Go listen to "Where Are You Going?" by the Dave Matthews Band right the hell now, else Curly will swear vengeance on your family for eternity and you will be cursed to die at 81.
This is my first Hey, Arnold! fanfic so please do not hurt me because of its bad-ness.
Craig Bartlett owns these fantastic characters. Well, no; actually, Nickelodeon owns the rights to them and refuses to give them back to him. Anybody ever realize that Nickelodeon is kind of a douche?
When Arnold left, it rained.
Helga watched the droplets fall with a sort of detached curiosity, an evasive trace of interest. She sat on her bed with her knees pulled to her chin, staring up at the blackening, bitter sky, not particularly riveted at all. As the water drummed on her roof she thought of Arnold, and of how he was probably enjoying his going-away party immensely, not entirely aware that she was absent. She had promised herself that she would go over to the Sunset Arms at the crack of dawn and not leave his side until the polished Packard vanished around the corner with him in it.
It wasn't the first promise she had broken.
They had been skirting around the possibility of a good-bye, disregarding its taunting imminence, putting it off again and again, waiting until there would inevitably be no way to avoid it anymore. Helga was fairly certain that they had only discussed Arnold's coming departure once. It had been before the autumn rain had come and he had mentioned it, guiltily, breathlessly, as they'd sat on the edge of a dock and watched the sun set over the rusting, sleepy tugboats. They had not spoken of it again, the same way they hadn't spoken of her confession atop FTi for a year after it happened.
Sometimes she felt privileged that Arnold had given her the chance to hide it. Other times, she thought it probably just made that year in between all the more unbearable. There were a lot of things that hadn't changed since her infatuation at its fourth-grade stage – she still sometimes had trouble deciding whether she despised or adored him.
"Helga, honey?" Her mother's sleepy drawl crept up the staircase, muffled against the solidity of her bedroom door. "Weren't you… wasn't there some party you were going to today?"
"No, Miriam," Helga called back, her mother's spoken name oddly devoid of spite. "Pretty sure not."
A pause. Then: "Okaaaay. If you say so."
Helga sighed, short and ferocious and heavy, and she turned and smashed a fist into the patient surface of her pillow, rolling over and dropping her face into it, groaning and sighing and doing everything but the one thing she should have been – going to Arnold's damn house.
Her fingers brushed against something cool and scratched and metallic under her pillow, and she pulled it out, turning over on her back and holding it above her head, gazing at it. Her locket had aged well, as had the sleepily smiling boy inside of it.
"Arnoldo," she grunted as viciously as she could, running one finger along the glass surface and sighing before holding it close to her chest. "Arnold."
Snapping her out of her reverie, her phone decided it would be a good time to incessantly, eagerly ring. It startled Helga and she almost fell off the bed at the sound of it, staring up at it in shock. One thought struck her in the chest: Arnold.
She almost didn't pick it up. Almost. Her fingers quavered hesitantly over it and retreated at the third ring before grabbing it at the fifth.
"Hello?" She tried to keep the breathless hopefulness out of her voice.
"Helga!" The tinkling, precise tones of Phoebe snapped their way across the line. Helga's shoulders sank a little.
"Oh. Hey, Pheebs." Her voice was dull as she fell back onto the bed, face watching the ceiling with boredom. "What's cookin'?"
"A rather delicious steak on Arnold's grandfather's grill," Phoebe replied slyly. "A shame you aren't here to enjoy it with us…"
"Look, Phoebe. We've been over this. I am not coming over there. Ever." Helga hated saying the words. They tasted like bullets in her mouth.
She heard a staticky sigh on the other end.
"Are you aware of just how alarmed Arnold is that you aren't present?"
Helga scoffed, loud and forced.
"Are you kidding? He probably hasn't even noticed. Yeah, I'll bet he's having the time of his life. As a matter of fact, I know he is. No need to lie, Pheebs; I've got the 411." Helga absentmindedly polished her fingernails on the collar of her t-shirt.
"Helga," Phoebe said gently, and Helga winced, wondering how it could be so easy for Phoebe to understand her sometimes; "Why aren't you here?"
"Does it really matter, Phoebe?" Helga was surprised by how forlorn her voice suddenly sounded. She felt like a nine-year-old again, lamenting her unrequited love. It hurt.
"Yes," Phoebe answered softly.
