Yes?" he grumbled as he rubbed his eyes.
"Focus please. I know AP Economics isn't the most exciting class, and I'm trying to make it less painful. If you want to nap, I can happily drop you out," Mr. Gregor, the seventy-five year old ex-college professor, smiled at the football headed boy.
"No, thank you, Sir. I'm sorry about falling asleep. My grandma -"
Mr. Gregor slammed his ruler on the empty desk in the front of the room. "I don't want excuses. You're not making a good first impression, Arnold. It's only the first day of school." Arnold couldn't believe it either. He felt his cheeks flush with embarrassment. The first day of junior year and he fell asleep in class? It was very unlike him.
"I know, Sir. I'm sorry." Arnold looked the man straight in the eyes and smiled. Mr. Gregor returned to the white board, turning his back on the class as he began to write words Arnold had only seen his Grandpa read in the newspaper.
Arnold tried to focus, but he could hear the ticking of the clock only a few feet behind him. It was already seventh period and he was fifteen minutes away from freedom. Arnold found himself scribbling in his notebook, simple gibberish. A squiggle there, a dot here, a circle.
The bell's loud ring seemed to bring Arnold out of his doodling zone and brought his focus onto the paper. There were a few girl's names towards the bottom of the zig zag lines.
Ruth. Lila. Cecile. Helga.
Arnold's eyes almost fell out of his head as he read the last name. Why was his childhood bully's name amid his past crushes?
Oh, he could remember the girls clearly. Ruth was a bubbly brunette and a supposedly interesting older woman. She was a sixth grader, but she ended up being nothing but a pretty face. Arnold had learned the truth on his wild fourth grade Valentine's Day.
Lila was the red headed farm girl who moved to the city in fourth grade. Arnold could remember "like like"-ing her for months, but he finally moved on. She was sweet, but once again, she was nothing but a pretty face.
And Cecile was his fourth grade pen pal from France. He went on a date with her on Valentine's Day, but she seemed so familiar. Arnold found it hard to explain, even to himself. She seemed to be like. . .
Helga, the last name on the list. That name sent chills down his spine. Although it seemed a little strange for a sixteen year old boy to still feel that way about a girl. . .but it wasn't just a girl. It was Helga Geraldine Pataki. She had constantly picked on him for years on end, calling him "football head", "geek-bait" and a dozen other things, spitting thousands of shreds of paper into his hair. She spilled glue and feathers on his butt. She never stopped picking on him and took advantage of his nice nature. She was the one thing Arnold had hated about his life.
But she had her nice moments. She found his little blue hat, the last gift from his parents, supplied money for him to build his dream float, and she was a great dancer, plus she mellowed out slightly over the years. . .
No, stop! Arnold's mind screamed. She was a bully to you.
Arnold couldn't help but shake his head. He was overcome with deja vu as he looked to the ground, almost hoping to see paper rain from his hair. But there was nothing. But she only picked on me because she loved me, his mind replied.
As shocking as it seemed, it was true. He still, seven years later, felt like she was joking.
Arnold could remember the day like it was yesterday. Arnold and his best friend, Gerald, wanted to save their neighborhood from being destroyed and turned into a mall by Future Tech Industries, Inc.
There was less than twenty minutes left to save the neighborhood from demolition, and their unknown guidance of Deep Voice turned out to be Helga. She had the confessed her reason for helping - she was in love with him. Arnold was shocked to his very core. Then, Arnold couldn't help but blush at the thought now, she kissed him. Arnold had to push her off of him, then he had to focus on the important task: saving the neighborhood.
After they stopped FTi, Arnold had asked her if she really meant it. Helga agreed that she was caught up in the moment, and their lives as bully and victim continued. But things had changed between them. To Arnold, Helga didn't seem to be as harsh as she used to be. He knew it was because she hadn't been lying and she truly loved him. Sometimes it seemed to be hard to remember her undying love for him because the bullying went on through middle school, and he knew it would happen as soon as he saw her today. He didn't see her all summer, so he figured she had something big up her sleeve. Arnold still wouldn't be home free until he made it to the Sunset Arms.
Arnold quickly exited the classroom, avoiding all of the underclassmen and fellow juniors as he made a mad dash for his locker.
Gerald, his dark skinned, suddenly-taller-than-his-hair, best friend saw the anxious look on Arnold's face. "Dude, chill. She's not anywhere near here. How you've managed to avoid her all day, I'll never know," Gerald shut his locker too.
