A/N: The songs mentioned in this chapter that weren't created in the Hey Arnold! universe are "Where Were You?" by Every Avenue, copyright under Fearless Records. The other is "Little Wonders" by Rob Thomas, found on the soundtrack for the Walt Disney Animation Studio picture Meet the Robinsons.


Love is Like A Baseball Bat

Chapter Twenty-Four: Graduation & Goodbyes


Helga hadn't seen much of Arnold since his release from physical therapy one week ago. He was feeling much better, moving easier and jogging, and finally catching up on last minute work before AP Exams began. He was finally sleeping through the entire night, terror free.

It had been hard to leave him alone at night. She may have been scared, but she wanted to help. But Arnold, Miles and Stella all advised to stay away for at least two weeks.

The two hour movement sessions every day definitely helped Arnold regain control of his normal motions, taking deep breaths, bending forwards and backwards, even raising his arms too high above his head. His scar was healing exceptionally well and his muscles were slowly rebuilding. He still had a slight hunch in his walk, trying to apply pressure to the scarred muscles, but it was fading with every day.

The couple would cross paths in the hallways at school, and talk during Statistics, but Helga got roped into helping Miram at Pataki Electronics after school until 9. Arnold would still be at baseball until 10, or even later, still taking it slow and getting back into the swing of things. He'd jog five laps while everyone else ran 15. Every day he was building up speed, taking on more laps. Pretty soon he'd be back to his old workout, but he didn't expect that to happen until the middle of the summer.

All of his downtime in between doctor's visits and skipping the cool down laps at baseball practice had finally given him the kick to get over second semester senioritis and work.

Helga really had to buckle down too. She had no idea what was happening in AP Statistics, let alone AP English Lit. What book were they even reading?

Macbeth, apparently.

Helga groaned and pushed the Shakespeare play aside. She had read the first three acts before losing interest. She had called Arnold twice in the past hour, but he still hadn't called her back. What if something was wrong?

Calm down, ol' girl. It's almost 9 at night. I doubt anything's wron-

Her phone vibrated. "Hello?"

"Guess who's outside?"

Helga ran to her window, "Well I hope it's not that creepy guy in that old Packard. He's been hanging around the neighborhood too often." She laughed, "I think I have a stalker."

"Just come answer the door. I have a surprise for you."

Helga clicked her phone off and braced herself. Arnold was hard to figure out when it came to surprises, and yet so predictable in every other situation.

Miram opened the door before Helga could get to it. "Hello, Arnold. How are you feeling?"

"I've never been better, actually. Pretty soon it'll be like it never happened." Arnold's smile brightened at the sight of Helga at the top of the stairs.

"Well I know you didn't come over to play catch up with me, so I'll see you later," Miriam shut the front door and headed into her office, Olga's old trophy room. Helga stopped halfway down the stairs, just smiling down at her love.

Arnold ran up the stairs in a fast jog, greeting Helga with a kiss. "Come on," he winked and pulled her into her bedroom. Helga laughed, "Arnold, Miriam is right-"

His shirt was off before Helga could finish. She stopped.

Helga's hand reached out, tracing the words curling along the edge of his scar. Arnold shivered, he was sensitive and ticklish around his scar. "It was terrifying and beautiful all at the same time."

Her eyes went upwards to meet his, but stopped at the other tattoo. It was in smaller print, right above his heart.

"I've always sworn it,
I've always loved you,
My darling, my darling."

She recognized the small handwriting from her little pink book. From fourth grade. "Arnold, you idiot."

He smiled, "Hey, you still remember your poem!"

"I can't believe you got this tattooed on your body!"

"Why?"

Helga shook her head instead of answering. There was no way she could express her doubts. He was going to college far, far away from here. Going to meet exciting new people and experience things he never could in Hillwood. Everything was going to work out perfectly for him. Scholarship, baseball team, good grades. And he'd probably find someone else to date.

Isn't that was always happened in college relationships? One goes off, the other stays behind. One of them cracks to peer pressure or is just so sad that they fall prey to cheating.

And then he'd be stuck of a tattoo of his ex-girlfriend's love poem.

"I just-you. . ." She sighed. "What about the other one? I don't know what's beautiful about being stabbed, but whatever floats your boat, Football Head."

Arnold laughed, "It's a quote from my dad's old journal on the day of my birth. Originally it was about the volcanic eruption. I had him rewrite it out so they could match his handwriting." He shrugged, "I don't know, this line always stuck with me. Seemed appropriate in this situation. If I'm gonna be stuck with this scar forever, might as well make it beautiful."

