Don't worry, yall. The drama's bout to end for a few chapters and Helga's gonna finally get some happy time. Just bear with me I swear everything has a point.
She had been having a fairly pleasant dream; she had been sitting in a clean kitchen eating a real breakfast - plenty of food - eggs, cereal, milk, juice…
She should have known it was a dream just from that - the words 'clean' and 'plenty of food' did not appear often in this house. The sudden, forceful grumbling of her stomach woke her and Helga sat up groggily, rubbing the sleep from her eyes. Her back ached from sleeping on the old, lumpy couch and she winced as she raised her left arm. A deep, staining black bruise peeked out from beneath the collar of her night shirt and she jolted at the memory of the last few days. Bob, the fight, Miriam, the hospital, the police. She remembered coming home from the hospital later that evening, and after seeing her mother to bed, taking up residence on the couch, the shotgun by her side.
For hours she just sat there, waiting, listening to the ominous silence of the house. Too afraid to go to sleep on her own free will. She could just see her father bursting through the door (even though it was barred with a chair) and coming after them.
The gun lay on the table across from her and to her surprise, the room was clean. The smell of bacon wafted through the air and explained why she was so hungry. She swore she heard Miriam singing with the radio in the kitchen and vaguely, Helga wondered if she had died. She wondered if Bob and snuck in last night while she was asleep and killed her. Because certainly this couldn't be real.
She crept to the kitchen, standing in the shadow of the doorway, afraid to look inside. Light streamed across the cracked and stained linoleum. Faintly, she smelled lemons and bleach. Upon closer inspection, she found the floor had been mopped. Peeking inside, she saw that the kitchen too was clean. There were plates on the table, and an old, tattered table cloth. The windows were open, letting in a soft breeze and June Carter Cash was playing on the radio. She remembered her mother had a flair for old country music. She had grown up in the south after all.
At the stove, he mother was cleanly dressed in faded denim shorts and a loose button up shirt. Her hair was tied up in a ponytail and Helga never thought she looked so pretty. She flipped a pancake with flourish and Helga hesitantly stepped into the room, afraid of shattering this pleasant image. "Mom?" She said.
Miriam turned to her, a smile stretched across her face and Helga winced at the bruising under her eye. "Good morning sweetheart. I made pancakes!" She practically sung. Helga looked down, seeing her mother standing on her right foot with the left one tightly bandaged and slightly elevated off the floor. She frowned. "You should be resting."
She wasn't going to get any better up and about like this. What was she trying to prove anyway? Helga looked up again with a glare, her mouth open ready with an angry retort but it died on her lips as her mother hobbled the short distance between them and enveloped her in a gentle hug. Helga froze, afraid to move.
She was never a very affectionate person and it just seemed so alien for her mother to act this way. She raised her hands, ready to gently push the woman away but her voice stopped her. "I'm sorry Helga." She said.
Miriam pulled away then, holding her daughter at arm's length so she could examine her more closely. Helga said nothing and just watched her warily. Sorry? She was sorry? Anger welled within her. Sorry! Helga didn't want to hear her apologies. Because she knew, two days from now they'd be right back where they started. She'd come home and Miriam would be buried in the couch cushion, drunk as a skunk. "For what?" She asked finally.
"I know I haven't been the best mother…"
Helga started to push her away. "Miriam, don't."
"No! Listen to me!" The ferocity in her voice startled Helga and she paused, her hand falling to hang limply at her sides. "I was a terrible mother. I know, and baby I'm so, so sorry." The emotion that swelled in her voice made something snap inside Helga. The way she called her baby and the sweet way she sounded when she talked to her. She didn't want to hear it. Any of it! Because it wouldn't last, it never lasted!
