A/N: In honor of the Jungle Movie, I'm resurrecting this corpse of a story. A 3 year break isn't as long as a 15 year one. So. There's that. Enjoy.
Although neither of them cared to admit it aloud, they both knew they needed to head back. They descended the ladder, and he took his hand in hers as they began slowly walking towards the boarding house in silence.
As they were about to round the corner, she stopped walking and released his hand. "Hey, so," Helga began, awkwardly trailing off and running a hand through her hair. "Do you think we could, you know, keep this between us for a while?"
He looked at her for a minute, trying to decipher her sudden visible discomfort. "Sure, of course." She immediately saw the concern creeping into his face.
"It's not ... I mean... I just... you know, I don't want the attention. I mean, I do. From you. Just not the group. I want to process it for a bit."
She quickly leaned in and kissed him. The concern melted. She stayed pressed close to him for a moment. "Don't read anything into it. I just don't feel like dealing with Rhonda's interrogating and Sid's heckling and Lila's silent raging quite yet. Let's enjoy it for a bit."
He chuckled. "That's fair. As long as you're admitting there's a 'this' to enjoy, I'm fine with it. And as long as you promise not to disappear on me for three months again."
"Deal." She extended a hand for him to shake. He laughed at the gesture, and swept her up in his arms instead, planting a kiss on her cheek.
"Alright, alright Casanova, set me down and get back to your party. I gotta head home."
He gently set her on her feet and began fishing in his pocket for his keys. "I'll drive you back."
Panic set in. This is going to be a lot harder to dodge, man I did not think this through. "Actually, now that I think of it, I should probably come up with you and say bye to everyone." I'll have to figure out how to sneak out when he's distracted.
He seemed happy to have the extra time with her, and reached out for her hand as they headed up the stoop. She gave him a look. "Oh right, I forgot," he said with a sad smile, withdrawing his hand.
Helga was watching Arnold from the other side of the roof. He was doing a much more convincing job than her of pretending to care about whatever ridiculous morning meet-up plans Eugene was rambling on about. She slowly backed away from the conversation and wandered to peer over the side of the building.
"So where'd you two head off to?" Gerald asked, walking up behind her with two Yahoos in hand.
"Who?" Helga feigned confusion as she took the drink he was holding out to her.
"Nice try Pataki. Lucky for you, everyone thinks Arnold's been gone all this time tending to Brainy. But I went to check on him after I escorted Sid out, and wouldn't you know, Brainy was sleeping all alone in that room."
She took a big gulp. "Crazy. Maybe Arnold was taking out the trash."
"Aw, don't be so hard on yourself Helga, you're not trash."
She punched him lightly. "Real funny. Be sure to write that into your stand-up. Listen, we were just talking. Been a crazy few days."
"I won't argue with that."
She decided to change the subject. "How's waiting around for Pheebs going?" She noticed him jealously watching Harold and Patty laying together in a hammock.
"Sucks." He took a long sip, looking frustrated. Bad choice in subject change.
"Well, at least the wait's almost over?"
"Yeah, only four more months." He groaned as the words came out. She didn't have anything to offer in words of comfort.
Luckily Stinky and Nadine walked over. "We were gonna walk Brainy home since he lives by Nadine. Where's he at?"
Gerald handed his empty bottle to Helga. "I'll walk you to the room he's in. See ya tomorrow Pataki." He seemed unusually relieved to be leaving Helga and the reminder of Phoebe's absence.
Sid began making his way towards Helga. Better make my exit before everyone's out of here.
She cut him off before he could get one word out. "Hold that thought, I gotta run to the bathroom," she blurted, intentionally loud enough for Arnold to overhear. She climbed down into Arnold's room, grabbed her backpack and made her getaway.
Helga only managed to get a few blocks away when she heard the Packard slowing down beside her.
"Get lost on your way to the bathroom?" He reached across the passenger seat and opened the door towards her.
"I could've sworn it was just up that alley," she replied, laughing awkwardly. She looked at the open door and knew there was no getting out of this now. Sighing inwardly, she hopped in.
"Helga." She stared intently at the dashboard. He pulled off to a side street. She could feel his eyes trying to will her into looking at him.
"I didn't want to inconvenience you. I knew you'd be stupidly insistent on driving me home, but it's all the way on the other side of town and a real pain in the ass. Just trying to be... thoughtful?" She snuck a side glance at him to gauge how convincing that had sounded. Not very. Ugh.
"You know I like you right?" He reached out to hold her hand.
"Yeah I was beginning to get that suspicion." She could feel her heart rushing at the sensation of his touch.
"So then you should know, any excuse to be near you is never an inconvenience."
She sat up and leaned in very close to him, as if romantically mesmerized by his words. Then she suddenly threw herself back into her seat, put her feet on the dash and reclined in her chair with her arms behind her head. "What smut novel did you steal that line from?"
He laughed, reclining his chair as well. "My own work in progress. It's called Untying the Pink Bow."