Helga's eyes were still glued to his pectoral. He narrowed his eyes, trying to read her expression, "What's wrong?"

No. She wasn't going to say it. She was always the one to doubt the strength of their relationship. That wasn't very fair to her or Arnold.

"I'm scared, Helga."

She finally looked him in the eyes. "Of leaving this city. My home. You. I get so afraid of not being able to walk a few blocks to see you, of leaving my parents and my friends and the boarding house, that it makes me not want to go."

"Oh, Arnold." Helga pulled him in for a hug. "It's okay to be scared. You always try so hard to be brave, but. . .college is a scary place. But I promise you that you'll enjoy it. You'll be so busy taking in everything new that you'll forget to be homesick until it's time for Winter Break." She placed his hand over her heart. "Everyone's scared to go to college. It's like admitting you're an adult and ready to take on the next step. But you, my love, are worrying for nothing. The boarding house, your parents, Gerald and I will still be here when you get back."

Helga sat down on the bed, pulling Arnold down with her. "You have nothing to be afraid of." She poked his tattoo of her poem, smiling, "I'll be with you."

H-A!-H-A!

She found her body naturally bending and twisting as she brought her leg up, arm back, and threw the ball. She was pleased with herself as the ball flew right over the plate.

Helga juggled the next ball in her hand.

She hadn't actually pitched by herself in such a long time. But she needed to think. Tomorrow was May 1 - National College Decision Day. She'd have to email the colleges who accepted her, telling her which one she's going to.

Hillwood University. Florida State. Tulane. She'd even applied to some school in Alaska to make Olga happy.

"I don't know what I want to do," she said to herself. Was college even the right choice for her?

Helga screamed and threw the ball as fast as she could.

"Oh, Helga's Hell. Haven't seen that in a while."

She jumped, turning around in surprise, to see Alex standing a few feet infield. He was wearing a Boston Red Sox t-shirt and a very knowing smirk.

"What do you want?" she replied angrily, throwing the next one as a curve ball.

"To talk to you. I know you had your heart set on Boston-"

Helga cringed at the mention of the city. "Yeah, well, that's not happening."

Helga continued to pitch the balls as fast as she could, hoping Alex would get the hint and walk away. As soon as the bucket was empty, Helga kicked it towards home plate. She fell to her knees on the clay mound, tears welling in her eyes.

Alex sat down beside her. "I got rejected from every college I applied to. All 15 of them."

Helga couldn't help it. She laughed.

"I know. It really sucked. I felt like absolute shit. So I packed up my car and drove. I drove so far and so fast I knew no one would even bother looking for me. I ended up here because of a newspaper ad I found in Jeffersonville. 'WANTED: Assistant baseball coach to help whip Hillwood Jays into shape.' I figured, what the hell? I actually like baseball in high school and always thought coaches were good people. Plus I needed the money." He smiled, "And my first assignment was to find a pitcher."

Helga nodded, "And you found me."

"You're strong, Pataki. And smart. Just because you didn't stay on this baseball team for your senior year doesn't mean you should stop playing."

"Yeah, yeah."

"Helga, you were the worst misbehaver on this team. You directly disobeyed orders and tried to keep secrets and act like nothing was going on. You were willing to do whatever it took to play the game, even if you got injured or angry. You wanted to play. You were even willing to teach children just so you could pitch a ball." Helga chuckled. "What happened to her?"

Helga kicked some of the clay free and watched it form to dust in the air. "I. . .I don't know. She grew up? Started listening to authority figures? Got attacked by jellyfish?"

"Why don't you tell me when you know the answer." He sighed and and his fingers through his hair, "I'm quitting after you guys graduate. Diedrek, of all people, convinced me to actually go to college. He'd been bothering me since Thanksgiving. He said he knew I wasn't happy here...I guess I really wasn't. Running away didn't help me figure anything out."

Helga was watching Alex as he spoke. He was serious, but still had a hint of a smile on his mouth. He was just as confused and scared of the future as she was.

"You have time to figure things out, Helga. You can go to a college during the spring, or take online classes, or just take a gap year and work. You can do whatever you want. Be like Baseball Player Helga. Don't let anyone tell you what to do."

And with that, (Ex) Assistant Coach Alex was gone.

Helga pulled her knees into her chest and closed her eyes. She had a lot to think about.

