First

XX

The weekend was over, and a new week of school was about to begin.

Helga left her bedroom in an apprehensive mood, not looking forward to her upcoming day. Friday had been such a roller coaster ride that Helga had chosen to spend most of her weekend cooped up indoors - watching television, writing some poetry, even doing a little homework. When she went to school in less than an hour, however, Helga didn't know what to expect from her classmates. Their reaction at the party had been hard to read. For all she knew, she would come to class and be a laughingstock. Her carefully cultivated rough exterior could be shattered forever, the gooey emotional interior spilling out for everyone to see. Maybe they'd call her Wacky Pataki.

Upon arriving at the bathroom door, Helga almost ran into her father, who had just come from his own bedroom. Helga grumbled and stepped back, knowing Bob was about to take a long shower, and probably leave a disgusting layer of body hair over the tub when he got out. Bob was about to go into the bathroom, but stopped at the last moment.

"Hey, uh, you go on," said Bob. "I can wait."

Helga stared at her father incredulously. "For real?"

"Yeah, you got school anyway. Knock yourself out!"

Bob stood back as his daughter raced into the bathroom; Helga wanted to grab the opportunity before her father's freakish behavior reverted back to normal. She brushed her teeth, took a quick shower, fiddled with her pink bow a little, and gave herself a thumbs up in the mirror in an attempt to raise her spirits. At least she wouldn't go to school stinking.

Another surprise waited for Helga downstairs. Her mother was standing at the kitchen table with a smile – not prone, not half-comatose in a chair, but actually standing up – and beside her was an open lunch box, packed and ready to go. Helga looked inside the lunch box. It actually looked appetizing.

"Wow. Thanks, mom!"

"You're welcome Helga. Oh, and here's your sister, just in time!"

"Hello everyone!"

Olga entered the kitchen, looking as bright and chipper as she always did. When it came to mornings, there was no such thing as too early for Olga. She was about to leave for Bennington College again, only having visited to see Helga's art show and stay for the weekend, and she had waited until her little sister was up before she left.

Helga and her parents followed Olga to the front door after she picked up her bags. Before she left, Olga turned and embraced her little sister.

"Helga, I want you to know how proud of you I am. I was just delighted to hear you won that contest, and I thought your little sculpture was marvelous. It reminded me of some of the tribal totems I saw during my summer session in San Lorenzo!"

"Yeah, thanks," Helga managed to gasp through her sister's tight hug.

"I'm looking forward to spending time with you on my next visit, little sister. I love you."

Helga patted her sister on the back. Spending a weekend with Olga had been a trying experience as usual, but somehow it hadn't been quite as bad as she had expected. As a matter of fact, a part of Helga actually felt the same as Olga did and looked forward to their next visit. Just as long as it wasn't for another couple of months, at the least.

"Bye Olga. Have fun at college."

Bob and Miriam each hugged their eldest daughter in turn.

"Well," said Bob, "Give us a call when you're back at school, Hel – I mean, Olga."

Olga gasped, her hand shooting up to her mouth. As Helga glanced up at her father in surprise and took in her sister's shocked expression, she regretted the fact that she was not holding a camera.

XX

"Look, there she is," whispered Sid.

The group at the table looked up as Helga entered the lunch room. They tried to make an effort not to look too conspicuous, but it was hard to miss everyone's reaction; for just a moment, the entire lunch room seemed to grow quiet at Helga's entrance. Then, as quickly as the silence had begun, it ended. People looked back to their lunches, their classmates, and went on with their conversations.

Stinky looked around the lunch table as he chewed on a bite of his sandwich. "Sure was a crazy party, wasn't it?"

"Yes," said Rhonda, "but I think we should leave Helga alone about it. I don't think she had a lot of fun, and her parents seem like quite the pain."

Normally Rhonda and Nadine sat at another table, but today they wanted to engage in a little gossip with their classmates during lunch about the strange events of last Friday. Rhonda didn't know why, but as mean as Helga could be, she felt a little sympathy towards the girl after meeting her parents and seeing the outburst that ended the party. Seeing Helga's winning sculpture at her victory party had also been an eye-opening experience for Rhonda; it had not been long before she realized why it looked so familiar, and the special attention Helga seemed to pay to Arnold at school made a lot more sense now. Something about it struck her as terribly charming.

Rhonda had subtly brought up the sculpture a couple of times in conversation at lunch, trying to figure out if any of her classmates noticed the likeness, but none of them seemed to be aware of it. Either that or they were keeping their lips tightly sealed. Rhonda had no intention to tell them, partly due to the sympathy factor, but partly because getting on Helga's bad side was probably a dumb idea. The only person Rhonda was even less eager to enrage would be Big Patty.

"Man, you guys are a buncha wusses," said Harold. "Why should we be all sensitive with her? She's always mean to us!" Harold stood up and pushed his chair back as numerous heads turned, sensing the sudden current of confrontation in the air. "Hey Helga!" he yelled.

Helga turned.

"Look at me, everybody!"

