The airport still had that same smell that Helga remembered when she was being shoved on a plane by the Beeper King five years ago. She looked around and saw nothing familiar though and felt a bit lonely as she roughly pulled her duffel bag over her shoulder. Since she was no longer forced to use uniforms, she left them in pieces on her bed back at school. Helga smirked and pulled out her phone to check the time. No phone calls and one text from a friend back in England saying that she was missed. With a sigh, she realized that she was going to miss her old school.
With only her carry-on, she placed it on the scanner and handed over her passport. It was surprising that Big Bob wanted her back home when he did. She was finally starting to feel comfortable where he had stashed her away for the better part of her awkward teenage years. Helga, in part, was thankful. She didn't know how things would have gone when puberty struck and made her look as she did. But since she was kindly being sent to the same public school that the whole Elementary school gang was, they would figure out soon enough that the gawky bully they had known so well now had a feminine side.
The stamp of return to her passport woke her from the millions of thoughts going on in her head. She pulled out her phone again and saw that still, there was no calls from her parents who had promised to pick her up from the airport. Helga rolled her eyes in disgust and realized that this was Mirian and Bob. Rubbing the bridge of her nose, Helga mentally calculated how much money she had and reluctantly went to the Customer Service kiosk.
"How much for a ride back to Hillwood?"
Helga slapped the cabbie's hand with a good amount of her cash. Anything that Bob sent to her was minimal at best, always complaining about how expensive her tuition was. Never mind that he always had enough to spare whatever Ogla was studying for. With a grunt, Helga pushed the door that was sure to be open and walked inside, overwhelmed by the scent of trophy polish and her mother's fruit "smoothies". Nostalgia hit in the pit of her stomach as she nudged the door closed with her foot. After The Fight that sent her off to boarding school, Helga did not appreciate the sound of violence unless she was causing it. A psychiatrist in her school had prescribed her (with Bob and Miriam's consent) some anti-anxiety medications that greatly helped when she was on the edge.
The medication helped enough to keep her grades above average. Her writing was as passionate as ever but the subject changed every so often, depending on her mood. The only thing was the never-ending solitude she felt when she thought of Arnold. Helga couldn't even eat ice cream anymore. Still, Phoebe kept up the gossip through email when she was able to get on the school computers. Bob was too cheap to hand over the cash for a laptop and so she was stuck using the dinosaurs in the library.
Facebook was useless to her up until the last two months when Miriam had sent her some money for Christmas to buy a phone. Helga bought the nicest one she could afford and now everyone was in contact and poking her online.
Rhonda was still as conceited as ever. She never failed to post her latest purchase on her wall and bragged about it until Nadine told her to cool it. Still best friends and obsessed with nature, she always checked in at the park, hunting for bugs. Lila (the bitch) was still "ever so sweet" and always had a kind word for everyone. Harold hardly posted. He worked at the meat shop with Mr. Green and only posted when there were meat sales coming. Everyone thought this was hilarious. Helga realized how much they had moved on without her. When her father told her that she was coming home, there were a thousand worries in her head but since there wasn't any money to put towards tuition, she accepted.
"Hello," Helga called out. "I'm home!"
Nothing but silence greeted her as she made her way upstairs. The only reason she was home for senior year was because Bob's business had taken a nose-dive. Selling phones and beepers was a dumb idea and everyone told him. But he refused to listen and continued selling them. It was only when the money started drying up that he started doing a major re-haul. Seeing that Helga's tuition was more costly than bringing her back home, he bought a ticket and had the arrangements done by Olga. Helga had no choice.
The house hadn't changed,she thought as she looked around. More trophies she'd mostly like have to clean and there was a new couch but everything else looked the same. Helga turned the knob at her bedroom door and walked inside to see a partially hung banner saying 'Welcome home, Ogla' from the window. There was a glass sitting at the end of her old dresser. She dipped her finger into the contents and tasted vodka. Helga sighed and tossed her bag on the floor. Sitting on the bed, she realized that this was probably the best welcome home she could have had. Kicking off her Converse, she fiddled with her phone before setting it on the bedside table. Closing her eyes, she fell asleep as Frank Sinatra's voice vibrated in her dreams...
I've got you under my skin...