"Oh my gosh, Helga, are you okay?"

Helga opened her eyes, surprised to find herself under the worried eyes of Phoebe. Her back was on the mound, body splayed out like she was making a clay angel. She must've dozed off.

Helga stood up and dusted herself off, "I'm fine, why?"

"No one had heard from you since school let out. Your mom wanted you at the store and Arnold was worried and I need help with my graduation speech."

Helga smirked, "All right, Phoebe. Let's go back to your house and you can practice your speech on me."

H-A!-H-A!

Arnold was woken up by a pile-driver from his girlfriend.

When he finally stopped screaming and unfurled his body from the fetal position, he started laughing. Who else but Helga G. Pataki would wake him up like that? "To what do I owe this great pleasure, Miss Pataki?"

"It's Senior Skip Day! Why are you sleeping in? Everyone's already at the beach!"

It was only 10 a.m. But apparently that was wasting too much sunlight. "Okay, okay, let me get dressed."

Senior Skip Day was the Monday before Graduation, which was happening on Saturday. The students were in the home stretch now, preparing to say goodbye. Skip Day usually brought the teens together in one last hurrah before AP Exams began. During the week students had tests during the morning or afternoon, and were required to head back to school after the test. Some kids had two in a day and couldn't make it back to school. Everyone would be in and out all day with little time to hang out.

Helga reclined in Arnold's bed and put her hands behind her head. She really loved this view. This room. And the boy who lived in it.

Arnold reappeared from his closet, bathing suit and t-shirt replacing his pajamas. He tossed a towel over his shoulder and leaned against his doorframe. "You ready?"

Helga nodded, grinning as she climbed the steps leading to the roof, "Race you!"

They took off towards the street. Helga was a professional roof/fire escape climber. She could get up and get down incredibly fast.

She leaned against the Packard's drivers side and waited for her boyfriend to show up. Arnold stepped out the front door seconds later. "I would've won if I didn't have to stop and get the keys."

"Whatever you say, Arnold."

Helga found herself singing to Dino Spumoni love songs on the radio. She wanted to run around in the sun and throw water at the girls too chicken to get into the cold ocean. She wanted to play beach football and lay in the sand. She wanted to make the most of this day because she knew the joy she was feeling would fade.

Phoebe was heading off to MIT early for summer classes and Arnold had baseball practice with the South Carolina Gamecocks. They were leaving in June, along with Lorenzo, Iggy, who had finalized their Europe Travel plans. The Franklin High kids: Sid, Stinky, Harold, would be in school for two more weeks before graduation.

And most kids who were sticking around were getting jobs. Harold still worked at Green Meats, while Nadine worked with Mrs. Vitello at the flower shop. Thad worked for his parents. Helga could work for her mother, but she wouldn't really be paid. And Brainy was being shipped off to train with the National Guard for eleven weeks, while Sheena was off to D.C. to train for the Peace Corps.

Helga still had decisions to make. She had decided to go to Hillwood University. She'd received in-state tuition and Gift Aid, which would cover the cost of dorm and meals. The local campus was about a forty-five minute drive from the neighborhood, but Helga couldn't decide if she wanted to be a commuter student or not.

She was really lazy and dreading the idea of moving into a small dorm with another girl. But if she was a commuter, how would she make friends? With a roommate, she was guaranteed to know one person on campus. But she could also end up hating her roommate. . .

No, that was too much worrying for now. She had two and a half months to worry about it. She wanted to enjoy today without worries. So she'd always look back on high school and remember it was great.

Arnold had noticed Helga grow quiet. He knew what she was thinking.

But as soon as Arnold parked at the beach, Helga leaned out the window and cheered. "Let's party!"

H-A!-H-A!

"It is with great pleasure to congratulate your high school graduates, the Hillwood High Class of 2011!"

It was surreal. It didn't seemed like it happened.

But it did.

Helga held her diploma in her hands, grinning as she walked down the steps outside the gym. Everyone had tossed their hats into the air and scrambling to pick one up again. Helga didn't care so much whose hat she had, she never planned on wearing it again.

The senior class was one of the smaller ones at Hillwood High. Only 100-something students, and the ceremony only took two and a half hours. Speeches were kept short from the Principal, valedictorian and salutatorian, the two students with the highest and second highest cumulative GPA from their four years in high school. Phoebe was obviously valedictorian, and delivered her speech just minutes after receiving her diploma.