That got a hearty laugh out of her. "Nice, sounds like my kind of garbage. Let me give you some inspiration." She sat up and reached inside her backpack, pulling out what looked to be a small journal. He watched with extreme curiosity, until he realized what was nestled between the pages, his eyes lighting up with nostalgia. She delicately removed the old pink ribbon and tied her hair back.
"Alright, get untying."
He laughed and reached a hand out. She drew back, just out of his reach. "Gonna have to get a bit closer than that Arnoldo."
He welcomed the invite, leaning over the center console. But she ducked under his arm and nimbly hopped into the back.
He sat his seat upright and turned around to face her. She was laying smugly across the back seat. "You're really going to make me climb back there?"
"Aren't you the one who said there were no inconveniences when it came to being near me?"
"You got me there." He very ungracefully and with significant difficulty climbed into the back. She couldn't hold back laughing during the entire ordeal of his leg getting wedged between the seats.
She mercifully rewarded his efforts by sitting up and letting him slide next to her on the seat. He extended out an arm, offering up his shoulder as a head rest, which she happily leaned into. She closed her eyes and enjoyed the feeling of him softly running his fingers along the old familiar ribbon.
"I still can't believe all this," she said as she tilted her face upwards and gently kissed his neck. She felt a small shiver run through him and moved up towards his face
"Well, start believing," he whispered before meeting her lips.
After a few minutes, she caught a glimpse of the clock and realized it was midnight. Alright, this could go on all night. Nothing wrong with that... but probably not the best idea. She regretfully sat up. "It really is getting late. Your grandparents might worry."
He checked the clock. "I guess you're right. You gonna let me drive you home?"
Helga rolled her eyes. Hopefully this doesn't backfire. "If you really feel the need, I guess so."
They drove across town with the radio on low, talking in hushed voices as if the city could somehow overhear them inside the car. The drive was the sort of thing Helga had wanted her whole life, just comfort and company.
"It's that house right up there. But just stop here." He pulled off to the side as Helga peered around the street nervously.
She caught him reaching for his door handle. "Hold up. Don't get any wise ideas about chivalrously walking me to the door. Bob told Olga he'd bust out the shotgun if he ever catches a boy on our front porch."
He hesitated before finally withdrawing his hand from the door. "Don't wanna get on Bob's bad side. I guess this is goodnight then?"
"Yup. Goodnight football head." She gave him a quick kiss on the cheek before hastily jumping out the passenger door.
Helga crept slowly up the driveway, taking care that every footfall be silent. She could feel his headlights still lighting up her back. "Just go home already you adorable dolt," she silently muttered to herself, silently praying he'd drive off.
She realized he wasn't going to leave until he saw her make it safely in. She began fumbling with the keys in her pocket, pretending to be all set as she turned around to wave him off. The car didn't move. God damn overprotective do-gooder. Time to find out if they changed the locks. She quietly inserted the key. Please please please work. She turned it to the left and heard it click. Thank the cornflower gods, I can't believe that worked. She quickly opened the door and shut it soundlessly behind her, letting out a sigh of relief as she heard Arnold's engine fade off down the street.
A light came on at the top of the stairs, and a young woman's voice shouted down, "Greg, is that you?"
Shit shit shit shit shit. Helga ran straight towards the back door, into the yard, and over the fence.
He spotted her immediately in the back row of homeroom. Asleep in the corner, with her left arm draped across her desk and her face nestled cozily in the crook of her right elbow. Sid was sitting next to her, only slightly more awake, leaning back in his chair with his hat shielding his eyes.
"Good morning sunshine!"
"Ughhh. What do you want football head?" Helga groaned from the depths of her arm cave.
"I brought you guys some tea," he said, setting the cups on the corner of their desks.
"How thoughtful of you," she mumbled. He waved off her insincerity.
"Well technically, it's from Eugene. He brought us all drinks this morning when we met out front to compare schedules... like we had all agreed to do yesterday. But I'm guessing you two were too busy sleeping in to join?
Helga groaned again in response.
"Why are you both so tired anyways? It's the first day of school!" She looked up for a moment to give him a knowing scowl, which he returned with a wink. She pretended not to notice.
"Exactly." Sid said, sliding his hat lower over his eyes to block out the light.
"Why are you so chipper? It's the first day of school."
"Well, maybe it's because I had a very interesting evening after I dropped you off." Arnold took the seat in front of her, as more and more kids began shuffling in.
She continued to keep her face burrowed in the comfort of her arm. "Oh yeah? Finally consummated your friendship with Geraldo? Congratulations." She groggily chuckled at herself.
Sid gave her a sideways fist bump.
"Hilarious. No. But you know what? I did meet a young woman." Arnold watched her turn her head just slightly, peering out from her elbow to indicate a mild level of intrigue.
"When … how... when did you have time to meet someone? I was with you all night..."
Sid peeked out from under his hat to shoot her a curious glance for that last comment.
Arnold made sure to pay perfect attention to her facial expressions as he continued on. "It's actually a really funny story, you see, right after I dropped you off I was driving up the street when I noticed that you'd left your backpack in my passenger seat."