"I just…" Helga clamped her eyes shut, pinching the bridge of her nose between her thumb and index finger, pondering the possibility of spontaneous self-combustion. "I… he doesn't… need me as much as I need him. He's fine without me. And to be honest, I…" She swallowed. It didn't get rid of the building rock in her throat. "I don't know if I can say good-bye to him."
Phoebe was silent. Helga was thankful that she didn't respond immediately. Phoebe had a way of knowing exactly how to listen to a person. She was lucky to have Phoebe. She'd always been lucky to have Phoebe. When her parents would fight, Phoebe would know exactly when to come over and lead Helga down a hopscotch road to elsewhere.
"The ice cream is melting, Helga."
Helga knew exactly what she meant and her breath hitched painfully.
"It won't be around much longer," Phoebe continued, her voice hushed. "So I'd recommend getting one last taste before your… diet."
"Phoebe," Helga said, and she started to laugh, "that is the stupidest metaphor we have ever come up with."
After a moment, Phoebe's reserved giggles joined Helga's chortles.
"Yes, I suppose it is!" she tittered gleefully, and Helga could see her perfectly: covering her mouth with one tiny hand as Gerald looked on, subtly transfixed. "Oh, Helga, just come, won't you?"
Helga's laughter distilled at Phoebe's words, because she knew she was right, and she almost hated her for it. She wanted to come. She wanted to more than anything. But there was some vast, unfathomable part of her that couldn't.
"I…" She wasn't sure what she was going to say, but whatever it was vanished in an instant. "I…'m going for a walk. I'll talk to you later, Phoebe."
She didn't wait for a reply before she dropped the phone back in the cradle.
As Helga pulled her purple trench coat over her shoulders and stepped outside, the rain continued undaunted, and she had no umbrella to shield her this time.
She wasn't sure what happened in between, but at the end, she wound up standing at the edge of one of the docks. A cargo ship was unloading on the other side of the harbor, its sides encrusted with barnacles and rust and scratches. That was sort of what she felt like right now. It burgeoned tiredly, almost begging to sink, begging for repose from its loneliness.
The sun was starting to drag down; she could tell; the rainclouds dissipated on the horizon to give way to a colorless sunset. Helga had never liked sunsets. It felt like the world was trying to make a sad ending look beautiful.
The rain still tumbled viciously around her, and she was utterly drenched, her hair falling in ghostly straggles over her shoulders, pasted to her chin, but she didn't care. She bent her knees and sat down on the edge of the wooden dock, letting her feet dangle over the side like nooses.
A seagull cried out overhead and flew by, struggling against the stormy gusts of wind, and Helga wished it was her.
She didn't know how long she sat there. It must have been a while, though, because the storm grew darker around her, and soon the lights in the ferry terminal dimmed, and the yachts swayed restlessly on the black waves, and the world grew horribly silent, save for the sound of the rain peppering the earth and the footsteps behind her.
She didn't turn around.
"Yeah," she spat back bitterly, reverting to her fourth-grade defenses. She couldn't think of anything else to hide behind. She felt so petty. "What of it, football-head?"
Arnold didn't make any response. Not a sigh. Not a word. Nothing. She couldn't see his face but could sense his expression, half-lidded, concerned, withdrawn.
He sat down beside her.
His unruly tufts of hair were flat and rain-slicked and dangling now, dripping down over his green eyes.
…She wanted to push him off.
Suddenly, the rain above her ceased. She blinked, momentarily confused, as she could still see it falling in a curtain around her, shattering the water into a thousand broken fragments.
She looked above her, and her eyes were met with the worn green surface of an umbrella.
She didn't know how it happened, but it did – she looked at Arnold. Her lips tightened at the sight of him. He was soaked just as she was.
"I like your bow," he murmured. Thunder rumbled overhead.
Helga's hand involuntarily went up to the pink ribbon holding her ponytail back. It was loose and wet. She didn't take her eyes off of him for an instant. They roved carefully over the curves of his peculiarly shaped head, relishing the sight of him, the dizzying presence of the smile rippling across his face. In that instant, she was certain that no person could ever blame her for loving him.
He stroked her cheek softly with the back of his hand, enthralled by her. A splash of warmth ruffled out from the point of contact. His fingers eventually combed up above her ponytail, tangling in her soggy hair, and Helga didn't need to be led forward to touch her lips to his.