Miriam stood a few feet away, like most other parents, with tears in her eyes and her arms wide open. "Congratulations!" Helga hugged her mother tightly, pulling back when someone tapped her shoulder.

"Baby Sister!" Olga cried, leaning forwards and wrapping Helga into a hug. Helga tensed, but finally returned the gesture.

"Wow, Olga, I can't believe you made it."

Olga tenderly pushed Helga's hair back behind her ear, "I wouldn't have missed this, Helga!"

A professional photographer waved Helga to stand close to Olga. Helga pulled Miram and Olga onto either side of her, smiling brightly as her navy blue cap and gown got squished between her family. The photographer captured a few quick shots before turning to the next family.

"Helga!" Miles pushed through the crowds of students and family, hugging and crying and congratulating, before making it close to the Pataki girls. "Come on, we want a group shot."

Helga tossed her cap and diploma to her mother before promising she'd be back soon.

Phoebe and Helga were smushed between her boyfriends, trying hard not to laugh as Stella struggled to work the camera. Miles finally took it from her and snapped the shots quickly. The girls were then pulled into hugs by the boys, only pulling back to hug each other. "Your speech was amazing," Helga whispered.

"Thank you. And congratulations."

The afternoon continued with more and more pictures and hugs and congratulations. Helga's jaw hurt from smiling so much.

Miram and Olga drove her home, discussing summer plans. "I would love it so very much, Helga, if you came to visit me."

Helga shrugged, "It's my last summer home, Olga. You understand that, right? I visited you two summers ago for the entire time. And you recently came back for Thanksgiving."

She sighed. "You're right. Maybe I'll just stay here, spend some time with you."

Helga wanted to smack her head into the window. She loved Olga, even more now that she stopped trying to be Little Miss Perfect when it came to Miram and Helga.

Olga missed Big Bob and stayed in contact with him. Helga always acted uninterested when he came up in conversation. Miriam was slowly adjusting to the idea of speaking to him again. She was hesitant, especially because of his most recent visit back home was still burning in the back of her mind. She felt horrible after that, and knew Helga did too.

"Don't you have a job or a boyfriend or something?"

"I'm a teacher, Helga. I have summer break just like everyone else."

Shit. She really didn't need this on top of everything else. "But Mom has the electronics store."

Olga's smile brightened, "Even more reason to stay here."

Helga finally pushed her forehead into the window, closing her eyes. Miriam cleared her throat once the car was in park outside the house. Helga sighed and got out, finally shrugging out of her gown. She was too busy picking up her wristlet to notice that Miram and Olga were standing beside another car.

"Surprise!"

Helga stood in front of her mother's car, blinking. The car in front of her was beautiful. A shinning red 2011 Lexus IS four door sedan.

Olga handed Helga a pair of keys before clapping excitedly. "Daddy works at a car dealership now. He got a free car for selling a lot in the past year. So, after I mentioned how you desperately needed a ride to and from college. . ." Olga's voice trailed off, her voice still squeaking with joy.

Of course, he's always got to be selling something. Helga's fist clenched around the key ring.

Accepting this car was like letting Big Bob buy her approval. Bob didn't want love. He wanted a good reputation. And Helga did not want to give him that. And yet. . .

Fuck you, Olga.

Miriam watched Helga's expression change from passive to angry. Her eyebrows were drawn together as she directed her glare at the ground.

Olga's face fell. "Why aren't you excited?"

Helga forced a tight-lipped smile, "Just surprised is all."

"Why don't you go take it for a drive?" Miram eyes flicked from the front door to the car, making Helga realize that she wouldn't get any privacy to scream or cry in the house with Olga around.

Helga hadn't driven a car in a long time. She was a little nervous. She hadn't actually been behind the wheel since she turned sixteen and got her license. Other than a quick trip to the store, she never drove anywhere.

She slowly pulled the door back, surprised to realize she didn't even need to click the unlock button. Once she got inside the tan leather seat, she pressed down on the break and pushed the start button.

The GPS Screen lit up with a map of the streets. Helga was pretty good at directions so she figured this would hardly get used. She clicked a few buttons to turn on the radio. Habit forced her to MJAZZ. "You Better Not Touch My Gal" by none other than Dino Spumoni was playing. Helga rolled her shoulders back and adjusted the seat before putting the car in drive.

The speed limit in the neighborhood was anywhere between 25 and 40, depending on whether or not children and cops were around. Helga pressed her foot on the gas and drove off.