Harold began to prance around as if he was a model on a boardwalk. "I'm Helga! I'm such an artiste!" He did a pirouette as Sid shifted his seat farther away. "I can make statues and win first place and be all fancy and -"

Unfortunately for him, Harold was too absorbed in his dance to notice that his own lunch tray had disappeared from the lunch table. Finishing his pirouette, Harold caught a brief glimpse of Helga, glowering in front of him, before the tray of food was upended into his face. He fell to the ground, stunned, as several people around the room snorted with laughter.

"Hilarious," said Helga. "Have a nice lunch, chucklehead!"

Harold sat on the ground and considered the option of running away and crying for a moment, but then realized with a lick of his lips that the food on his face was still perfectly edible.

The spectacle having passed, the lunch room returned to its normal level of chatter as Helga joined Phoebe at a lunch table. She opened her lunch box and gaped at the unusually tasty selection inside. Miriam had done a good job. Helga took out her sandwich and fruit and noticed a little note at the bottom of the box, which she read with a smile:

Have a nice day, Helga!

The note was sappy, but a pleasant surprise. Helga supposed her parents were very eager to show her they appreciated her after the events of Friday, even when she wasn't winning an art contest. It wasn't a unique experience – Helga remembered other occasions when her mother and father seemed to feel a little guilty about ignoring her – and, inevitably, they tended to drift back into their usual behavior. Bob being absorbed in his work, Miriam absorbed in her smoothies. Both of them absorbed in Olga. Still, it could be different this time, Helga thought. You never knew. And she'd enjoy it while it lasted. Most importantly, they seemed to be showing her they did care. As Arnold had said, they were trying.

"How are you today, Helga?" her friend asked.

"Pretty good Pheebs, thanks." Helga took a bite out of her sandwich and peered at the football-headed boy seated at another table with his tall-haired friend. The two of them seemed to be in an animated conversation with each other, and were not paying any attention to Helga. She still had no idea what Arnold thought about the sculpture.

"Hey Phoebe... did you happen to overhear anything at the party, or this weekend? You know, like, people talking about certain things. Like my sculpture, maybe. Or certain dessert foods."

"No Helga, I haven't heard anything. I believe your taste in ice cream is still just between us."

Helga nodded. She noticed Phoebe look over at the other table and give Gerald a brief glance, but didn't think much of it. Phoebe glanced at Gerald from time to time – Helga sometimes wondered if her best friend had a certain fondness for chocolate ice cream.

"That's good, Pheebs. I don't think I'm ready to share quite yet."

Right after she had finished speaking, Helga noticed Lila at another table, who gave her a surreptitious wink. Helga returned the wink with a throat-throttling motion, at which Lila nodded quickly in understanding. At least Helga had that particular potential leak of her secret under control.

Helga turned her attention to Arnold and Gerald and stared dreamily at Arnold's football head. He was still deep in conversation with his friend. She felt a rising urge to dart behind the dirty tray cart and whip out her locket while she performed an off-the-cuff ode to her beloved. She hadn't gotten the chance to do it when she came into lunch, what with Harold's little routine. Helga glanced over at the cart and noticed that Brainy was already standing nearby. Almost as if he knew that it was about time to take his usual punch to the face. In fact, as she watched, Helga thought she imagined Brainy giving her a little wink.

Perhaps the art show hadn't changed her situation much at all, thought Helga as she finished her sandwich and got up from the table. Her life did not look like it was in any danger of turning upside down. At least, not before she was ready for it to do that.

XX

Dr. Bliss wrote a few things down in her notebook while she watched her young visitor staring through the office window at the city streets outside during a break in their conversation. Dr. Bliss didn't think the view was that interesting herself, but then she had worked in the office for a while, and Helga seemed to enjoy pacing around and occupying herself with distractions while she talked. All of the children she saw during her sessions tended to have different habits like that. Everyone had their little behavioral quirks when it came to unloading their emotions, she had noticed over time.

Helga had called her to schedule this particular session a little earlier than usual. Dr. Bliss didn't mind, as she knew that Helga probably had a lot to talk about after winning an art contest with the sculptural embodiment of her deepest emotional vulnerabilities. To be honest, she felt a little bit guilty about getting Helga into such a situation, even if Helga was the one who had chosen to enter the shrine.

"It sounds like you had a good day at school then," Dr. Bliss said.

"I guess so."

"You know, Helga, I think you learned something important from this whole art show experience."

"What's that?"

"Your fears tend to be much worse than what happens in reality. You went through a kind of worst case scenario – your shrine to Arnold was displayed in front of your whole class, not to mention Arnold himself. And from the sound of it, other than an uncomfortable day or two, nothing bad has really happened. Things are the same. You faced your worst fears and came through just fine."

Helga left the window and sat down on the couch, her legs propped up against the back. As she thought about it, she realized Dr. Bliss was right. That didn't necessarily mean she'd enter the shrine again if she could go back and do things over, but still, she wasn't an emotional wreck. No more than usual, anyway.