"You're sorry! Well gee what a revelation! Miriam's sorry!" Helga gave a bitter laugh and Miriam watched her with a blank expression. "You're damn right you're sorry. A sorry, lousy excuse for a mother!" Helga pulled away from her and backed up. "And you think this…" Sweeping her hand out, she gestured around them at the house, "…is going to fix everything? You think you can clean up a little and cook some breakfast and everything's going to magically be ok?" Miriam didn't say anything, just stared at her with that sad expression that Helga hated. "We've done this so many times I've lost count. What… are you gonna sober up for a few days, till your foot gets better and then when I'm all comfortable and happy go crashing off the track again? You know what? I've got enough things to worry about right now so just cut the act…"
"I'm saying I'm sorry!" She cut her off, tossing the dishrag she'd been wiping the stove with on the table furiously. Helga had never seen her look like that, a mixture between pissed off and wanting to cry. It made her uncomfortable. "Now I am still your mama…"
"A cat spends more time with its litter than you did with me!" She spat angrily. Feeling her anger reaching a breaking point she stopped, raising her hands to her face for a second and breathing a heavy sigh. "You know what, no. We're not doing this again!"
She looked down at herself. She was still wearing her clothes from yesterday and they were stiff and splotched with blood. She imagined she didn't smell too pleasant either. Glancing at her watch, she saw she only had an hour until school started. It took her at least thirty minutes to walk there and she couldn't go without a shower. She was gonna be late…again.
"I just want a break." She muttered to herself as she turned to the door.
"I was sick back then." Miriam said grabbing her arm. "I'm clean now, I promise!"
Helga jerked her arm free but regretted it when her mother stumbled slightly; landing on her hurt foot and hissed in pain. "You used that line up." She said gently pushing her away this time. She turned away forcing herself forward even as her mother's sniffling started behind her. "I'll prove it to you. I will."
Then do it!
Helga ascended the stairs, and only once she was safely inside the shower with the bathroom door locked and the water as hot and hard as it would go, only then did she allow herself to cry.
When she came down twenty minutes later dressed in her trademark tattered denim and leather, Miriam was nowhere to be found. A note on the fridge said she'd gone to town. Helga glanced at the plate of pancakes and bacon on the table and grudgingly glanced at her watch. Her stomach rumbled painfully and she could only guess the next time she'd get a wholesome breakfast like this one again.
So she sat at the table and ate it anyway. It was slightly cold and the bacon wasn't as crispy as she would have liked but otherwise it was good and once she finished, she placed her plate in the sink, intent on cleaning it once she got home. After her little episode, she wouldn't be surprised if Miriam had snuck out to buy more booze. Helga shrugged and decided she wouldn't dwell on it. She paused at the door, a little afraid to leave. Her father's face flashed in her mind and she shuttered.
She was still afraid of him. She scowled at herself and grabbed the handle twisting it forcefully open. Stop being such a baby! Locking the door behind her, she checked to make sure the spare key was still stuffed under the mat before leaving.
On the way she would have plenty of time to think and she would utilize that time to its fullest. With Bob gone, she was going to need to get another job. There was no way they were going to make it on her income alone.
Arnold's head snapped up as the classroom door opened and Helga walked in twenty minutes late. His heart did a little jig in his chest that left him breathless and he watched as she handed her excuse to the teacher(which she had no doubt written herself) and turned down the aisle towards her seat. As luck would have it, first period was math, and the only class where she sat directly beside him. His eyes stayed trained on her as she dropped wearily into her seat and pulled a pen from her pocket. She reached forward and grabbed a piece of paper from Phoebe who sat in front of her so she could start the assignment. Shrugging out of her jacket, she let it droop behind her over her chair and his eyes were suddenly drawn to the pale skin of her arms covered by a loose t-shirt.
Odd. He hadn't seen her in a t-shirt that didn't show at least an improper amount of skin in…he frowned. Well ever.
His eyes trailed further up towards her face and paused at her shoulder. A dark blemish peeked out from under the cloth and his eyes narrowed suspiciously. What that a…bruise?
His eyes met her own annoyed gaze as she glared at him. "What?" She snapped. There were dark bruises under her eyes as well and she looked tired. Had she been sleeping well? "I need to talk to you." There, finally he'd said it. If he'd been expecting some welcoming expression he was wrong because she only glared, if possible, harder at him. "Piss off!" She whispered harshly, turning away from him. "M'not in the mood!"
"Helga…" He was rearing to argue with her when the teacher paused in his teaching and snapped the desk with his ruler. "Mr. Shortman!"
Arnold paused and turned towards the front where half the class had turned to stare at him. "Save it for after class." He said.