The stop sign at the end of the next block gave her a chance to change radio stations. She switched it to the alternative/rock station. She vaguely recalled the song, at least the instrumentals sounded familiar. It wasn't until she passed by a block of kids having a water balloon fight did she remember. This song was in a Nerf Gun commercial.

"All I want to know is
where were you when I needed you most?
Why did you leave me alone?
We gave up before we gave it a change,
but I don't understand."

Helga listened to the song, tapping her fingers against the steering wheel, as she drove past her old high school. "And that was Every Avenue's 'Where Were You?'" Helga groaned and flipped the radio off. She hated announcers and commercials.

She continued driving on, not really sure of her destination anymore.

But at least she could talk to herself.

"Fucking Bob, who the hell does he think he is, giving me a car?" She shook her head and started laughing. "Of course Olga talked to him. Olga convinced him. There's no way Bob would've done this out of the goodness of his cholesterol clogged heart. If I take this car and use it, it will just continue Olga to beg Bob to. . .I don't know, buy me things. "

Helga groaned and smacked the edge of the wheel angrily.

"And if I take it, doesn't that make me look like I'm ready to forgive him? Because I'm not. I don't want anything to do with him. And every time I got in the car I'd be reminded of him."

She hated to do this, but she had to go interrupt Arnold's limited quality time with the boarders. He'd know what to do.

Arnold almost dropped his glass at the sound of a loud horn honking outside. The old boarders all rushed to the living room window. Ernie was the first to speak, "Now that is a hot ride."

Arnold opened the front door and watched Helga get out and slam the car door. The end of her dress got caught in the door. "Damn it!" she screamed. Helga opened the door again, pulling her dress out. She angrily crossed the street, feet stepping hard on the tar road.

"What's wrong?"

Helga threw her hands in the direction of the shiny new vehicle, "This fucking car!"

"It's beautiful-"

"It's from Bob."

"-in a horrible way," Arnold finished with a half-smile.

"I know you have the family over and it's a big deal and everything but I just. . .I needed to talk to someone who wasn't Olga or Miriam. Phoebe would've psychoanalyzed me and I am not ready to listen to that and have to deal with Olga staying for the entire summer and I. . ." Helga's words were stringing together she was talking so fast.

Arnold pulled his arm around her shoulder and kissed the top of her head. "I can't tell you what to do."

"I was afraid you'd say that."

"Either way you're making an impression on your dad. By taking it you accept his gift and most likely his attempt at something. But if you reject it and tell him to take it back, you could ruin your chance of ever speaking to him again."

Helga dug her head into Arnold's shoulder. This gift was the last thing she needed right now. College, Olga, and her future had been more than enough to deal with. She couldn't even bare to start thinking about goodbyes, but she knew they were coming. And now this.

"I think you should go talk to your mom. She knows how Bob works better than I do." Helga kissed him goodbye and returned home.

Miriam was waiting on the doorstep, cell phone pressed against her ear. "I don't know if she wants to keep it. . . .She drove off to think about it. . . .I don't know."

Helga could tell from the look on her mother's face that it was Bob. Helga locked the car and motioned for the phone. "Yes?"

"Do you like the car?"

"It's nice, I guess."

"Will you be keeping it? Because I do not need it." Helga could picture him sitting in a leather chair, arms crossed over his as he spoke into a Bluetooth headset. She imagined him sitting in front of the tv, eating take out.

"I. . ." she shook her head, "I will out of necessity for college travels. Not out of want. Believe me, this is the last thing I wanted from you, Bob." She hung up the phone and walked upstairs.

She had to get ready for Rhonda's graduation party.

H-A!-H-A!

It was the alcohol. Helga was definitely blaming her tears on the alcohol.

The old gang had gathered at Rhonda's mansion for another "circle talk". Except there wasn't much talking, mostly alcohol consumption occupied the graduates. Around midnight other graduates showed up and it turned into a regular party.

Harold and Helga had been destroying everyone at beer pong, but when she was challenged to drink against him, she put on her stone face and asked for a shot. So she was six Tequila shots, and at least fourteen cups of beer, deep, when her eyes started to water.

"Is the burn too much for you, Hel-guh?" Harold slurred as he tossed back another shot. He gagged as he swallowed, the burn actually hurting him a lot more. He knew there was no way he could do another shot, and he knew Helga wouldn't either.

Drunk or not, Helga could sense weakness in her opponent.

