I'm trying to get back into this story and finish it. Although it's a long way from being finished, I do want to at least move it along some. Changed some stuff though as my writing improved.
Love does not begin and end the way we seem to think it does. Love is a battle, love is a war; love is a growing up.
-James A. Baldwin
"What the hell is this?" Bob's questioning shout echoed upstairs. "Miriam! Wake the fuck up!"
Helga sighed, and rolled over, rubbing a hand down her face as her father's booming voice woke her. Sunlight streamed through her curtains, a line of it fell across her eyes as she moved and she grimaced. She could hear the murmured reply of her mother's voice downstairs as she roused herself from dark depths of the couch cushions where Helga had left her the night before. She couldn't make out what she said in reply but knew it wasn't what her father wanted to hear as he yelled back.
"Where's the money I gave you to pay the water bill?"
Miriam must have managed to drag herself fully into wakefulness as Helga heard her reply. "I paid it last week!"
"Then why is the damn water company calling me saying you ain't paid it yet?" Bob yelled back. "And if you paid it, where'd you get the money for this shit?!"
"I do have money of my own, Bob! I've got almost two-hundred in the bank!"
Helga flung her blanket off her legs and sat on the edge of her mattress, head hung low into her waiting hands as she rubbed the sleep from her eyes. The voices grew louder downstairs as an argument broke out. She ignored them and started scrounging through her closet for something clean to wear, pushing empty wire hangers aside and throwing older, dirty clothes into her already overflowing laundry basket in the corner of the room. She sighed, realizing she had a butt load of laundry to look forward to when she got home.
There was a crash, the sound of glass shattering against wall and Helga jumped.
"You wanna see pissed off?! I'll show you pissed off!"
"Oh, fuck you Bob!"
"No Miriam, fuck you! It smells like a goddamn brewery in here!"
The yelling continued downstairs, louder now and she sighed, pinching the bridge of her nose as she pulled on her jeans. She was careful to point her toes down, missing the holes in the knees so she wouldn't accidentally snag and rip them further. She liked these jeans; they were just grungy enough to suit her personality but not so much that she looked homeless.
Miriam shouted something at Bob, shrill obscenities followed by her father's booming roar. Helga ignored them, too busy stuffing her pockets with things scattered across her computer desk before she headed out for school.
Money, house key, gum, cigarettes, lighter, … she searched around for a moment, flipping magazines and old chip bags out of the way to find what she was missing. Her eyes alighted on an object on the desk and she gave a triumphant little grin as she pocketed it.
Another crash and Miriam's shriek of anger indicated that Bob had broken yet another of her precious bottles of whiskey. Helga pushed a hand through her hair with a huff as she glanced around the room for her brush. She needed to leave soon before one of them decided to drag her into the argument and she was late for school, if she didn't miss it all together. Which wouldn't bother her but she'd much rather miss it doing something besides fighting with her parents.
She spotted the brush lying partially hidden underneath her bed on the faded, puce colored carpet and scooped it up, carelessly running it through her long, corn-yellow hair. With a glance in the mirror she dropped into on her desk, satisfied she looked somewhat decent now and quickly tied her pink ribbon around her neck along with the friendship necklace Phoebe had given her a few years back. Technically, it wasn't one of the traditional friendship pieces friends tended to give eachother. It didn't have a little heart or clover or whatever with the word 'Best' broken in half with its twin engraved 'Friends' residing with Phoebe. In fact, there wasn't anything about it to make it special. Just a 'Fizz-Baby' bottle cap hanging from a black cord. Nothing special, not to anyone else at least.
The shouts grew louder as she crept downstairs and she distinctly heard their voices in the kitchen to her right.
"You don't give a fuck about anybody but your own damn self! Your drunk ass just sits here all day while I work to keep us off the street. I don't ask you to do shit! Pay the bills and cook dinner. That's it!" Bob shouted his fist slammed against the table.
"You're being childish!"
Helga paused, watching as Bob ticked off his fingers one by one as he yelled accusations towards his 'beloved' wife of twenty-plus years. Her eyes flickered to Miriam, sitting across the table with her head in her hands glaring at him.
"You're always drunk off your ass. Every time I come home, you're either passed out on the couch or in the floor somewhere. There's never any groceries in the house and you haven't cooked a decent meal since Olga lived here! Last night I had peanut butter and jelly on a paper-fuckin-towel!"
Miriam half lunged out of the seat across the table at him, snarling like a pissed off canine. "I cooked chicken two nights ago Bob!"