Arnold sighed and grumbled a quick, "Yessir." He dropped his chin in his hand and contented himself with just staring at her for the rest of class. Whether she noticed or not, he wasn't sure because she seemed intent on ignoring him.
Helga didn't fee particularly intent on paying a lot of attention today. Once she finished the assignment, she stuffed it under another piece of paper and scribbled a quick note in her own loopy scrawl.
Bob's gone. I kicked him out the other night finally. Need to talk to you after class.
She neatly folded the note into a perfect little square and subtly tossed it over Phoebe's shoulder. The girl didn't even flinch, years of note passing having curbed such a reaction. Instead she read the note and scribbled a quick response, waiting for the teacher to turn his back before she tossed it back behind her.
Are you okay?
Helga grinned slightly at her friend's caring nature.
Other than a bruise the size of Texas on my shoulder? Right as rain. I even had pancakes and undercooked bacon this morning.
When Phoebe tossed the note back this time, her neat cursive was a little more hurried this time.
What happened! I thought you said you were Okay!
I am! Shotgun bruise. Don't worry, I didn't kill im'. She quickly scribbled. Look, I'll explain everthing after class. Promise.
Phoebe's only response was to turn slightly over her shoulder and settle her with a worried stare. Helga sent her a reassuring, albeit tired grin and motioned with her finger to turn around before she got in trouble.
Phoebe's breath hissed between her teeth as Helga pulled the collar of her shirt down, revealing the black and purple mass that had become her shoulder over the past day. "Does it hurt?" She whispered.
"No, it's the most pleasurable thing I've felt in my life." Helga deadpanned, ruining the effect with a wince as her friend lightly brushed her fingers over the tender skin. Phoebe grinned affectionately and withdrew her fingers as Helga pulled the cloth back up. "Not as tough as you think you are, are ya?" She teased.
Helga scoffed and smiled back anyway. "Could still kick your ass." She groused.
Their playful banter ended as Phoebe frowned and tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. "Helga." The worry was evident in her voice but she brushed her off. "I'm fine Pheebs. It takes more than that ta take me out." She said.
"What about your mom?"
Helga paused and turned towards the sink on the pretense of washing her hands although she'd done it when they'd come in. Phoebe frowned.
"She'll be fine." She said offhandedly. "She's pulling the whole, 'I'm gonna start being a mom' bit now. I give it two days." She quipped jerking a brown paper towel from a thick roll on a shelf above the sink. Phoebe stayed silent, hugging her books to her chest tightly. She really didn't know what to say. Helga had been down this road so many times before with her mom. And each time she was there to pick up the pieces, but thinking of her own mother, Phoebe really wanted that for her friend.
"Maybe now with Bob gone, she'll really come through." She said quietly and for a minute, Helga didn't say anything. Finally, she turned to her and gave a defeated sigh. "Yeah, maybe." She said softly.
With that said, they left the girl's bathroom. Stepping into the hall, Helga slung her jacket over her shoulder and held the door for Phoebe as she waited for her to pass. The mob of students had died down a little with only one or two stragglers loitering by their lockers.
"I better hurry." Phoebe said. "I have Mr. Stuart next and you know how he is about being late…"
Helga nodded and waited for the other girl to head on her way but she just stood there awkwardly, picking at a torn corner of her biology text. Helga raised a corner of her brow at her. "Uh, Phoebe?"
Suddenly, the girls arms were wrapped tightly around her waist and Helga winced as she jostled her arm. She looked around finding most of the loiterer's gone now, so it was just them in the hall. Still, Helga wasn't a hugger. Gently, she tugged the petite girl's arms from around her and Phoebe taking the hint stepped back fully. "Sorry," she said. "But I just want you to know, I'm here for you, Helga."
The words touched her, they really did. And not for the first time in her life, Helga thanked whatever deity up there that had given her as good a friend as this. "Yeah, thanks Pheebs." She muttered, rubbing her arm in a habit that Phoebe had come to associate with the girl's nervousness. Phoebe smiled and with that, made her way quickly to class. As she turned the corner the bell rang and Helga smirked as she heard her yell and uncharacteristic curse.
Fortunately for her, it was free period, so for the next hour, she had time to do as she liked. Helga started towards the back of the school. She needed a cigarette bad and she knew behind the old gym she was less likely to be found.