When Helga woke up, it was morning and cold. No one had come to check up on her, she thought. That is, until she realized that there was an envelope on the table. Picking it up, she pulled out a gift card to a major department store. The amount was written for two hundred dollars on the back. Raising an eyebrow, Helga shrugged and was grateful. She definitely needed new clothes and now had the money to go buy something decent. It would have been nice, she thought, if they had given it to me in person.
Helga pulled out a pair of yoga pants from her bag and white button down shirt. The clothes had been a hand-me-down from one of her friends back in London and they fit well enough. After a quick shower, she stared into the mirror and realized how much she had changed.
Instead of growing out her hair like other girls, she had chopped it off and done a vertical cut. It was about an inch longer from her chin on the front and went shorter until it reached the back of her hair where it was almost a buzz cut. It had grown a bit over the last week or so but it looked good. She was still a blond though, she laughed. Her body filled out in all the right places though. A little too much in her own taste. Her hips annoyed her but she hid them in baggy pants. Buttoning down her shirt and rolling up the sleeves, Helga finished up with her shoes and pocketed her phone, wallet and gift card.
It was time to surprise a friend.
"Phoeeeebeee! Someone is here to see you," called out her mother in her southern drawl.
Helga had not told her that she was coming home. In fact, she had not posted anything or allowed her friends back in London to lament their sadness on her wall. Facebook was the only thing that could let everyone know she was coming. And she wasn't sure she wanted them to know yet. Shoving back her hair from her face, she looked up and saw that Phoebe was frozen at the bottom of the stairs, looking absolutely shocked.
Her hair had grown, Helga noticed. All the way down to her waist. She had braided it for comfort as she was studying from the smudges of ink on her chin and upper lip. Dressed in a lumpy gray sweater and leggings, she looked like the nerdiest thing Helga had ever seen.
"Hey, Pheebs," Helga rubbed the back of her head. "I'm home-"
Helga didn't get much of a word in edgewise as she was promptly tackled by the little Asian girl herself. Sometimes Helga joked that the country side in her showed when she was mad or excited. Perhaps she was part-bull? Helga felt the waterworks as both of them started crying in happiness. Phoebe had to take off her glasses to wipe away the moisture (and was that mascara!) from her eyes.
"Why didn't you call or let me know," Phoebe asked, looking a little shaken. "The old gang would have-"
"I know what the old gang would have done," Helga shrugged. "Well, maybe not. I doubt they would have been happy to see their old tormentor."
"You look so pretty, Helga," Phoebe stared. "You have really grown up."
"Eh," Helga blushed. "Anyway, are you busy?"
"Well, actually," Phoebe turned purple. She looked up.
"Phoebe? Where did you go? I finished the conclusion to my essay," called out a gruff voice from the top of the stairs.
Helga looked away as he let his jaw fall to the floor. Helga waited a moment before sighing and looking at what used to be 'Tall-Hair boy'. Except, he wasn't. He was buff, with a scraggly but well trimmed beard. Jeans with a hole and a red hoodie, he looked like Gerald but all grown up.
"Uh," Gerald blinked. "Hi."
"Hey Pheebs," Helga flexed her fists. "I'll meet you at the mall when you're done, ok?"
With that, Helga walked out of the house without any response and unbeknownst to her, she started stomping to the bus-stop. All she really needed was her old dress and unibrow and she was set to be the old Helga. The reaction that Gerald had only made her paranoid about her looks. Did she look that bad? Was it the fact that all the crappy things she did to him come back and haunt him? Criminy, she thought in anger. Well, at least her reputation still preceded her.
The bus ride to the mall was uneventful. Pulling out her phone she checked her facebook and saw that Gerald had posted her worst nightmare so far. Not wanting to see the sixty or so comments, she got off facebook and sighed. Helga only hoped that Phoebe would be there to make things better as jumped down from the last step and walked into the mall.
A pile of clothes was lying in a pile in the dressing room. Helga was sorting out what she wanted and what she could afford. At the end, she managed to pick up three pairs of jeans, a skirt and a few shirts. There was a little left but she decided to save it for a later date in case she needed it. For now, she had something to wear and could go to school with more than what was left in her closet. Sure, she could probably fit into them but she wasn't going to try and squeeze and pop out of them at school.