"And I ate it! Twice!"
Helga rolled her eyes and snuck into the living room, hoping her jacket was still thrown across the couch. Across the room, the tv droned on, replaying an episode of some game show she never bothered to watch. She stepped over broken glass and whiskey soaked carpet, scrunching her nose at the smell. She grimaced at a half-eaten microwave meal wedged between the cushions of their avocado green couch with the cigarette burns on the seat, inches away from her jacket. Picking it up, she inspected the old black leather with a critical eye.
"Well, I was gonna make spaghetti last night but you don't eat spaghetti! You don't eat it, and you let it sit there and it just gets wasted!"
"Why the hell would you make something if you know I ain't gonna eat it! Use your head, Miriam! Where was Helga? She needs to be here at the house instead of running all over the damn city!" Bob ranted. "Maybe if she was, I could get somebody to go to the damn store!"
"What do you care where she was or what she was doing? You don't want to be bothered with her, you never did!"
"What are you talking about?"
"I'm talking about you giving her such a hard time…"
"Did you hear me give her a hard time?! No! I ain't giving anybody a hard time! You're the one giving me a hard time! You wrecked our family, you wrecked our house and you wrecked our marriage…!"
"Me?! You're the biggest asshole that ever lived!"
"I'm the asshole? No, you're the one with the problem! You're the asshole, Miriam!"
"No, Bob. You're the one that never had time for anybody in this house. Never. You never did anything with your children…"
"It's got nothing to do with them! This is about you and your fuck ups! Now, shut up and go clean up that mess you made in the living room!"
For the first time since she woke up, her mother was silent and just as Helga walked back into the hallway, Bob started up again. "No, stand there for a half-hour while I choke down my dry fucking cereal!" Peeking into the kitchen, Helga saw Miriam leaned against the counter, her arm crossed across her chest, one hand folded over her eyes while Bob sat at the table now eating a bowl full of sugar-pops without milk. Helga frowned. Didn't Miriam just buy a carton the other day? A quick scan of the room found the elusive dairy product sitting by the sink, the contents half spilling onto the floor as if someone had attempted to throw it into the sink and missed. The white lumps in the mess told her that her mother and obviously never put it in the fridge and had left it to spoil.
"Why are you even here, Bob?" Helga's eyes flicked to her mother as she spoke, her hand sliding up her face and into her hair. "Isn't your precious Joanne missing you?" She screamed and Helga winced as the cereal bowl crashed into wall across from her. "You leave her outta this!"
That was it, she'd had enough. Helga slammed the front door behind her drowning out the noise of her parent's yelling and shrugged into her jacket. She didn't know who Joanne was. She assumed it was another one of her father's new 'secretaries' he was so fond of working late with. It didn't matter to her anyway.
A light drizzle had begun early that morning and would more than likely grow into a storm come late afternoon. She sighed and swept her hair back behind her as she began the long routine walk to school.
Suddenly, she found herself scowling, scuffing her feet against the sidewalk as she walked and stuffing her hands into her jean pockets. She was so sick of the fighting. Of the screaming and yelling and pointless arguments that never seemed to end. Helga often wondered why they ever got married in the first place if they apparently hated eachother as much as they did. She didn't remember a time when her parents were ever really, truly happy. Even when Olga was still living at home, they fought and hated each other. It was the reason Olga had left. It was one of the many reasons why Helga hated her.
Olga left her there, alone and helpless against the abuse that she knew would be rained down on her 'baby sister'. Not physical of course. Her father would never be so careless to inflict any injury upon his children, but he was a true believer in the phrase, 'spare the belt, spoil the child'.
They used to be so close, she and Olga. When she was young, Helga adored her, admired her. She remembered how she wanted to be like her and make good grades and dress nice and be fawned over by everyone she met. And Olga loved her as much then as she did now. She would play games with her in the crevices of their little, ramshackle house, and when her parents fighting got out of hand, she held her close under the blankets of their bed and whispered softly to sooth her.
And then she left.
Olga hugged her crying sister goodbye on the stoop of their home, and walked away. Hadn't so much as turned her head as Helga struggled in her mother's grip, crying, pleading for Olga to take her with her. Begging not to be left alone. But the car door slammed shut, Olga disappeared and Helga never forgave her for that.
Then time passed and as Helga grew up, all that anger and hatred began to fade away. She began to realize that life was shit and if you didn't do anything to make something of it, then it would stay that way. She put her past worries aside and started focusing on herself.