"I know, but I have to go Gerald. Call me later?" The two did their signature handshake, knuckle-to-knuckle, thumb-to-thumb.
"Wait. Have you seen Phoebe?" Phoebe was Gerald's sweet, studious, quiet, Japanese girlfriend. They had been dating since sixth grade, after a lot of pushing from their peers. They truly loved each other, though. "I haven't seen her since second period."
Arnold shrugged, then waved as he rushed down the hallway, taking the back stairwell, and reaching the busy city streets with after school traffic. He let out a light sigh of relief, but he still kept his guard up. He always seemed to run into Helga as he turned corners.
But not today.
Arnold had made it to the boarding house without seeing Helga once. It scared him a little.
"Ah, Kimba, you've returned," Arnold's grandmother Gertie addressed him with every name but his own. She was eccentric and loved to dress up as different characters. She called him Kimba whenever she tried to swat a fly. Gertie treated it like a safari, acting as if she was hunting a lion or prey.
"Sh, quiet, my son. You'll destroy the delicate balance of hiding," she raised the fly-swatter, "and hitting!" She smacked it down on the fly, but it flew away.
Arnold rolled his eyes and walked into the kitchen. "Hey, Short Man! How was your first day of school?" Arnold's grandpa,"Steely" Phil, asked as he opened the fridge.
"It was fine. I fell asleep in my last class though," Arnold rested his head on the kitchen table.
"Aw, well at least it wasn't your first!" Grandpa laughed.
"Yeah, but it was strange, too."
"How so?" Grandpa continued to raid the fridge, muttering things to himself about the food.
"I didn't see Helga at all today."
"You mean your mean little girlfriend with the one eyebrow?"
Arnold thought to himself, I'm pretty sure she lost the unibrow. "She's not my girlfriend, Grandpa."
"Not yet, Short Man! Do you not remember the story I told you about my girl bully?"
"Of course I do, Grandpa." Back in fourth grade, Arnold had asked Phil for advice about his girl trouble. Phil told him about his bully, who turned out to be Gertie. Only Arnold, dense as he was, still didn't know.
"Well, good. Remember that and think things over in that little mind of yours. It'll all make sense."
"Whatever you say, Grandpa," Arnold replied as he headed to his room. Arnold didn't give the old story another thought.
His room hadn't changed much since fourth grade, besides a new comforter, a small TV and a new computer. Arnold glanced at the school photos hanging on his wall as he turned on the radio to MJAZZ, his favorite station.
As the sweet jazz melodies echoed on the walls, Arnold realized he had changed a lot since fourth grade, physically and mentally. He grew to just barely reaching six feet at five foot ten, but he still hadn't outgrown his Grandpa's nickname.
Now that Arnold was in high school, he didn't see all of the students from his elementary days. Harold, the overweight bully, along with Stinky, the tall, skinny country bumpkin, and Sid, the string haired, green hat wearing misbehaver, all went to Franklin High. From what Arnold could remember from George Washington High's college orientation, he saw many of his old classmates that had disappeared for middle school. Rhonda, Nadine, Eugene, Curly (going by Thaddeus now), Lila, Sheena, Lorenzo, Iggy, Brainy, and a few other assorted students all attended GW with Arnold, Gerald, Phoebe and Helga.
Arnold couldn't shake the feeling that something was wrong. He should've seen her. He tried to think. . . Could he have seen her today? He pictured the flashing of faces - all upper and lower-classmen. No one he recognized. And he would know that girl's scowl anywhere.
Don't do it, his mind screamed as his hand reached for his bedside telephone. He was surprised that he knew Hegla's cell phone number by heart, but Arnold figured that after so many years of calling to apologize for something or trying to get homework help, he must've remembered it.
Ring. . . ring. . . ring. . . "Hello?" a tired voice asked.
"Hi, this is Arnold, I was wondering if Helga was there?"
"Oh, yeah, great, okay, hold on," the woman spoke in a soft, tired tone. Arnold suddenly recalled that Hegla called her mother Miram.
Arnold waited, until he heard a scream, a few curses, then he heard Helga pick up the cell phone. "What?" she asked, anger in her voice.
"Hey, Helga, it's Arnold."
"Arnold? What do you want?"
"I was just wondering if you were okay? I didn't see you at school today," he twirled the phone's cord around his finger as he listened to Helga pause momentarily.
"Yeah, Football Head, I'm fine." Her voice sounded soft and gentle, until she snapped, "Why do you care?"