"Give me dos," she joked, flashing a peace sign at Sid and Stinky. They poured her shots and stepped back, afraid she'd projectile vomit.

Helga was super drunk. Probably the most drunk she'd ever been in her life. Usually she was a better pacer, doing, at most, four shots throughout the night. She'd chase them with cheap beers, but tried hard not to go overboard.

Harold had a low tolerance. Always had. But he made the mistake of thinking Helga did too.

Helga finished her shots as quick as she could, face curling in disgust as she swallowed the second. 8 to 6 and Helga was declared Drinking Champion. Helga smacked the table and cheered.

That was a mistake. Standing up so fast gave her an intense head rush, followed by another wave of dizziness.

"Helga, you don't look good."

Helga splayed her hands out, shouting, "Everyone stop s-sspinning!" She shivered, suddenly feeling very cold. Had it always been that cold in the room?

Two hands pulled her arms down and guided her towards the nearest bathroom. Along the way, whoever it was - Helga couldn't see with all her curly hair in her eyes - grabbed a tray of water bottles. Her savior pushed her to the tile floor of the restroom, opening the toilet and standing behind her.

"I don't have to puke."

"Oh, you're going to!"

Helga pushed her hair out of her eyes, blinking as she looked at Gerald standing behind her. "You are not dying of alcohol poisoning. Don't think I won't shove my finger down your throat. Puke or I get physical."

Helga shut her eyes, having half a mind to push her hair a little back before forcing a gag. She dry heaved for a moment before she emptied her stomach.

Four times.

Gerald had his hand pressed against her back, holding her hair out of the way of vomit. After being stuck with Arnold for a majority of high school parties, Gerald no longer minded puke. It was gross, sure, but he could handle taking care of someone. He'd seen and helped Arnold do it a million times.

After her fifth dry heave, Helga was sure her stomach had been cleaned out. Gerald sat her with her back against the wall and handed her a water bottle. "You will not rise from that spot until you drink two."

Being stern with drunks usually made them listen. Gerald had learned to act tough and give glares in order to get people to listen. Girls were easier to deal with that way.

He leaned against the sink, arms crossed over his chest. Helga took long sips from the water bottle. "Why-why would you do this?"

"Because Arnold would kill me for letting you drink so much."

"Like I need his permission!"

"He put me in charge of you. He worries about you."

Helga took another long swig, "Why? I can take care of myself."

Gerald gave her a pointed look. "He chose to miss this party so he could see the old boarders and asked me to watch out for you. Leaving you alone at this party would've meant you'd either be so drunk you'd hurt yourself, or someone else would hurt you. You could've gotten in a fight, or attacked, or tripped down the stairs."

"I'm not that bad."

"Not usually. But. . ." Gerald shook his head. "Phoebe and Arnold both care about you a lot. And they know you're at risk for. . ." He bit his tongue. "Alcohol dependence."

"Is that fancy talk for alcoholism?"

"There's a difference. Your mother was lucky."

"She was verbally abused by my father." Helga laughed bitterly. "So was I."

"He's gone now. You and your mom are doing amazingly well. You graduated high school, got into college, and your mom is running one of the most successful electronic stores in this city."

Helga rolled her eyes, "You spend too much time with Football Head."

"I'm glad I do 'cause now I know how you operate."

"Ew." Helga giggled and finished off her water bottle. Gerald handed her the second one immediately.

"You don't have to act so tough, Pataki. You just told me your dad hurt you. And yet you remain unmoved."

Helga looked away from Gerald, focusing on the toilet beside her. "I'm tired of being sad about what an asshole he is. Okay? I'm sick of reliving the fights we had at night before I fall asleep. I'm tired of thinking I'll end up like him."

And that's when she teared up. She wiped away the few fallen ones with the back of her wrist.

Gerald slowly sat down beside her. "You're nothing like him."

Helga laughed again and began counting on her fingers,. "Violent, verbally abusive, abrasive, stubborn, unapologetic, and just down right mean."

"You're not any of those things."

"Are you fucking kidding me, Gerald? You said so yourself how awful I was to you!"

"Before. Back in fourth grade. Before you grew up and realized what a jerk you were. Before you apologized to me on my stoop."

"Yeah, and how much did things change? Hardly. I'm just here waiting for the day you and Phoebe and Arnold and everyone I know gets sick of me. Just finally decides that I am horrible and stops talking to me."