She didn't care that when Olga visited, she was pushed aside and left in the dark. Didn't care that she was considered the lost hope of the family, which considering her family, didn't say much. Didn't care that people whispered vile things behind her back. Didn't care that Arnold moved on from girl to girl but never once spared a single glance her way.
It hit her when a man came to their school when she was in the eighth grade. He was one of those do-gooders, Helga remembered. Someone who skipped from school to school relaying their sob story and giving a grand speech on how drugs were bad and you shouldn't do bad things or you'll end up in jail or dead. But only, he wasn't. This man was different.
Helga couldn't remember his name, or what happened to him. But she remembered the words that changed who she was.
Can you forgive those who've hurt you? Picture yourself in an open area where there's no buildings and no shelter and there's a storm above you and this storm represents your life. You don't tell anyone what you're going through because you think they wouldn't understand or couldn't help you anyway.
She'd been sitting in the auditorium, barely even listening at all when he'd said it. When the words sunk in, she sat up a little bit more and listened a little more closely.
You can't spend the rest of your life being afraid of people rejecting you. You have to start by not rejecting yourself. You don't deserve it.
She remembered feeling something swell in her chest. She remembered feeling like he was talking to her, that he knew what she was going through. Of course, it was likely that half the people in that auditorium felt that way, but she didn't care. Because his words had struck a chord in her, made her think about who she was, who she wanted to be.
From now on, people can either accept you for who you are or they can fuck off! Because when you're in school and when you're growing up in life, it matters what people think of you. How you look, how you act, and the image you present. And then it matters to you because…it matters to others.
Helga had glanced at Arnold ten seats down, whispering to Gerald and grinning silently. She'd looked to her left at Phoebe who had her nose buried in her history book. Things had begun to tie together in her mind then.
Why does it matter? Because if they don't like you…then who will? If they don't accept you…then who will? You're so afraid that you're gonna be alone that you're not good enough and you're wrong!
She thought about her family. About Olga leaving to become an actress. About her father who always came home late. About her mother who drank too much. She thought about Arnold who she'd bullied relentlessly, about the other kids who had been so cruel to her.
There are some things in life that are out of your control that you can't change. The choice that you have is to either give up or keep going. What are you going to believe in? Are you going to believe in yourself or are you going to believe in everybody else's opinion of you? Are you gonna believe people when they say that no one really likes you, that no one really cares about you?
These words stuck with her for days after the man had went on his way. And for a long time, she went about her day as if she were in a dream. For the first time in a long time, Helga sat back and watched the people around her. Watched as people shrunk back when she walked by. As they turned to whisper eachother as she entered a room or though she wasn't looking. And the words. The same words just kept replaying over and over in her head.
Are you going to believe in yourself or are you going to believe in everybody's opinion of you?
She'd stopped doing anything to Arnold for days and…he never even noticed. Why did she bully him? For attention? For the smallest shred of his…not even affection but annoyed glance? Why? Why was she putting herself though that?
You can't spend the rest of your life being afraid of people rejecting you. You have to start by not rejecting yourself. You don't deserve it.
No, she didn't deserve it. And it was at that moment, sitting in that dingy auditorium amidst a crowd of half bored teenagers that Helga grew up.
She quit trying to be the better daughter.
She quit trying to bully others for attention.
For the first time in her life, Helga was just…Helga.
And then, without all the stress and commotion she'd felt welling inside since she was young, Helga felt better than she'd had her entire life. But just because she had quit looking for trouble didn't mean she had lost her edge. She still had a temper with a lit fuse. And though people didn't cower in the halls when she walked by anymore, they didn't provoke her either. They knew her reputation and respected it.
Her greatest surprise however, came during her first year of high school. She noticed more and more of her male classmates vying for her attention. Bumping into her in the hallway to get a rise out of her, some watching her in class, others asking to sit with her at lunch. At first she found it all very irritating, but then, somehow it had morphed into pleasant little game.
She learned new ways that would put them on edge. A flick of her hair, a sway in her walk, a different style of clothing that would send a few walking straight into their locker doors and her laughing as she passed. She was a challenge to them, forbidden fruit. They both feared and wanted her. And the select few that were brave enough to step up to the plate, she sent crashing back down again. She had standards of which only one could meet.