"I was just worried something had happened. Gerald hadn't seen Phoebe either, so I wondered if something -"
"If you must know, Arnoldo, I had to go to the hospital last night."
"Oh, my God! Are you okay?" Arnold urgently jumped from his bed.
"Yeah, yeah, yeah, I'm fine. Relax, Mother Teresa. Big Bob gave me strawberries then rushed me to the hospital when my throat closed up. They won't release me until tonight. It's nothing."
"Are you sure? I could come down and bring you something if you need it."
"No, Football Head. I told you I'm fine. Phoebe already brought me my school work."
Helga released a frustrated sigh, "Yes, Arnold. I'm fine. Goodbye."
Click and she was gone.
Arnold hung up the phone then collapsed back into bed. He stared up at the Hillwood City sky. Beautifully crisp blues complimented with fluffily white clouds. He loved his ceiling, the giant, open sunroof always helped him feel more connected to the sky.
He sighed and rolled over to his side. He stared at his small blue baseball cap that hung on a small hook on his bookshelf. He stopped wearing the cap when he reached high school. He then brought his eyes to the light pink silk ribbon.
It had been Helga's bow for as long as he could remember. One day in middle school she had been running and it fell off. Arnold wasn't even sure she noticed. He picked it up, but could never find the courage to give it back to her. He was sure she felt incomplete, just like he had when he lost his hat. But Helga scared him.
Arnold cautiously took it out of the alcove and held it close to his chest. The silk seemed to melt onto his skin. Helga G. Pataki. . . what the heck did you do to me?
A quiet voice in the back of his mind responded, She loved you.
Helga felt a happy sigh escape her lips as she dropped her head against the hospital pillow. He missed me!
Phoebe returned to the room, smiling brightly at Helga's smile. "I take it the phone call went well? Who was it?"
Helga simply continued to smile at her friend.
"Oh, my gosh! He called you?" Phoebe knew about Helga's obsession with Arnold. She found it to be a little intense at times, but Helga was taming it. Phoebe had actually become rather close with Arnold this summer because she hung out with Gerald often, since Helga was gone.
"Yeah. He said he was worried that he didn't see me today. Probably just because there was no one to pick on him," she laughed.
"You could try being nice," Phoebe offered helpfully.
"I probably should, you know since it's been like forever. But that's just not me. They don't call me Helga G. Pataki for nothing," she laughed.
Helga couldn't believe it. She was late for her first day school, even though it was everyone's second. Miram had simply handed her two dollars as she walked out the door. Big Bob was too busy going to work to drive Helga, or give her the car, so she had to walk.
As she walked past a fenced in lot, she felt her new white shirt catch on a link. She tried to unhook it, but it wouldn't budge. So she pulled. And it ripped off the bottom, exposing her midriff. Great, she thought as she continued walking. Her anger was bottling up.
When she finally reached the school, she was ready to let it all go until. . .
"Oh, shit, I'm los-umph!" Helga fell into someone. She felt her hip and elbow dig into his stomach and now she was laying on top of him. She kept her eyes shut for fear of seeing him. She knew who it was too - a familiar mix of shampoo and sudden tangy whiff of AXE invaded her nostrils.
"Sorry," a familiar voice said.
She skipped saying his name and went straight to her typical angry response. "Watch where you're going!" she barked.
"I said I was sorry!" the voice replied again. She finally opened her eyes. "Helga?"
"Arnold?" Helga tried to slow her racing heart down, but it wouldn't stop. She hoped that Arnold couldn't feel it.
Arnold stared at her, confused and unbelieving. She looked so different than the last time he saw her. No one had seen Helga at school yet. She had been off in Alaska to visit her sister, forced against her will, for three months.
Her hair was the same sunshine blond, but instead of keeping it pulled back, it fell down to her shoulders, curling at the ends. It framed her face, and brought onlookers attention to her blue eyes. Those big sapphire blue eyes, so light and deep that Arnold found it hard to look at them. If I stare at them any longer, I'll drown in them, he thought.
And those three months in Alaska were good to her. She looked - did he dare think it? - beautiful. Arnold was right about losing her unibrow, but he never would've predicted this. His cheeks flushed as he looked at her.
Helga had grown a few more inches and he could feel her newly developed hip bones poking out of her ripped jeans and into his side. Her skin was tanned and very soft at the touch. Along with hips, Arnold knew she developed a chest. He didn't dare look, though, for Helga would smack him across the face. He smirked as he noticed her pink short-sleeved hoodie covering her ripped white tank top. Her well defined abs, developed from playing baseball, were exposed and pressed against Arnold. More heat rushed to his cheeks.