Her feet scuffed across the cracked pavement and she pulled her jacket on. It was cold today, looking up she saw the grunge of heavy rainclouds littering the sky. It was barely noon and already it looked like it would be dark soon. Great, more rain.
She took up her usual residence by the wall, hidden by a stack of old crates. She sighed, lighting the cigarette and sucking a long, hard drawl. She hadn't had one in a few days and that first breath felt like heaven across her tongue. Leaning her head back against the coarse brick, she exhaled, watching the smoke drift above her in a lazy cloud.
She felt tired. She couldn't remember when she fell asleep last night but she imagined it wasn't long before she was woken by her mother's cooking. The stress of the previous days still wore on her mind and really all she wanted to do was curl up in her bed and sleep for a few days.
Helga closed her eyes with a groan and pinched the bridge of her nose in annoyance. "Criminey," she growled. "Can't I get just one day! Hell, I could do with just an hour of alone time, footballhead!"
Arnold paused beside the stack of crates and glared at her. An hour? He hadn't seen her in three days! "I…will you just hear me out?"
"No." She said sucking another drawl. "I told you already, I'm not in the mood." She wished she could just crawl in a hole and hide for a few years. All this crap lately was going to end up killing her or putting her in a mental institute! Helga pulled the collar of her jacket higher around her ears to stave off the sudden chill and glared at him. "Why did you kiss me?" He asked coming to stand in front of her.
"I was acting, s'what I do."
"That's crap!" His sudden yell startled her and she jerked her hand, burning the skin between her thumb and finger with the tip of the cigarette. Cursing from yet more pain added to her already abused body, she dropped it. Arnold stepped closer and grabbed her wrist, inspecting the wound almost apologetically. Gently, he brushed his thumb over the burn and sighed in resignation. "You weren't acting then." He said. "You felt it too…"
"Criminey, get over yourself!" She growled jerking her hand away. Helga turned and brushed roughly past him, wanting to get as far away as possible but he grabbed her arm again and held firm. "No, wait! Just…" He gave an irritated growl and released her.
"This is your fault! If you hadn't…if I…"
Helga's brow sunk low in a glare. "My fault, listen buster…!" Arnold backed up against the crates and sagged against them in defeat. "I can't get you out of my head." He muttered but whether she heard him or not he couldn't tell because she just stood there glaring heatedly at him. "Look, Helga…I'm sorry. Really I…"
Helga didn't say anything to that but she did lean back against the wall and pulled out another cigarette to light. Glancing at him, she noted the miserable expression he wore and guilt clenched in her chest. She had been flirting with him a lot recently, so really, it was sorta her fault. She'd never admit it of course. But her latent feelings for him had come back to bite her in the ass and well, hell, what was she supposed to do? She couldn't bully him anymore, they were supposed to be trying to get along. Helga pulled another cigarette from her case, noting that she had only three left now and held it out to him. "You look rough, Arnoldo…" When he didn't move to take it she said, "hey, don't knock it. They're great stress relievers."
He didn't admonish her for it. In fact he just held out his hand in resignation and she knowingly dropped it into his waiting palm. He choked the first time after she lit it for him and finally she smiled lightly at him. When he sighed, smoke wafted through the air and he solemnly held out his hand to her. "Hi, I'm Arnold Shortman."
She quirked a brow at him and grinned in amusement. "What?" She laughed.
"We're starting over. No more…this." His hand swung between the space between them and for a moment she just stared at it. Then, hesitantly, she took it in her own. "Helga Pataki." She quipped sarcastically.
"So, uh…you come here often?" He grinned wearily trying to relieve some of the tension. Helga snorted. "Ok, that's just stupid."
They fell into silence and Helga just stared blankly ahead while he watched him feet aimlessly. Finally, when thunder rumbled distantly across the sky she spoke, her voice soft and more timid than he'd ever heard it before. "I used to like you, you know." He barely heard her at all and he jerked his head up to look at her. She wouldn't meet his gaze and he smiled. "I know."
When she turned to glare at him viciously, he backtracked, raising his hands in submission. "No, I mean, I didn't know then…Phoebe told me…at the diner!" His stuttering must have amused her because she smirked at him. Arnold relaxed back against the crates and tried not to choke as he drew in a breath from the cigarette. "You told me once too, if you'll remember."