She paid for the clothes and had them bagged quickly. She spotted a small sandwich shop and ordered a turkey on rye bread; no mustard or onions with a water. Helga would have been content to eat on her own if she hadn't been interrupted by the infamous Lila who did a delightful jump and hugged her tightly. Helga had learned how to fake being polite and gently untangled herself from the girl who had stolen Arnold from her, not that she cared anymore.
"Helga! Gerald had said you were back in town. I'm ever so happy to see you," Lila said sincerely. "I can't believe you're really home after five years!"
"Bob didn't want to pay for private school so here I am," Helga shrugged. "So here I am just before the semester starts."
"Are you going to Hillwood High," Lila asked excitedly. "That would make everyone so excited!"
"Yup," Helga took a long drink of water. "Though I don't think everyone excited. I was the definition of bully back then."
"Not in sixth grade," Lila patted her hand. "You should have let us know."
"I didn't want to make a big deal out of it," Helga topped her bottle and crumpled her paper bag. "And everyone is going to see me at school Monday."
"It would be an ever so excellent opportunity to have a party," Lila giggled.
"I'm not exactly in a party kind of mood," Helga made a face. "I just finished shopping and I'm kind of tired."
"Perhaps next week!"
"We'll see," Helga stood up. "I think I'm going to go home. It's really been something seeing the old neighborhood."
"Oh, well I hope that we have a class or two together," Lila stood up and smiled.
Lila hadn't changed much except for the hypnotizing curves that caught the attention of anything with a penis. Had Arnold...she turned away from those thoughts. Helga envied the color of Lila's hair as it spilled down her bony shoulders. The freckles were adorable, that was for sure.
"I guess," Helga coughed. "I better go."
"Just so you know," Lila paused. "Everyone is really happy that you're home. They really want to see you."
"Maybe this week," Helga grudgingly agreed to.
"Oh, give me your number," Lila pointed at her phone.
Helga sighed and they exchanged numbers. She never thought that she would be getting text messages as she took the bus home from Little Miss Perfect. Night had come quickly as Helga hopped down from the bus. Unaware, a hand reached out from nowhere and shoved her to the ground. The neighborhood was pretty much empty so it was the perfect time to be mugged, she realized. The guy was scruffy with five o'clock shadow and bags under his eyes. His grip, however, was strong and bruising.
"Gimme the bag, lady!"
"Get off me, bucko! They won't fit!"
"I said give me the bag and I won't have to hurt you!"
"Get the fuck off!"
Helga wasn't ready to get kicked in the boob as she flinched and her grasp loosened from her clothes. She didn't let go of her bag and was about to give the mugger a date with Old Betsy when a familiar figure punched the guy in the face and sent him reeling to the curb. The bag had splintered and her new clothes were a pile on the dirty ground which just pissed of Helga more.
"Are you okay, Helga," asked Harold. He was taller, with better clothes too.
"Couldn't be better," she muttered, picking up all her clothes. "Fuckin' dick."
"I'm calling the police," Harold dialed quickly.
"No, it's okay!"
"He actually tried mugging me before," he explained.
The police came twenty minutes ago to arrest the guy for assault and theft. They made the report and he was taken away. Harold helped her carry her clothes back to her house without asking even though she protested. It was weird to have him helping her when she was the one that got him in trouble years ago. Harold almost got sent to Juvi.
"Why," Helga asked. A thousand answers were waiting for her.
"Because you needed help," he shrugged. He looked at her. "We were all stupid back then. It's a miracle that we all got away with it but you."
"I didn't think Bob would send me away because of a few joints of weed."
"Well, we all got off pretty easily. Sid still feels guilty," Harold rubbed the back of his head. "And I got to work permanently at Mr. Greens. He might be able to get me an apprenticeship for free. We all feel bad that you got sent away."
"It's okay," Helga held her clothes close to her chest. "We all make mistakes and besides, we all wanted to try it. We got caught."
"Sid, Stinky and I all want to make it up to you," Harold shuffled.
"You saved my new clothes, it's fine."
"There's a party at Arnold's tonight if you want to come," he suggested. "Everyone will be there."
"I … I don't know," Helga raised her wrist. It was going to bruise.
"I'll be your date," Harold snickered. She laughed. "I'll even treat you to dinner."
"No need for dinner," Helga looked at the windows. Her parents were home. "I guess I don't want to be home. Give me a few minutes to get ready and I'll meet you-"
"I'll wait here," Harold patted the stoop.