However, her favorite little football head was either ignorant of her advances or just plain ignored them. Either way, he never showed any signs of reciprocating her feelings. And with each girl he chauffeured on his arm in front of her, she found her love for him dwindling ever more.
It was after the eighth grade Christmas dance that she gave up on him. He'd taken some random girl, with blond hair and pretty, perfect brows and big, beautiful, brown eyes. They'd been all over each other, and he looked so happy with her that Helga left early that night, unable to take the horrible, constricting feeling in her chest any longer.
Monday, she heard the rumor. He'd taken her to the 'Lover's Lookout' in his grandfather's old Packard and they'd been…intimate, for a substantial dimming down of the rather promiscuous rumor. The girl had been mortified and had broken up with him shortly afterwards. And Helga couldn't even look him in the eye for the rest of the year.
Helga sneered and kicked a can lying against the sidewalk. It skittered across the pavement before bouncing against the glass window of Green Meats shop. Marty Green glared at her from his door way where he'd been sweeping his front step but she ignored him and kept walking.
Afterword, when it was clear he wasn't interested, she tried to actually move on and see if she could find someone for herself.
Someone who wasn't Arnold. Someone who was the exact opposite, who could take her mind off her childhood obsession. Someone who was just as cruel and hard as she was.
She rounded the corner where the brick wall tapered off into a stretch of wire fence bordering the junkyard. Another block and she would be at the high school. She could see the other kids gathered in their own separate groups scattered around the courtyard. She shuddered. She was early.
She faintly heard a low whistle to her right and she half turned, smiling faintly.
"Hey beautiful, why so blue?" He asked, his fingers fisting in the holes of the fence as he smiled down at her. He was covered in grease and his white tank splotched in places where the rain had soaked it. His brown hair was tousled but it was cute in a way and she wished she could reach through the fence and pull it so he would give her that little scowl she liked when she pissed him off. She scowled and looped her fingers over his as she pressed against the fence, her bare stomach cold against the wet metal. "Miriam and Bob wouldn't shut up their bitching this morning, gave me a headache."
She kissed him quickly through the fence loops so he would leave it at that. She couldn't tell him more than that. That their words had hurt her; had made her think of the past and brought up old memories that were better left buried.
"Hey Ludwig! What are you doing over there?" He pulled back and turned scowling to the tall, muscled blond striding towards them and wiping his hands on a dirty rag. "What do you think man? I saw my girl passing by so I stopped her." Helga smirked and waved knowing it would piss him off. "Hey Wolfy!"
Wolfgang groaned and stuffed his rag in his bag pocket. "Oh no, it's the bitch."
Helga feigned hurt.
"Aww, you're not still sore that I bruised your pride in that arm wrestling match are you Wolfy?" She simpered then gave a wicked grin. "Or was it your arm?"
"Stop calling me that, and you cheated!" He said approaching the fence to scowl in her face. She gave him her best smile, hooded eyes, pouty lips and he stood flabbergasted. "Only a little, Wolfy." Wolfgang muttered something and Ludwig snickered as the other man roared angrily as he stalked off. "Stop calling me that!"
"Oh man, he hates you." Ludwig said turning back to her. She grinned.
"Most people do."
He grinned pressing his forehead against the fence crooking a finger for her to come closer. "Only most." He whispered as he kissed her.
Out of the corner of her eye, she caught Arnold and Gerald passing them on the sidewalk. Arnold glanced at her curiously then resumed chatting with his friend. She shut her eyes in a grimace and pressed closer to Ludwig as much as the fence would allow.
Maybe she wasn't as over him as she might have thought.
Distantly, she heard the school bell ring signaling that class was beginning and that she was already running late. She sighed. She didn't mind running late, she actually preferred it. The quiet vacant hallways and not having to worry about the thousands of eyes that followed her as she walked to her locker and classes.
Ludwig's grin was feral as he pulled back and he pressed against the fence suggestively, wiggling his brows at her. "So uh, should I go tell Wolfgang I'm checking out early?" He whispered huskily.
She sneered and pulled back.
"Uh, no! You want me to skip again? Criminey Ludwid, this would be the third day in a row!" She scowled throwing her hair back over her shoulder as she stepped back from the fence.
He glared back at her. "Why not?"
"Because, unlike you, I want to graduate and get the hell out of that place." She turned to go and he walked alongside her.
"I did get out." He said. Helga snorted. "You dropped out."
"At least I'm out!" He'd come to the end of the fence and could go no further; Helga was relieved. "Yeah, whatever." She called over her shoulder.