He wrapped the arm holding the umbrella across her shoulders, and they huddled under the small circumference of it, warming each other with kisses and embraces and whispers. Helga confessed that she didn't hate him very much anymore, except when he'd pop off every so often to stare at her dreamily. He was so wishy-washy sometimes. She didn't want to be admired; she wanted to be kissed. Boys were so stupid.
"You know," he finally said, withdrawing from her and huddling even closer to her under the umbrella, grinning, "I love getting ridiculously wet as much as the next guy, but it'd be really great if you'd come back to the boarding house with me."
"In your dreams, Hair Boy," Helga retorted, folding her arms. "I would not go to that party if my life depended on it."
He looked, understandably, wounded.
"Why not?" he implored, crestfallen.
"B-Because," Helga scrambled, "I'm… not a party type."
"Yes, you are," Arnold corrected her, blinking and frowning.
"Okay. Um… because I've got other plans."
"Yeah, that's obvious."
"B-Because I didn't hear about it!"
"Helga." Even when spoken with exasperation, her name still sounded more beautiful in his voice than she'd ever heard it.
She huffed, turning away from him, determined not to let him see her cry.
"Fine, football-head. Fine. Do you want to know why I wouldn't go to your stupid party? Because I don't want to say good-bye to you, okay? I don't want to have to face seeing you for the last time." Her hands balled into fists and she pushed them against the splintered wood beneath her to distract them. "You can't blame me, Ar-noldo."
"It's… 'Arnold,' Helga."
Her eyes widened and she stared incredulously at him. Seriously? She'd just made an important admission and the only thing he could think to do was correct her?
"Pfft. Right. Arnold. Sorry." She scowled and turned her head away, fuming.
"You know…" She could tell instantly from the tone of his voice that he was about to launch into some rousing speech. Well, she wouldn't fall for it this time. No, sir. "It's not really good-bye. I mean… I'll be back eventually."
"Is that supposed to make me feel better, football-head?" Helga snarled. "Because it doesn't. Try again."
"Oh, sure; you think it's fine to just get up and fly off to the jungle out of nowhere! It's not like anybody will mind! I mean, crimeny, Arnold! How selfish are you, anyway?"
Arnold drew back from her tirade.
"S-Selfish?" he repeated, stunned.
"Yes. Doi. Selfish. That's what you are right now, Arnold. Maybe that's what you've always been! How can you conceivably think that the world will be fine with your leaving? How can you conceivably think that I'll be fine, for cryin' out loud?"
Arnold said nothing.
"I-I-I mean." She was starting to stumble ahead of herself now, in her rage and her sadness and her guilt and her frustration. "You've held everyone together for… for years. And once you go, it'll all… we'll all fall apart." She gulped and looked at her knees. "…I'll fall apart."
She felt his hand perch cautiously on her shoulder, and when she didn't writhe away from it, it settled.
"I can't just go over there and know the whole time that the only reason I'm there is to say good-bye," she muttered, holding back tears that were clawing at the edges of her eyelids. "I wouldn't be able to stand it. I'd cr… I'd cry."
He embraced her then, and he was warm and she was insignificant and she sobbed into his shoulder, into his glorious red and yellow checked shirt that smelled so strongly of him; he ran his hands over her back and nestled his chin on the top of her bowed head and whispered to her that he understood, staring at the sky for strength as a few tears slipped down his cheeks. The umbrella lay askew on the ground, gathering water like a lopsided bowl catching teardrops.
"Well, look on the bright side." She smiled and wanted to punch him. "At least it'll be an excuse to polish up our handwriting."
A few ragged laughs slipped in among the weeping, and Arnold beamed in relief, stroking her hair gently as she unraveled in his arms.
The funny thing was, he hadn't been able to think of a bright side until he held her.
"Arnold?" Helga whispered as they walked back, him holding the umbrella proudly over their heads.
"I wish I could come with you."
Arnold's heart quivered a little at her words, sinking and thickening and constricting.
"I wish you could, too."
"No, you don't understand," she said firmly, stopping and grabbing his shoulders earnestly. "I don't know what I'll do. Where you are is where I belong. Where you go is where I want to be."
He wrapped his arms around her, closing his eyes tightly to keep the emotions at bay. Their embrace was silent and it passed like a dropping moth before they continued down the sidewalk.
The party was fantastic and Helga swore she'd never been more thankful for her friends or Arnold, and when morning came, the rain gave way to fog, and Arnold waved to her from the glossy back window of the Packard, and she waved back, and she didn't stop until long after he was gone.