"Hmm, I guess not. But it doesn't mean I'm gonna go blab how I feel to Arnold yet."

"Of course. Only when you're ready. But when you are, I think a lesson you can take from this experience is that things won't end up nearly as bad as you might expect. Even your worst case scenario won't be that bad. Arnold sounds like a nice boy, after all, so nothing horrible will happen, regardless of how he may feel about you. Whatever happens, you'll be okay with yourself, and life will go on. And you're clearly a talented young lady, Helga – I think you should keep exploring your artistic side. It's a good way to deal with your emotions."

Dr. Bliss watched as Helga mulled over the advice. It looked like the young girl was in agreement with her. She checked her watch; Dr. Bliss enjoyed her time with Helga, but the session was already running a little late, and she did have other children to see.

"Alright Helga, would you like to meet at the normal time next week?"

"Sure," said Helga as she got up and shook Dr. Bliss's hand. "Thanks for everything, doc."

"You're very welcome."

Just before Helga was about to leave the room, Dr. Bliss grabbed a pamphlet from her desk.

"By the way, Helga! Just in case you're interested, there's a poetry contest coming up that I think you -"

Helga raised her hand in protest as she backed out of the door.

"Oh no you don't!"

XX

It was late at night, and the Pataki household was silent.

Helga Pataki lay under her covers, more content in her sleep than she had been in the last few days. Her dreams of art show humiliation were gone, replaced by much more pleasant dreams, many of which involved running along sandy beaches and skipping through sun-drenched fields with a certain special someone. Helga would wake up tomorrow morning feeling particularly well-rested.

In another room, outside of Helga's bedroom and down the hall, Miriam lay asleep in her own bed. The television's volume was low, but Miriam had forgotten to turn it off before falling asleep, and it cast a soft glow over the dark room. Miriam shifted fitfully as she slept, dreaming of smoothies and occasionally of running her own business. Her husband was not by her side.

Instead, Bob Pataki could be found downstairs, inside the dark living room where he sat on the couch watching television. Bob was almost asleep, fighting to keep his eyes open. In a moment he would have to turn off the television and join his wife upstairs. He had been watching a wrestling show with Helga, since he had let Helga pick what she wanted to watch, and wrestling turned out to be more interesting than he had expected. Helga had gone up to bed earlier. Bob had wanted to stay and catch a little more of the show, but he found himself unable to resist dozing off.

Just like the upstairs bedroom, the living room was illuminated by the television's hazy glow. The room's silence was punctuated by Bob's occasional snores. All around the couch in which he slept, every wall of the room was decorated by plaques and certificates. A small bookcase was stacked with trophies and awards which flashed an occasional golden glint through the darkness of the room. On each plaque, each framed paper, each trophy, a single name could be found: Olga Pataki.

One certificate was unusual, however. It hung in the center of a wall where a different certificate, one of Olga's, had been placed until very recently. The certificate was set inside a handsome frame, and if one looked closely, one could read a short statement on it that was a little different than the rest:

Helga G. Pataki. First Place.

XX


Notes - That's it! Hope you guys enjoyed it - let me know what you thought.

I only have one other Hey Arnold story, "What's in a Name?". Check it out if you haven't yet - it could actually sort of work as an alternate ending to this story, occurring after the lunch room scene, even though I wasn't writing it with that in mind.

I hope the general ending to this story wasn't anti-climactic. I was undecided for a while as to whether I would have Arnold decide he liked Helga and get them together, but as I started writing the story I decided it would be too fast, and it seemed weird that Arnold would decide he likes Helga shortly after seeing what he might think was a kind of creepy shrine in his image. Also, some of my future HA story ideas might take place in the same continuity as this one - Olga's summer session in San Lorenzo was something I added in case I wanted to use it in the future, and one of my ideas would use Rhonda's awareness of Helga liking Arnold. So I didn't want to wrap things up too completely in this story.

I had a lot of fun writing this, and all the nice reviews were very encouraging. Even though this is my first HA story, it's ended up being my most popular story (A Kim Possible story, "Going Green", was easily my most popular before this one). The fandom for Hey Arnold is much more active than I would have expected.

Prior to this story I had only written for Kim Possible. If you like that show, you can check out my profile for those stories. My next couple of stories will also be for KP - however, I am definitely thinking of writing more Hey Arnold stories sometime in the future. I even have several ideas and plots in mind already, so put me on author alert if you want.

Hellerick Ferlibay is writing (and has almost finished) a Russian translation of this story, so check out his profile if you're interested in that. I was very flattered that he liked this story enough to translate it. Thanks to Hellerick, Thundercatroar, One Fine Wire, Azure129, Acosta Perez Jose Ramiro, angie93, looneytunecrazy, Leili, Dreamless-Mermaid, SuperAang626, Helga G. Pataki, AdventureGirl6, talklove, Lightness, and Vinsent for your nice reviews. Sorry if I missed anyone.

Okay - if I keep writing notes, they're going to end up longer than the chapter itself, sheesh. I'm done now! Thanks again!