Helga couldn't help but stare at Arnold. He had grown up this summer. Taller, tanner, more fit than before. She figured it was true what they say, that the summer before junior year everyone completely changes. She knew she had. Helga kept her eyes glued to his. They eyes were still the same, those beautiful emerald pools she could get lost in. . .
"Could you please get off me?" Arnold asked politely. "Your elbows are killing me."
Helga didn't say anything, she simply stood up, but in the process she dug her elbow into his side again. Arnold knew he should've seen it coming. He jumped to his feet and began gathering her spilled books. Arnold's eyes focused on the little pink journal that had fallen across the hallway.
Arnold walked over and picked it up, but Helga ran after him. She couldn't believe it fell out of her bag. And she still couldn't believe how tall Arnold had gotten. "Give it, Arnoldo!" She reached for it, but couldn't grab it. Arnold held it above his head.
"Still writing poetry, I see."
"What? I don't write poetry."
"Oh, please, Helga. That may have worked in fourth grade. But I know you wrote all those poems about me in a little pink book like this one."
Helga brought her eyes to the floor, embarrassed. "How did you know? I ripped out the page with my name on it," she whispered.
Arnold didn't want to say it. Helga knew what he meant. FTi passed through the air.
"Here," Arnold handed her the book.
"Oh, thanks," she replied, sarcasm. She started to walk away, and she rammed into Arnold's shoulder so hard, he spun around to watch her walk away. What's come over me? Arnold shook his head and picked up his backpack. It's Helga. Helga G. Pataki.
Helga felt his eyes glued to her back. She felt them piercing and heating her skin.
The homeroom bell rang and students flooded the hallway. She was just a blonde in a crowd of dozens, now.
"Dude, who was that?" Gerald had seen the incident, but not the girl's face.
Gerald's eyes tripled in size. "Helga Pataki?"
Arnold could only nod.
"Hi, Miss Pataki and welcome to junior year," Mrs. Merriweather smiled as Helga entered her classroom. Helga let out a sigh of relief as she realized it was English class.
Helga simply nodded and found herself collapsing in the desk against the back wall. She recognized a few students from elementary, but the rest looked unfamiliar.
"Okay, class. It's Journal Writing Time!" Mrs. Merriweather smiled, only to reveal bright red lipstick on her teeth. Everyone groaned. It was a little crazy, Helga had to admit. These students were sixteen, seventeen years old. Who wanted to write in a journal? "You have fifteen minutes. Don't forget, I want to collect your journals at the end." She returned to her seat and began scribbling across her notebook and twirling a piece of her jet black hair.
Helga let out a deep breath and pulled out her composition notebook. Journal, she thought as her shaking hand dated the page, help me bare my soul and never tell anyone.
Helga's hands, Ol' Betsy and the Five Avengers, had a mind of their own when she wrote. They went faster than her mind, constantly spewing poetry and deep emotions that she wish she could forget. Of course, she still cared about Arnold. She couldn't help it. He was like her drug, but she had learned to tame down her emotions. She wasn't as insane as she used to be. No more shrines or steak outs in his home. It was just the poetry, now.
She let out a second deep breath and glanced at the clock. Only a minute had passed and everyone else seemed enamored with their own writings.
This morning was no surprise. My parents were still themselves, Mrs. Drunk and Mr. Abrasive. But he changed this summer. Oh, my love is no longer a child. And I had a chance to show him that I had changed too, but instead what do I do? I yell at him like I always have.
I could see the way he looked at me. He didn't believe it was actually me. He looked scared. Am I really that repelling still, after all this time? After all of the times I had helped him? Or maybe he had forgotten about me. Out of sight, out of mind. I was gone for three months.
But that couldn't be true! He called me last night. . .
Oh, what's the point in trying to fuel my foolish fantasies? He doesn't care about me. We're just friends, if I could call him that. Acquaintances.
And that's all we'll ever be.
Helga found herself craving her days when passion was all she could bare. Back in fourth grade before the FTi Incident. Before she confessed her undying love for him.
"Okay, class, time is up. Now hand in your journals and we can start class." Helga couldn't focus after that. She did what she always did: day dreamed about Arnold.
The bell brought her out of her state of imagination, and she quickly gathered her books and fled the classroom.
She couldn't help but notice Arnold entering the class after her. I wonder what he'll write about? she thought as Phoebe joined her for their walk to health class.