"I also remember denying that." She muttered blushing. It was cute.
"Your pants must have been hot that day." He chuckled at the quizzical look she gave him. "Liar, liar, pants…" He sang until she blushed more and muttered an irritated, "shut up."
His fingers fiddled aimlessly with the half burnt stub in his hand and suddenly he couldn't meet her gaze. He felt like he was nine all over again. Roughly clearing his throat, he scratched the side of his jaw, the course hairs feeling like sandpaper against his nails. "You said used to…" He shyly met her own wary gaze and smiled like a love-struck school girl. Helga would have laughed if it weren't for the butterflies dancing a jig in her stomach. "You don't anymore?"
She didn't say anything; except for a short nervous laugh, she didn't make any sound at all. "Well," She laughed breathlessly. "That…I mean." Arnold didn't think he'd ever seen her nervous before and that alone boosted his confidence. He pushed off the crates, bracing his hand against them as they wobbled precariously over their heads. "Because, you know…if you did." He began, his other hand digging into his pocket to hide the trembling. Helga glanced at him from the corner of her eye, watching him sidle a little closer with each word and she had to fight back an amused smile. "You'd what, return the sentiment?"
Arnold shrugged and propped his right hand on the wall beside her head as he leaned casually over her. The setting was ironic to her, talking like they were old pals when only seconds ago they'd been ready to duke it out. "Why don't you let me get to know you a little? Might be fun…"
"Fun…" She laughed. "You know I'm already tied down?" She said remembering Ludwig. The thought of him made the playful feeling in her stomach turn sour and she frowned. She knew Arnold Shortman was anything if not sickeningly noble. The corner of his mouth slid down into a cute little pout and she wondered if he even realized how cute he looked. "Was kinda hopin you'd be tired of him by now."
She scoffed. "Football head are you looking to start an affair or something? You? The Golden Boy?"
"I'm not that perfect." He said. "But, actually I was hopin you'd more or less leave…him…for me?" The nervous edge had come back to his voice and he smiled awkwardly at her. Well, that was shocking. Helga leaned her head back against the wall to stare up at him with an expression that clearly read she was thinking. She pursed her lips and squinted at him in thought and he grinned his most dashing grin down at her. Finally she pushed away from the wall and started back towards the school to his surprise. "Nah, I don't think you're worth it." She teased.
Arnold smacked his forehead in agitation. "Helga, just spend some time with me!" He all but whined. She turned back to him, clearly laughing at his expression of annoyance. "Well this is a pleasant turn around." She said coming back to him. Arnold gulped at the wicked gleam in her eye. "You like me?"
He hesitated before nodding, wondering just where she was going with this. Arnold looked away and raised an arm to scratch the back of his head nervously. Helga smirked, which turned into a grin when she realized how beautifully the tables had turned to her advantage. Oh, this was going to be fun. With his arm raised, the hem of his undershirt raised about an inch above his pants, revealing pale skin underneath. She reached out slim fingers to brush lightly over the exposed skin, enjoying the way he jerked in surprise. They trailed higher beneath his shirt, scratching their way through the fine hairs that littered his stomach and pressed closer to him.
Arnold tried to jerk back, but bumped into the wall behind him. He groaned as her fingers began rubbing soothing circles into the flat contours of his stomach, working their way up to his ribs. "Helga." He gasped.
"Do you know how long I liked you before I decided to move on?" She teased. "And not once did you ever notice."
Arnold shuddered as she hit a particularly ticklish spot on his left side. "Well, you weren't exactly nice about it." He said, resting his wrists against her shoulders. "No, I suppose I wasn't." She mused, distracted by the hard ridges that moved gently beneath her nails. "But still, you want me?" She asked leaning up to whisper to him. It was hard to stay focused when he smiled, resting his forehead against her own. "Well then, your just gonna have to work for it buddy boy."
With that she pulled away with a girlish laugh and he groaned, sagging against the wall as if she'd punched him. "You're still just as mean as ever, Helga." He said, watching her walk back towards the school.
"And don't you forget it!" She called back over her shoulder.