"That would never happen, Helga. Do you even know how important you are to us?"

Helga snorted. "Us?"

"All of us. Your mother, your sister, Phoebe, me, the old gang. We all grew up together and have still remained close. And don't even get me started on Arnold." Helga rolled her eyes again. "The boy got a tattoo of your poem on his heart! That's practically a wedding ring! Although more permanent, it's just as painful."

She remained silent.

"He's loved you since day one. He may be dense as hell, but I know he has. You guys are meant to be together and stay together, no matter how hard you push him away."

"But-"

"There's no buts in this, Helga. Seriously, sometimes Arnold just won't shut up about you. It drives me crazy."

"Really?"

"I hate him when he goes on these tangents. He used to stare off into space but now he just blabs about you. Your writing, your hair, your eyes-" Gerald shuddered. "I still cringe half the time. . . .Oh, God, I'm having flashbacks."

"Oh, man up. Phoebe told me-"

Gerald covered his ears, "No, she told you nothing."

"Oh, sure, like if I hit this spot-" Helga pressed behind his ear and Gerald flinched away. "And she told me how you cried when you made up." Helga was laughing now. "Oh, and the sex-"

"SHUT UP!"

"I'm just teasing, Gerald. She has told me nothing about your lovemaking. Although, I have to say, it's a relief you guys finally fucked."

He massaged his head, feeling a serious migrane coming on. "You're even more annoying drunk."

"Hey, you just said yourself that I was important to you! Come on, man, we're bros! I'm gonna be annoying and you're going to be," she gestured to the air, "you."

"Come on, I think you're feeling better." Gerald helped Helga slowly stand on her feet.

"You just want to get rid of me."

Gerald shrugged, laughing as Helga looked offended. "I'm kidding, sweetheart."

"I told you not to call me that, Hair Boy."

Gerald nodded as he guided Helga back to the party. She stood at the edge of the hallway, watching everyone dance in Rhonda's living room. She seemed calm, less disorderly and more sober than she was before.

Gerald sighed and shut his eyes. This entire day couldn't be put into words. They were high school graduates. Everyone was going to separate colleges. Everything was changing, all of it happening so fast. They were grown ups now.

It wasn't fourth grade anymore.

He turned to his friend, his good friend who he'd known since he was three. She drove him crazy half the time, but that was one of the funnest parts of their relationship. Teasing each other, joking at how much they hated each other. He was pretty sure he never actually did. Hate was such a strong word.

He had figured if Arnold could love her, there had to be something good about her. And there were quite a few redeeming qualities in Miss Helga Geraldine Pataki. If you were on her good side, you were going to be protected by any means necessary. How could anyone pass that up? Loyalty was hard to find in someone.

"Hey, Helga?" She turned around to face him, smiling. "I love you. You're like the sister I never wanted."

Helga punched his arm before pulling him in for a hug, "Right back at you, Gerald." He couldn't help but laugh.

"Let me drive you home."

"Like I'd let you touch my new car."

Gerald held his hand out, waving it for her keys, "I'm not letting you get behind the wheel." Helga sighed and handed over the keys, "Fine. Just let me hug Princess."

Rhonda was standing next to the bar in a familiar looking red dress, talking to Sid about something pointless. Shoes or closets or something.

"Princess," Helga smiled and threw her arms out, pulling Rhonda in for a hug. "I had a lot of fun tonight."

"You'll come back tomorrow?"

"Yeah, you're doing dinner right?"

"Yeah, and an Evil Twin marathon. I have all ten on DVD."

"Sounds great. I'll bring Arnold around." Helga waved goodbye one last time before following Gerald out to the exit. On the ride home, she made Gerald play Ronnie Matthews after he hooked his phone up to the car's Bluetooth. Helga also rolled down the windows and opened the sun roof, cranking the music up louder to be heard over the wind.

"I saw, I saw, your face-"

The song was cut off by a cell phone ringing.

"You still at the party?"

"ARNOLD!" Helga laughed, "you missed one awesome party! I did eight shots!"

Gerald flinched. He heard Arnold let out a long breath. "I made her puke it all out."

"Gerald and I had serious talk! I think we're friends now! And he said you wanted to marry me!"

"I never said that!" Gerald rolled his eyes. "I'll call you back when I drop her off. Unless you want to meet up at her house."

"Yeah, I'll be over soon. Wait outside until I get there. We're gonna have to carry her upstairs so she doesn't wake up Olga by trying her quiet drunk walk." Gerald could tell from Arnold's tone of voice that Helga's steps were anything but quiet.