He caught her eyes widen as she slowly began to lift her head up. "And you know, being the nice guy that I am, I decided to bring it back to you. Although now that I think of it, it's kind of weird that you carry around a backpack when we don't have any schoolwork yet."
She was sitting straight up now, clearly straining very hard to remain calm. Of course, she was failing miserably as he noted her hand was trembling while she brought the tea to her lips. She now had her eyes locked on his.
"So I went back to your new house."
She choked and sprayed the hot liquid all over his face just as the bell rang.
Her eyes were about to pop out of her head. He wiped the tea off his face with the back of his sleeve. The spit-take had attracted the attention of all the surrounding students who were now staring at the two curiously.
The homeroom teacher looked appalled. "Oh my goodness young man, do you need to be excused to, um, clean yourself off?"
"No, that's alright ma'am, I'm actually fine. But my friend Helga here is feeling really under the weather. Do you mind if I take her to the nurse."
"Of course, that's fine. But hurry back please."
He smiled at the teacher as he dragged the catatonic girl out of the classroom. Sid watched the two exit the classroom, trying to make sense of what just happened.
"What is going on Helga?" Arnold demanded as he led her to an isolated nook by the cafeteria. He took her hands in his. She immediately recoiled, giving him a look to remind him of their agreement. He let go reluctantly.
Compose yourself Helga, he can't prove anything. "What do you mean?" she replied innocently, wiping the shock off her face.
"You know exactly what I mean."
"About the tea? It was hot. I burned my tongue. You're lucky I don't sue."
"No. Not the tea. Who was the woman I spoke to?"
"What woman?" Helga looked dumbfounded.
"The woman who answered your door."
"Oh that woman. That's my crazy Aunt Milly. She's in town for a visit."
"Really? Because she said her name was Jackie." He was visibly torn between frustration and concern.
"Well, right, because Jackie is her real name. But Milly is her nickname. It's actually a pretty fascinating story, how she got that nickname, we were all out on this camping trip one time and..."
He cut off her attempt to change subjects. "If she's your Aunt, why did she act like she didn't know who you were?"
"Didn't you just hear me say she's crazy?" Her put on a frown. "She has Alzheimer's actually. Like that girl in that rom dram movie. She can't even remember who I am some days. Can you believe that? Me! Her own niece! It's tragic really, I don't even think I can talk about it... Because it's so upsetting..." Helga slowly started inching away from him.
"She seemed a bit young to have Alzheimer's," he said as he stepped forward to close the gap she was trying to create.
"Yeah, well, you seem a bit young to be a doctor. I'll have you know, Alzheimer's in young adults is quite prevalent. It actually runs in my family, so maybe you should quit being so insensitive."
"Or maybe you should quit lying to my face."
"Wow. That hurts. Hey, aren't you supposed to be taking me to the nurse?"
"You aren't sick."
"Actually, I am. Sick of this interrogation. So if you don't mind, I'll just be going now." She did a quick 180 and began booking it towards the nurse's office.
But her escape attempt was foiled by the surprisingly strong hand that shot out and caught her retreating left shoulder. "I'm being serious Helga."
"Yes I can tell, by that oh-so-serious scowl on your face." She tried to playfully dismiss him. "Why were you knocking on my door after midnight, didn't I tell you Bob hates visitors?"
"I wasn't knocking on the door, I was actually just going to leave it on your front porch but that woman threw open the door as I was walking away, said she thought she heard someone breaking in... wait a minute, this is beside the point."
"It can't be beside the point, because you clearly don't have a point."
He looked down, "She said..." he paused to lower his voice. He clearly had more to say but was reluctant to say it. "She said she bought that house from Robert Pataki three months ago."
The color drained from Helga's face. She didn't have a quick response this time.
"Listen Helga, I'm just going to ask you one more question, and I swear to God you better not lie to me."
"Or what? You'll give me your sternest look of disapproval?"
He ignored the joke and looked at her sincerely. "Are you homeless?"
"OH MY GOD, I CAN NOT BELIEVE YOU JUST ASKED ME THAT," she screamed in mock offense. He took a step back at the outburst, but continued to hold onto her shoulder.
"Do I LOOK homeless to you?" she demanded, acting bewildered.
He quickly gave her a glance over. She looked good. Great even. Clean jeans, a plain white tank, hair casually thrown back in a ponytail. "No of course you don't, I mean, listen, you don't look homeless, that's not what I meant. And I wasn't implying there was anything wrong with it if you were."
"Do I look malnourished?"
"No, your body looks... " he coughed, blushing. "Healthy. Yes. You look healthy."
"Okay then. So now that we've established I'm not dying out on the streets, I'll just be on my way," she said with a quick turn.
He let her begin walking away before realizing what she was doing. "Helga, you didn't answer the question. How dense do you think I am?"
"... pretty effing dense..." she mumbled to herself as she stopped walking.
He frowned. "What was that?"
"Er, not very?"
Suddenly the homeroom bell rang and kids began flooding the halls. Before he could stop her, Helga disappeared into the crowd.
A/N: Okay see you in 3 more years! Just kidding, already wrote the next chapter. I'll post up this week.