"Great," Gerald replied before clicking the end button phone on the steering wheel.

H-A!-H-A!

Let it go, let it roll right off your shoulder
Don't you know the hardest part is over?
Let it in, let your clarity define you
In the end, we will only just remember how it feels.

Summer bliss was cut short when reality set in.

It was June.

The days of hanging out at the beach, playing catch in the park, having campfires and staying up late for no reason were over.

Everyone was leaving.

Our lives are made in these small hours,
these little wonders, these twists and turns of fate.
Time falls away, but these small hours,
these small hours still remain.

Arnold forced himself to be strong. He had already said goodbye to the boarders and his classmates. Gerald and Helga did drive to the airport to say goodbye.

It was bittersweet.

Most of his memories were in Hillwood. He played baseball for the first time in the street with his first grade classmates. He had his first crush on a classmate at P.S. 118. He helped save his neighborhood from destruction. He threw parties with his grandparents, celebrated every holiday backwards. He made lifelong friends here. He fell in love here.

Hillwood was his home, filled with so many memories it almost hurt to think them all. But he knew he needed to step out and experience something completely different.

Gerald rocked on his heels. He was sick of saying goodbye already. Letting Phoebe go off to college really crushed him. And he knew it hurt Helga too.

Fortunately, Arnold was the last one.

Let it slide, let your troubles fall behind you,
let it shine until you feel it all around you,
and I don't mind if it's me you need to turn to, we'll get by,
it's the heart that really matters in the end.

Arnold didn't know what to say. There wasn't much too say except "See you soon. I'll call you when I'm settled in." He looked at Gerald, smiling as he held out his fist and thumb. Gerald immediately met his best friend with their signature handshake. They pulled each other into a quick hug. Gerald waved one last time.

"I can't believe we're gonna be empty nesters so soon," Stella sighed as she sat down at their gate. The parents had gone before, giving Arnold a chance to say goodbye alone.

Miles laughed, "You do realize Gerald and Helga will not leave the boarding house until they absolutely have to?"

Gerald turned around and walked towards the short term parking lot in order to let Helga and Arnold have their goodbye moment privately.

Our lives are made in these small hours,
these little wonders, these twists and turns of fate.
Time falls away, but these small hours,
these small hours still remain.

Helga poked his tattoo through his shirt, "Seems like just yesterday I was writing that poem and hopelessly dreaming about the day you kissed me."

"A lot has changed since then."

Helga hooked her hands around Arnold's hips, pulling him closer. "Change is the only constant in life."

Arnold smiled, knowing that Helga was repeating that so saying goodbye would seem easier. She was trying to reassure herself. "I'm going to miss you. But I will be back for a few days before school starts. I'll even help you move in to your dorm."

Helga stood up on her tip toes and kissed Arnold as long as she could in public without drawing attention. Arnold pulled back, breathless.

They had spent the night together. Arnold could tell Helga was holding it together, trying incredibly hard to not just break down into tears. He had never been in this situation before. He'd never been in a serious relationship, but figured he was doing well for a first timer. He knew deep down in his heart that nothing could ever tear him from Helga again.

"It's just for two months. I know that seems like a long time, but that time will fly for both of us. This isn't the end of the world."

All of my regret will wash away some how,
but I can not forget the way I feel right now.

Helga kissed him one last time, "I love you."

He held her hands in his so tight her ring was threatening to embed in his skin. "I love you too."

In these small hours,
these little wonders, these twists and turns of fate,
these twists and turns of fate.
Time falls away, but these small hours,
these small hours still remain,
still remain.

These little wonders, these twists and turns of fate.
Time falls away, but these small hours,
these little wonders still remain.

It didn't matter how far apart they were going to be. They were best friends, in love, or too close to not text at least twice a week. It didn't matter that they'd see each other three times a year from now on. Growing up meant leaving town, but loving it enough to come back. And Helga knew that everyone would come back. It would just take some classes to get through.


A/N 2: THE SONG LITTLE WONDERS ALWAYS KILLS ME. I figured it would be perfect to end this story with.

Because, I hate to break it to you, that's it. This story is over. I feel like I can't take this story any further without changing everything that's happened. It took me two years to write, but it's done. Seriously. Exactly two years. July 6, 10 - 12.

But, fear not faithful readers, I have started The College Years series! :)